2013 / 5月
Dakis Pawan Tells the Truth about Wushe
Teng Sue-feng /photos courtesy of courtesy of Yuan-Liou Publishing /tr. by Geof Aberhart
In 2011 director Wei Te-sheng’s historical epic Seediq Bale hit screens across Taiwan to a rapturous reception. Dakis Pawan, the man responsible for translating Wei’s script into the Seediq language, also kept a shooting diary as the film was being made, ultimately publishing it as Truth Bale. Driven by a growing sense of anxiety about the decline of the Seediq language, Dakis Pawan followed his first book with Returning to the Truth: The Seediq People and the Wushe Incident.
Dakis Pawan is a descendant of Mahebo Village, on which the incident centered, and these two books are his interpretation of first-hand accounts, as well as being a search for his own roots as a member of the Seediq tribe.
At the crack of dawn Dakis Pawan rises from his slumber and sets to writing, sitting alone confronting the enormity of the task entrusted to him by his ancestors and the living elders and witnesses to the Wushe Incident. Often, overwhelmed by his closeness to the tragic events and the wounds still so fresh, he finds himself having to stop writing from the sheer emotion of it all. At one point, he went a full month without writing a word, dulling the pain with alcohol and praying to his ancestors for the strength to continue.
And when it came to writing the story of the families of his own ancestral village, Mahebo, Dakis Pawan had to think carefully about just how far he wanted to take things.
For the past 20 years Dakis Pawan has interviewed elderly survivors of the Wushe Incident, often learning things even his own father didn’t know, like how lukewarm the neighboring villages were on Mahebo’s anti-Japanese vendetta, or the horrific way in which certain individuals died. Given what he heard, Dakis Pawan was quickly in two minds about writing the books—on the one hand, he worried that later generations would be distraught by the stories; on the other, he felt a duty to those survivors, concerned that if he didn’t tell their stories, they would be left unable to “cross the rainbow bridge” into the Seediq afterlife.
When such concerns arose, “the promises I made to those patient survivors and the other elders of the tribe” compelled and drove him, says Dakis Pawan. At the end of 2012 those promises were finally fulfilled as Returning to the Truth: The Seediq People and the Wushe Incident was published, telling the tales of the origins of the Seediq people and the causes and effects of the Wushe Incident.A truth long shrouded
In 1930 six Aboriginal villages near what is now Wushe in Nantou County’s Ren’ai Township rose up against their Japanese colonial rulers, having suffered years of maltreatment at their hands. On the day Musha Public School (“Musha” being the Japanese name of Wushe) held its sports day, the Aboriginal alliance launched a surprise attack on the Japanese, an attack which subsequently brought down the full force of Japanese military might on them, with the participating villages all but wiped out.
Less than half of the 1200-plus Aboriginal inhabitants of the area survived, and to prevent a second uprising, the Japanese drove the 600 survivors out of Musha to Kawanakajima (now Qingliu Village in Ren’ai Township). The change in living situation was dramatic—where once they had lived in mountains at an elevation of over 1000 meters, now they were down to flatlands at 450 m, and they had been pushed over 50 kilometers from their traditional home and hunting grounds. With their new environment and climate so drastically different, many people were unable to bear the change, opting instead to either take their own lives or try to flee and be killed in the attempt.
So traumatic to the survivors was the entire incident that people thereafter dared not even bring it up.
Dakis Pawan, now aged 59, graduated from the Department of Industrial Education at National Taiwan Normal University, and today teaches mechanical engineering at Puli Vocational School. He was first inspired to study this history of his people after being struck with a serious illness at the age of 37.
During his recovery, he had to go for regular blood tests at a clinic in Puli, and the technologist that handled his tests happened to be Deng Xiangyang, a well-known historian and author of Dana Sakura, a novel about the Wushe Incident.
“Dakis, it’s important that you remember your ancestors and your history. It’s your duty to understand and interpret their efforts and resistance.”In the field
Inspired by Deng, Dakis Pawan set about seeking out tribal elders and asking for their instruction, as well as participating in research into the Seediq tribe and translating materials into the Seediq language with organizations like Academia Sinica and the Council of Indigenous Peoples.
“The more I understood about my own people, the more concerned I became about the death of the language,” says Dakis Pawan. Traditionally the Seediq lacked a writing system, with all of their accumulated knowledge and experience being passed down orally. Seeing the ever-decreasing number of living tribal elders, he felt a growing sense of urgency.
He recalled a time when some field researchers visited his village with questions that revealed the huge cultural difference and threw him for a loop, like “Where are all the hunters?” With a laugh Dakis Pawan says, “I felt like just smacking him in the face. How was I supposed to answer that? Everyone was a hunter!”
“Things have changed so much since my father and grandfather were children,” says Dakis Pawan. The devices the people used to use to plough their fields have long since vanished, and the younger generations simply cannot understand why the elders call photographs “ghost images.” “There’s so much everyday wisdom buried in language. If the Seediq language disappears, doesn’t it follow that the culture will disappear too?”
Over the years Dakis Pawan worked quietly at preserving his tribe’s culture, with his work only really receiving attention in 2009 as Wei Te-sheng was preparing to shoot Seediq Bale. Wei invited him to serve as a consultant for the film, with his first task being to translate the script from Chinese into Seediq.
“Translation’s a difficult job,” says Dakis Pawan. “Even simple lines like ‘Kill them!’ and ‘Charge!’ were problematic because traditionally our tribe doesn’t really use threatening language like that.” He racked his brain and consulted elders to try and find ways of properly communicating such exhortations in Seediq, ultimately opting for more euphemistic phrasings like “Show them what you’re made of!” and “Vent your anger!”
When he set about translating the script, he often found himself brought to tears by the thought of the events and people about which he was writing, and about how the people involved were his own ancestors and even the elders he himself had met.Torn between drama and accuracy
In light of Wei’s 12 years of work preparing the film and his obvious respect for Seediq culture and tradition, with a typical Seediq sense of humor Dakis Pawan refers to the short-statured Wei as “a little giant.” But even with all that work behind it, Dakis Pawan would still also offer his own perspective to the director, providing script and cultural notes and pointing out where things deviated from history; “This doesn’t fit with our gaya [the Seediq laws and rituals].”
For example, when in the film Mona Rudao and Temu Walis, whose father was chief of the Toda subtribe, share harsh words over a minor incident—one saying that when he grows up, he’ll take the other’s head, the other saying he won’t let him grow up—this totally deviates from Seediq culture, instead being a more Han Chinese way of thinking.
As Dakis Pawan explains, at that time Mona Rudao was already the leader of Mahebo Village and thus a man of prestige who commanded respect—how would someone in that kind of position threaten to kill a child?
But what left him most uncomfortable and anxious was the way the film reinforces the ill feeling between the two groups, rubbing salt into the wound and making it harder to clear up misunderstandings between the villages and tribes today. In reality, the various Seediq subtribes, along with the neighboring Atayal and Truku tribes, share a common heritage, their shared mythical primogenitor having come from Mudan Cliff on the eastern side of the Central Mountain Range (today part of Hualien County’s Xiulin Township). It was only later, as their living environments changed and groups moved that their languages and cultures began to diverge, although they continued to share the tradition of facial tattooing. Ultimately, though, they consider themselves one big family.No turning back
Well aware of the wide reach of cinema, and also aware of the sparse number of people in his children’s generation who can speak Seediq, Dakis Pawan realized that Seediq Bale might very well be a means for that younger generation to learn about their culture and ancestors.
But he also appreciates that a director will feel attached to his work. At one stage he commented to Wei, “The number of heads you’re having our ancestors lop off is many times larger than reality! Don’t you think it’s a little too Hollywood to have us losing one or two, but killing a couple dozen?” After this, Wei adjusted the number down a bit.
Wei has remarked, “One of the biggest stresses of shooting was having Dakis Pawan watching me like a hawk at all times.” On several occasions Wei explained to Dakis Pawan, “A movie needs tension and excitement to grab the audience, so of course a few things are going to be fictionalized a bit, and hopefully the Seediq will be understanding.”
Upon its release in 2011, Seediq Bale drew significant attention at home and abroad, and faced with questions and comments from other Seediq, Dakis Pawan decided to write about his feelings and experiences from the making of the film. Thus was Truth Bale born, which also traces the historical realities behind several of the film’s major characters.
After the book was published, interest in Seediq culture rose across Taiwan for a period, and Dakis Pawan, who never anticipated becoming an author, began feeling that his efforts were being rewarded. With his second book aiming to reconstruct the truth of what happened, he interviewed several tribal elders and recorded their stories, bringing his people’s perspective on the tragedy to life through his writing.
“And to my elders, both still with us and in the world of the spirits, I say: ‘Nii naq bale beyax mu di, rudan ha! Srwai ku bale!’ (My elders, this is truly as much as is within my power to do! Please forgive me!)” It is with these words that Dakis Pawan ends the preface to his latest book. Meanwhile, his work to record the history of the Seediq continues, and hopefully his efforts will give some peace to the spirits of his ancestors.