Accepted Paper:

Slate, cement and other materials of indigeneity in Taiwan  


Geoffrey Gowlland (Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper I consider the significance of two materials, slate and cement, for the Paiwan indigenous people of Taiwan. I explore how the engagements indigenous people have with 'local' and 'modern' materials are not politically neutral, but tied to relations of power and forms of resilience.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper, I discuss the many material entanglements of the indigenous people of Taiwan, and specifically the Paiwan people, with the market economy and the state, through a focus on a 'local' material - slate - contrasted with a 'modern' one - cement. Slate is the material of houses, tombs, and paths, a material that connects people living today with ancestors and mythical figures, and connects living spaces with the mountains and forest. Cement is the material of migrant work, of assimilation and hegemony. I consider the trajectories of slate and cement, their uses and transformations, as a way of tracing the unique histories of material enmeshments of the Paiwan people. Engagements with materials are not politically neutral, and are entangled in market relations and with the colonial and assimilationist ambitions of the state. I explore events in which materials are brought to attention and reveal their political significance: observations of the decay of houses, the opening of graves, and natural disaster are such moments when the power of materials to concretise and shape power relations is revealed to the Paiwan, and can lead to forms of resilience.

Panel P028
Mutable Materialities of Indigenous Ways of Life