Review: Dear Aki, Please Don't Be Upset

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Competent But Unfitted

"79 years old now, Faisu Mukunana is the only Tsou writer of her generation. This is because the Tsou people suffered tremendously under the brutal political oppression during the 1940s and the 1950s, when the Nationalist Party took over Taiwan and ruled the island by dictatorship."
Originally published by Kitaab: https://kitaab.org/2021/04/15/book-review-dear-aki-please-dont-be-upset/
Cover photo by Lin Hsia

 

Dear Ak’i, Please Don’t Be Upset

C. J. Anderson-Wu






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Author: Faisu Mukunana(Taiwan)

Translator: Yao-Chung Tsao

Editor: Cort Smith

Genre: Memoir, Essays

Publisher: Serenity International

ISBN: 9789866245053

Date: Mar 2021



 

Faisu Mukunana started her writing career quite late, but once she started, she became really good at it. Born in 1942, three years before the Japanese colonialist government retreated from Taiwan after its defeat in WWII, Faisu Mukunana’s mother tongue was indigenous Tsou language, and her second language was Japanese that her parents used on formal occasions. Later she struggled to learn Chinese in school and was punished for slipping out her own languages from time to time. Today, Faisu Mukunana is an acclaimed writer who publishes in Chinese language. Throughout her writing, Faisu Mukunana keeps raising a question: What does the word “nation” mean to indigenous peoples?


From the perspective of a little girl growing up in the deepest mountain area who becomes the wife of a military officer from the Chinese mainland, Faisu Mukunana’s narrative begins with her frustration in finding her grandfather’s grave in the weed-covered hills. Traditionally, Tsou people don’t revisit the graves of their ancestors like Han people do, supposedly because of an entirely different world view about life, reincarnation or where the spirits go after death. But overwhelmed by how ritualistic the ancestral grave revisits were to the family of her husband, and by the inquiry of her nephew, Faisu Mukunana decided to find her grandfather’s grave.  It took them great effort to find the grave, and she felt guilty for ignoring it for over half a century. But should Faisu Mukunana feel apologetic?


Dr. John Anderson, one of the recommenders of this book,  points out that this custom of Tsou is comparable to the Chumash people of Southern California who believe that leaving newly deceased people behind is the only way to completely cut off their physical connections and emotional ties from their past lives. So is it necessary for Faisu Mukunana to find her grandfather’s grave at all? Why does seeing the grand event common to Han people make the author think she should follow suit?


So much legacy of indigenous culture has been lost during colonization and regime transitions that the dominant culture could have changed the values, beliefs and even the self-understanding of the dominated people. Faisu Mukunana’s memory about her childhood and adolescence in the mountain, including the myths passed on from generation to generation, the food they grew and cooked, and the houses they built, as well as how they adapted to the impacts of political and social transitions provides a powerful lesson that serves as a wake-up call to remind us how much we have already lost, and are still losing.


79 years old now, Faisu Mukunana is the only Tsou writer of her generation. This is because the Tsou people suffered tremendously under the brutal political oppression during the 1940s and the 1950s, when the Nationalist Party took over Taiwan and ruled the island by dictatorship. Many Tsou elites had been arrested, incarcerated or executed to make sure any opinion for self-governance would be silenced. The long censorship not only had successfully muted the voices of the Tsou people, but also extinguished their creative activities.


With a population of a little bit more than six thousand and many of them relocated into urban areas, the heritage of Tsou is endangered. Thus the legacy of Tsou culture contained in the forests spreading over the highest and longest mountain ranges had not been inherited, as well as the transitional justice Tsou people had deserved but never found, leaving a huge discrepancy in our knowledge about Tsou history and their traditional wisdom. We are no longer able to learn how to predict weather by the shapes of clouds, how to trace wild animals, how to interpret messages from bird chirping,  or how to collect food in the wilderness. Moreover, we have become totally ignorant about the necessity of conserving nature.


This memoir is a treasure, in addition to all the questions the author raised, it implies the traditional wisdom of indigenous culture that we might not recover any more.

 

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C. J. Anderson-Wu is the author of Impossible to Swallow(2017) and The Surveillance(2021), both books are collections of short stories about the White Terror in Taiwan.

 

 


Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Competent But Unfitted. All rights reserved.

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