An Interview with Sayun Simung (Director)
Seeking to Preserve Traditional Tayal Culture by Making a Film
Q: Your home village is very beautiful. The people in the film are devoted to their families, and the film drifts along in a pleasant sort of atmosphere. I’ve never seen millet in real life, but in the film it’s golden and very beautiful. When did you first become aware of the Tayal people from whom you yourself were born?
SS: We were all exposed to Han culture and education, and in the past we’ve been subjugated by Japanese colonial rule and Kuomintang rule. I only started to seriously think about what, in all that history, could be saved of the Tayal people when I was in my twenties and I started working for the indigenous people’s television channel as a reporter. From that time I gradually started to make documentaries in search of my own roots.
Q: As a former journalist, why did you decide to make a film about your own hometown?
SS: Certainly, as a native, going to my own village to film the lives of the people there had its good and bad points. From my experience as a reporter I was supposed to have this ability to pick up on unique things, but I was too close and I couldn’t do it. I discovered that I would like for someone of a different clan to come in and observe.
The concrete impetus for me to make this film was realizing that the elderly people who have been protecting Tayal traditions are now passing away one after the other. When these people who so strongly hold to the clan’s traditions are gone, what will happen to the Tayal people? I recognized the threat that the culture of the Tayal people might disappear. Among us young people there are many who can’t speak Tayal, and we’ve become unable to defend our traditional culture. By making this film, I knew I wanted to preserve models of the traditions of the Tayal people, their culture, and their unique emotional state.
Q: In the film you begin to learn Tayal. I understand that it’s a language without orthography, so how did you study it?
SS: The Tayal people are a southeastern people, one of the peoples who are disseminated across the Pacific, like the Maori of Australia. It’s a people without a written language, so their history is transmitted orally. This usually takes the form of song. The lyrics include the movements of the people—where they came from and where they went—and how to be a proper Tayal person. Through song they would educate the next generation. Since there is no written language, details of history are incorporated into everyday life. Young people like us study Tayal written in roman letters. The indigenous people of Taiwan, by the way, have no written language either.
Q: At the beginning of the film there are three names, and the names and social statuses change according to place. Why is this?
SS: My name in the village is “Siyun,” my childhood name. The name “Chen Men-Li” is the one my father registered. When I became conscious of my status as a Tayal, I asked my father if I didn’t have a Tayal name, and I came to be called by the non-gendered name “Sayun Simung.” The first name, “Sayun,” is my name, and the second name, “Simung,” is my father’s, so in other words passed from father to child so that it could be known of which father I was born. Also, there are a lot of Christians among the Tayal people, and my father’s name comes from the “Simon” of the Christian disciples. It’s written 西孟 in Chinese characters.
(Compiled by Kusunose Kaori)
Interviewer: Kusunose Kaori / Interpreter: Higuchi Yuko / Translator: Tyler Walker
Photography: Iwata Kohei / Video: Uno Yukiko / 2015-10-09