他們對「尪姨的夢」給了回應，各自從夢中的敘述解讀，我也同時問了兩個問題：一、關於酒瓶上的「H」，你們覺得指的是什麼？二、關於這個夢你們有讀到什麼？想到什麼？關於酒瓶上的「H」，一開始大家會去談酒的品牌。但從幾次訪談我聽到「H」會有發音 [ etʃ ] 跟 [ hetʃ ] 的差異，詢問當地的藝術家後，他們說明這樣的發音特色說明來自的家庭是「新教」或「天主教」，可以判斷政治傾向，支持北愛爾蘭獨立或反對。後來有幾位則都提到「H-Block」，那是北愛爾蘭專門關政治犯的監獄。另外他們也會把夢中岩石海岸，連結到當地傳統神話，因為在北愛爾蘭北方有個稱為「巨人堤道」（Giant’s Causeway）的地方，其地景樣貌跟尪姨描述很接近。
A Journey with Ancestral Spirits:
from “Telling Stories” to “Exchanging Stories”
────── Guan-jhang Chen
Compiled by Guan-jhang Chen
Translated by Hui-jun Huang
Someday at six in the morning, 2008, I finished watching a partial eclipse with my friends in Danei Observatory, Tainan. On our way home, we paid a visit to Toushe kuwa (shrine). In the kuwa, we met an elderly nicknamed “Uncle Ho.” We had a nice chat with him, talking and drinking rice wine till the afternoon. When we were leaving, Uncle Ho told us that there would be a chorus rehearsal in front of the kuwa that night. He said we would join if we felt interested.
At that night, old songs reverberated in the kuwa. I did not understand the lyrics, but at one moment I was absorbed into a timeless space. Later, Alid revealed herself via the body of an ang-î (尪姨 “witch” or “shaman”). He ordered Uncle Ho remain cautious during the ritual and moderate his drinking to avoid troubles. Then She instructed how the ritual should go on. I was attracted to the unique way of communication, one that via ang-î, and I was really curious about how Alid knew Uncle Ho had been drinking since there were only us, my friends and Uncle Ho? Was it all seen by Alid, who had no solid form?
Not long ago, I had known another Siraya ang-î (shaman), and that had changed my thoughts on art creation. I stopped to think: why was I so close to Siraya culture but found it so foreign to me at the same time? After studying various documents, I found researchers had formulated variant theories. I lived with Siraya people, so I visited local villagers and discussed with the ang-î directly to better understand the contradictions between different theories. There was a time when my friend and I listed our questions for the next day’s interview. But when the interview really took place, the ang-î told us, “Yesterday some celestial soldiers (兵將) passed your house and saw your questions. They thought those questions were quite interesting, so they took them back to me and Alid, and we had discussed them already.” Then without being asked, he answered all those questions in sequence. It was a mystical experience, and I was shocked to find the difference between him and us.
The Vision of Ang-î/Alid
Staying close to the ang-î, I saw things through him and found the world and landscape were very different in his eyes. I started to have various conversations with him. I was curious about his “shaman world” and how he became an ang-î.
One day, when I was walking with him, we saw two temples of You Ying Gong (有應公 gods fulfilling wishes). He explained to me that one was a temple of “Wan Shan Zu” (萬善祖 god of ten thousand goodness), whose temple housed 328 spirits, represented by an elder man. The other was a temple of “Wan Xing Zu” (萬姓祖 god of ten thousand surnames), which contained 108 female spirits. He clearly described every detail, saying that when both temples were founded, Alid and Tudigong (Earth God) had checked all the spirits needed to be sheltered there. Ang-î also told me that in the temple of “Wan Xing Zu,” all spirits were animals, represented by a female rabbit spirit. She had lived in the place and became a superior spirit after her death. Because the rabbit spirit was virtuous, not hurting people without a reason, she was elevated to a “Yin Goddess” (陰神, minor gods originated from the countryside without being officially recognized) and was worshiped by villagers. Her mount was a turtle, and in the temple there were other animal spirits, including those of rabbits, snakes, owls, drongos, civets and deer. Moreover, he pointed the lowland outside the village and told me that it was the place for worship in early times, and thus some “animals” without tails would linger there, like turtles, rabbits or dogs. Those were ancestral spirits taking forms in animals to enjoy a walk. Those animal spirits did not have any tail because they were transformed from no-tail-attached human beings.
As for how he became an ang-î, it could be tracked back to “bottles of worship” inherited from his ancestors. When his grandfather was severely ill, he was asked to find a leather case under his grandfather’s bed. Inside the case were two totally different bottles, wrapped in old paper with stains. According to his grandfather and the texts on paper, they were at least one hundred years old. At first, he thought the bottles were vases on the altar, but his grandmother told him they were brought by his great grandmother from her family.
At that night, he saw a woman stand outside the window. Her figure and face blurred, but her hair was very long, reaching her waist. In the following days, she stood there, brushing her hair. At first the ang-î was very scared, but he got used to it because he had experienced seeing creatures from another world in the past. After a few days, the woman tried to communicate with him, but she could only make incomprehensible sounds like white noises from a radio. One day, his family asked the ang-î to help them light joss sticks. When he picked up joss sticks, he found to some extent he could understand what the woman was saying. The joss stick functioned as a bridge to connect them between different languages, just like the magical tool Doraemon has in his pocket. With the help of joss sticks, the ang-î learned that the woman was not there to scare him. Instead, she was their “ancestral spirit,” Alid. Although he could understand Alid via joss sticks, sometimes She still spoke in her mother tongue (the Siraya language), and he thought: “I cannot understand your language. Maybe you should try to learn my language (Taiwanese Hokkien) instead.” The woman (Alid) agreed, so they started to learn each other’s language for six months.
Alid entered the ang-î’s dream to learn his language. After a few months, she taught him some spells, songs, herbs and dances. At that time, the ang-î went to school at day, and when he slept at night, he listened to Alid’s lectures until 5:30 in the morning. Then I realized that Alid was trying to further build up their ties by this language exchange.
How to Tell Stories
After years with the ang-î, I had gathered many stories and kept thinking how to tell them properly. Among the documents I had studied, the Sinckan Manuscripts had stimulated my interest. The Sinckan Manuscripts was a compilation of real estate trading and rental contracts with the Siraya language written on the left side and the translated Chinese (or other languages) on the right side. At the center of these contracts were signatures or finger/hand prints of illiterate signers.
I borrowed this concept to record my stories: I invited a linguist to translate those stories into the Siraya language. Then I wrote those stories in Chinese and Siraya language on paper with a brush pen. After that, I asked the story teller, the ang-î to press his hand prints in the center. I named the form “multilingual manuscripts of stories in the field,” in which one could see the cooperation between translators, recorders and narrators.
Later, I was invited to organize an exhibition in Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts. At that time, I had four multilingual manuscripts of stories and related images. I tried to find a way to support my story telling, and I recalled that in Siraya culture, the most important icon was “pigs.” Siraya ceremonies were all about pigs: in a Siraya ritual, pigs would be worshiped, killed, turned upside down and checked, and an ang-î would drink the pig’s blood. Every year, a new pig’s skull would be hung in kuwa. I planned to borrow a pig’s skull for the exhibition and told the ang-î that I would need some help from the villagers to make a film, so I would like to give them a pig for the ritual to extend my appreciation. He pondered a while and told me that only one pig was needed every year in this village. Arrangements of pigs were done for the next two years. All I needed to prepare was “a pig head and other four kinds of meat,” which were pork (pig head, liver and tail), chicken, duck, shrimps and clams.
In the ritual on April 26, 2014, I was filming on the spot. Suddenly the ang-î was possessed by Alid revealed and ordered, “Come here, the child from the Chen family” in Taiwanese Hokkien. At first I did not grasp that Alid/ang-î was calling me, so She/he called me a few more times before pointing at me to summon me directly. I was in awe, thinking I had violated their taboos. Out of politeness, I walked to them and knelt down, waiting for instructions. But She/he crouched down immediately to pull me up, telling me that it was okay to keep standing. Alid said, “the ang-î has told me repeatedly about your plan to borrow a pig skull for your exhibition. Now one (pig skull) will be lent to you temporarily to be exhibited to the public. You must not forget that after the exhibition you shall perform a proper ceremony to return the skull in the kuwa and hang it onto the general’s pillar.”
Alid was very serious about the exhibition in Kaohsiung. She said the exhibition should be magnificent, so the ang-î and Alid prepared a huge skull of a boar with long tusks for me. Before the exhibition, Alid told me again that I must remember to properly return it to the kuwa because the skull was an important ceremonial item (and medicine). I also told Alid that I wanted to hear her comments about the film, and she asked me to make another appointment with the ang-î. She promised to discuss it in person. At the same time, the linguist also encountered some problems in translating the stories, so I invited the Siraya translator to join me in this discussion because I thought the best way was to ask Alid directly since She would be there, too.
After Alid came, She asked me to play the film for her. I turned the screen of my computer to Her and other “bottles of worship.” Alid asked me to replay the film after it finished and started telling me what should be done: some songs could not be shown, scenes with spells should be cut off…. She had many comments and watched the film for many times. I used to discuss films from narratives, cuts, and voice acting. But this time, it was a completely different experience to me, as the one who was discussing with me was an invisible goddess reviewing the film from the aspects of religion and taboos.
After all the changes were confirmed, Alid started to bring us things from the living room: broken bowls, two vases in different colors and shapes, a bamboo basket and a bamboo knife. She put all these things on the table and sat down telling us that She hoped this exhibition to be successful, so She would like to build up a temporary kuwa in Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts and send celestial soldiers to guard the exhibition.
“A pig skull” and “a temporary kuwa” were media that connected villagers, the ang-î, the team of the project, and even Alid Herself. After I realized this, I started to change the wording from “my artwork” to “our project.” From “my” to “our” (which includes villagers, the ang-î, Alid and our team), and from an “artwork” (which was symbolic, lingual, structuralist and artistic) to “projects” (which is situated in the context of how a village community thinks and narrates), the experience had changed me.
At the opening of the exhibition, one artist pulled me away and told me seriously, “Guan-jhang, one of my friends was scared by your exhibition. I was told that two small black men were standing there, and they might be some evil spirits.” I answered quickly that he needed not to worry for they were soldiers of Alid, and they did not mean to hurt people. And I was thinking that Alid really sent Her soldiers here. After returning to my home, I made a phone call to the ang-î and talked about this, and he told me immediately that Alid was there in the opening ceremony. She said Her bottles were put wrongly, with the front facing the corner of a wall, and thus Alid was facing the wall as well. He told me this while quoting Alid, “That silly son of the Chen family was really empty-headed. He did not carefully check the fronts and backs of those bottles.” I was nervous about this huge mistake and afraid that Alid was angry about this. I asked the ang-î what happened if Alid was facing the wall, and he answered: “She would be stuck! Fortunately, Alid said that She was slim enough to walk out from the side. She keeps telling me that you are really silly.” So I found it quite funny: Alid would discuss a project with me, and She would also mock me in a humorous way.
Conversations and Exchanged Connections on the Move
In the exhibition, I received an invitation from Peter Richards, a curator from Northern Ireland, to stage another exhibition there. I was honored, but I was also worried much about how to bring these items (the pig skull, betel nuts and flower rings) to Northern Ireland. I discussed with the ang-î, and we mentioned many methods: using plaster models, arriving there earlier to buy a new pig skull and make it by myself… Yet none of those worked. It was really frustrating to find a way to bring those things abroad.
One day, the ang-î told me that Alid led him to the place in Northern Ireland last night, and they had decided how to solve my problems. I stared at him, wondering, “You have been there? How do you make it? What have you seen there?” the ang-î told me about his dream last night: he arrived at some unknown building and met an old lady there. The old lady told him that they had an exhibition inside the building. He entered and saw a photograph of the temporary kuwa at my exhibition in Kaohsiung. In front of the photograph were three transparent plates. A small bottle of wine was placed on the central plate. On the bottle was a piece of round label with an “H” written on it. The color of the wine was amber or sepia. On the plates on both sides were fruits like peaches or apples. Leaving the building, the ang-î walked for a while and arrived at a sea shore full of rocks and many stone pillars. He was looking at the sea when the old lady suddenly appeared again, asking how he would return to his home. The ang-î told her: “I came here after I fell asleep. I’ll go back in the same way.” The lady told him, “You can walk slowly toward the sea. Don’t be nervous. Keep walking forward, and you shall be back to Taiwan.” When the ang-î stepped forward, at first he felt the warm water, and some waves kept lapping toward him. He turned around, asking the old lady, “Why is the water warm? And there are many waves!” The lady answered, “Do not worry. Just relax yourself and keep walking!” He followed her words. After a few steps, the sea seemed to be frozen into a huge glass panel. He kept walking, and he suddenly noticed that he was far away from the shore and was in the middle of the sea. The dream stopped here and he woke up. After he woke up, Alid told him the building was exactly the place of the exhibition in Northern Ireland, and the exhibition could be arranged like what he saw in the dream.
About the exhibition in Northern Ireland, I had been thinking about two things: people in Northern Ireland mainly believe in Christianity or Catholicism, so how could we connect them with aboriginal animism and our project? In addition, what did it mean when a “local” exhibition went to another country? How would people in other countries understand this culture? Would they see it as an exotic, bizarre culture?
After I arrived at Northern Ireland, I struck various conversations and discussions with local people. I found they were interested in aboriginal stories and mythology. They even compared my works with Carlos Castaneda’s texts. Therefore, I used the texts of Castaneda as a base to discuss with them the “dream” that the ang-î had before I visited Northern Ireland.
They gave various responses and interpretations to his dream. I also brought up two questions for them: (1) “what do you think of that ‘H’ on the wine bottle?” and (2) “what do you think or interpret from this dream?” About the “H,” people thought of brands of wine at first, but I also heard in other interviews that “H” could be pronounced as /etʃ/ or /etʃ/. I asked local artists about this, and they said different pronunciations indicated whether the speaker came from a Christian or Catholic family, which then implied the person’s position in the politic spectrum—whether he or she supported Northern Ireland’s independence or not. Later, some people also mentioned the H-Blocks, which was a prison for political prisoners in Northern Ireland. They also connected the shore in the dream with local mythology because the ang-î’s description sounded similar to the landscape of Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Via the artwork The Dream of An Ang-î, I connected local cultures and histories. We discussed languages, pronunciations, religions, and self-identities before returning to my work. In Northern Ireland I started a new project: From the Dream of An Ang-î to H-Blocks. From this experience, I learned that artists were also culture carriers. By giving lectures or staging exhibitions, one could take, tell and exchange stories of Taiwan to a different country or culture. When the research on a place or an individual’s life history was carried out to small parts, details of narrations would reach out to form new connections. These connections might be the key to new relationships that may go beyond boundaries of cultures, languages, countries and religions.