Chang Ya-Ju, MA, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chengchi University
Bunun elder Cina Alis – cina means “grandmother” in the Bunun tongue – was seventy years old when director Salone Ishahavut asked her to appear in a documentary, a memoir. Although time had left its mark on her features, Alis was still strong and vital, still longing to return to her life in the mountains.
Alis and her family were forced to leave their mountain home in the aftermath of 2009’s Typhoon Morakot and the plethora of protective regulations that were enacted in the storm’s wake. The family relocated to the flatlands in the Liugui District of Greater Kaohsiung. There, Alis spends her days looking after her grandchildren, gazing out at the gray drabness of the city streets. But the stifling southern Taiwan heat increasingly drives Alis to return the cool mountain forests she knows so well – her ancestral village of Tengzhi in Kaohsiung’s Taoyuan District, where weeds choke the path to what remains of her slate house.
In following Alis back to her village, director Ishahavut allows the camera to linger on the vastness of the mountains, giving the film a slow, soothing rhythm, imbuing Alis’s memories of home with a poetic richness. Alis’s reminiscences reveal her love of the land; interspersed throughout are fragments of Bunun history, such as details of her grandparents’ lives, and an intermarriage pact that brought peace between the Bunun and Rukai peoples. Alis also recounts how external powers – from the Japanese colonial period onward – imposed laws and regulations on her people, forcing them to abandon traditional customs and practices. The great Bunun migration is part of the film as well – with the aid of GPS satellite imagery, Ishahavut retraces the path the people took, giving viewers a short history lesson.
On the surface Alis’s Dreams is like a diary, a personal reminiscence, bits and pieces of childhood memories. By recording Alis’s life experiences, however, director Ishahavut explores the deeper issues that lie behind her recollections – government policies that affect indigenous peoples, natural disasters, and the loss of traditional tribal homelands.
At the end of the film Alis eagerly expresses her wish: “I want to plant taro, plant millet, and eat cinavu (a steamed dumpling of millet and pork) every day. But that’s a dream, only a dream.” It seems as though Alis is just beginning to understand that there is a great distance between her simple little dream and reality. In her childhood, she climbed trees, picking figs with her father and brother; and when her father went hunting and came back with a wild boar, she felt great joy and excitement – although these are only memories now, Alis still hopes to return to her mountain home, to once again feel the touch of the earth and the caress of the breeze.