Coping with marginality : the Bunun in contemporary Taiwan
This thesis is concerned with how the Bunun, an Austronesian speaking indigenous people of Taiwan, deal with changing historical conditions brought about mainly, but not solely, by colonialism. I explore how the Bunun engage and negotiate with the state, the Han-Chinese and Christianity; how a colonised people like the Bunun sustain an active role in their relationships with powerful others; and how they 'cope' with - read, endure, work through, break apart and transcend - the predicaments of marginality. I do not approach these questions by reconstructing a bounded Bunun tradition, and see how this tradition is influenced and transformed by the impact of external forces. Instead, I examine the subtle and complex ways in which the past, the state, and the Bunun culture itself are constructed in the present. I also criticize the romanticized notion of resistance which has dominated the studies of marginality, and the implicit assumption that we can only find the agency of the colonized under the rubric of resistance. Rather, I explore the various possible ways in which the Bunun can create 'agentive moments', a shift in the sense of oneself being acted upon by the world to a subject acting upon the world, for themselves. In attempting to understand how the Bunun can play an active role in making and transforming the world in which they live, I do not forget that their effort may fail and at times they experience themselves as powerless, displaced and lost. To exclude or erase such experiences is to adopt an anodyne view of history which denies the violent and destructive aspects of colonialism. The studies of death and the decline of spirit mediumship demonstrate vividly how the Bunun cope with the loss of life and power, and how such experiences contribute to the ways in which they understand and comment on their own existence at a particular historical moment. By taking into serious account the sense of powerlessness, loss, and displacement, I aim to convey the affective qualities of the Bunun's living experience which give the sense of a period, that is, what Raymond Williams (1977) calls 'structures of feeling'. I suggest that 'structures of feeling' are powerful expressions and evocations of how the Bunun experience the history of their colonisation, which give shape to local historical consciousness.