Wang Huiting, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The influence of external political, religious and cultural forces on Taiwan’s indigenous peoples resulted in the gradual loss of their lands, languages and social customs. From the 1960s onward, their traditional self-sufficient economic model – hunting and gathering, fishing, slash-and-burn planting – was altered as Taiwan’s economic development increasingly encroached upon aboriginal villages. Thus, indigenes either voluntarily or involuntarily left their villages to sell the most basic of commodities: men’s labor and women’s bodies.
In the mid-1980s Taiwanese society began to focus on the problem of indigenous girls being sold into prostitution, and a “Save the Child Prostitutes” movement was launched. Poet Malaosz Monaneng’s younger sister was a victim of the child sex-trade. Because the writer personally witnessed his own sister’s sad fate – the unspeakable tragedy suffered by many adolescent girls who would one day become aboriginal mothers themselves – his poem is an outpouring of the accumulated darkness, pain, and suffering in the depths of young indigenous women’s souls.
“When the procuress starts hawking the wares” and “…the customer groans with satisfaction,” the narrator, a teenage girl, seems to hear the tolling of either a church bell or a school bell, one symbolizing western religion, the other the national educational system, both tokens of aboriginal peoples’ forced or voluntary acceptance of externally imposed cultural practices and attendant economic exploitation. The girl asks her parents: When the bells toll, do you know that “hormone injections have prematurely ended a girl’s childhood?” and “the pimp’s fist has shut off your daughter’s laughter?” Every sentence accuses capitalism of destroying traditional aborigine culture and society, turning the people into refugees in their own land, forcing them to sacrifice dignity for livelihood. But the pastor’s prayers and the teacher’s lessons are seemingly powerless to alleviate the suffering. Ironically, church and school are still beautiful memories for the girl. She entreats the pastor and the teacher to “ring the bell one more time,” as if the sounds that have shackled her people have the power to liberate them. The poem ends with the girl’s request to her parents – “I really, really want/ to ask you to give birth to me again” – revealing her sense of helplessness and inferiority, and her despair at the inescapable reality of her life.
Narrated in the first-person by a teenage prostitute, the poem conveys the misery and helplessness of young aboriginal women forced into sexual slavery. In fact, the work delineates the political, religious, educational, and economic oppression that Taiwan’s indigenous peoples suffered under Han Chinese rule. The tolling bell, an image that ties the poem together, marks the girl’s emotional turning points – her happy memories of the past in the opening lines, her rebuke of her parents, and her endless sorrow at the end – filling the poem with tension. “When the Bells Toll” is a lament, a dramatic portrayal of the heartbreak and despair of young women sold into bondage.
Malaosz Monaneng (b. 1956) is a member of the Paiwan ethnic group. He was born into the Aluwei tribe in Anshuo Village in Taitung County’s Tajen Township. His tribal name is Malaosz Monaneng; his Chinese name is Zeng Shunwang. Although eye disease prevented him from taking his studies further than junior high school, Monaneng has actively participated in movements fighting for the rights of aboriginal peoples. In 1984 he became a member of the Taiwan Association for the Promotion of Indigenous Rights. In August 1989, with support from the Taiwan Caring Foundation, he published The Beautiful Rice Plant, Taiwan’s first collection of poetry by an aboriginal author.
Monaneng came from an impoverished background and had to work part-time while finishing junior high school. After graduating, he moved to the north Taiwan, where he worked as a manual laborer. During this period he saved his younger sister from the clutches of human traffickers, who beat him badly. As a result his eyesight worsened, and in 1976 a car accident left him completely blind. Soon thereafter, he also contracted tuberculosis and developed thyroid cancer, but he refused to be beaten by these devastating illnesses. Instead he attended the Institute for the Blind of Taiwan, where he learned massage and braille. He opened a massage parlor in Taipei with his wife, who is also blind.
After losing his eyesight, Monaneng started to meet intellectuals, writers, and political dissidents concerned about the plight of most vulnerable members of society. He also came into contact with books and periodicals on Taiwanese history, politics, and culture. He started to understand and reflect on the social position and cultural role of aboriginal peoples in Taiwan and learned to use the language of Chinese poetry to convey the deep sorrow of aboriginal peoples.
After the massive September 21 earthquake of 1999, he joined forces with singer Ara Kimbo, writer Syaman Rapongan and others to form the Aboriginal Peoples Tribal Work Team, throwing himself into reconstruction efforts. Meanwhile, he continued to fight for the rights of aboriginal peoples through activism. Monaneng’s poetry has been collected in several volumes and he has also recorded a spoken work, The Experiences of a Taiwanese Aborigine (2010).
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4518
|Work(English)：||When the Bells Start to Ring|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊 》）|
|Translator：||Robert Backus（拔苦子）、杜國清（K. C. Tu）|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://star.morningstar.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Morning Star Publishing Inc.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|