THE FIFTH ISSUE OF FIHRM-AP - Write Our Own Story - From the Lawbubulu Exhibition to the Kialreba Exhibition
Lawbubulu—Wutai Relics’ Centennial Trip Home
Author profile: Celrevege
Dresedrese Celrevege is a Rukai member from the Kinulane Community in Wutai Township, Pingtung County. Currently, she serves as the Director of the Zhongzheng Library in Wutai Township and the Director of the Rukai Culture Museum in Wutai Township, Pingtung County.
About Rukai Culture Museum
The Rukai Culture Museum in Wutai Township, Pingtung County officially commenced operations on December 19, 2000. Its architectural exterior is constructed using the traditional slate-laying method. The museum houses a collection of 124 artifacts, including various tools essential for traditional Rukai livelihoods, intricately crafted handicrafts such as weaving, embroidery, wood carving, and stone carving, as well as a lifelike exhibit showcasing traditional stone slate houses. It stands as a compact and static representation of indigenous Rukai culture. The institution's objectives encompass not only enabling the public to understand and appreciate Rukai culture but also serving as a permanent cultural preservation and indigenous education institution. It fosters a sense of identity and belonging among the community while perpetuating the traditional culture of the Rukai People.
Write Our Own Story – From the Lawbubulu Exhibition to the Kialreba Exhibition
Since 2017, the National Taiwan Museum and the Rukai Culture Museum in Wutai Township, Pingtung County have collaborated to prepare an exhibition entitled Lawbubulu—Wutai Relics’ Centennial Trip Home. In the Rukai language, "lawbubulu" refers to handmade objects with practical functions or social significance. This exhibition is the first large-scale traditional artifact exhibition of Taiwan's indigenous Rukai people. It marks a journey of the ancestral tools and ceremonial objects of the Rukai people returning to their homeland for the first time in a century ever since their departure. The preparation for this exhibition involved numerous tasks, including compiling lists of artifacts from both the National Taiwan Museum and the Rukai Culture Museum, elders inspecting objects originally from their communities housed at the National Taiwan Museum, organizing meetings to select items for the exhibition, conducting field research and interviews, collaborative curation and interpretation between the two museums, countless work meetings, exhibition setup, opening ceremony, and volunteer training. Consulting the elders for insights into the significance of these artifacts, including their origins, their indigenous names, usage, and production methods, formed a crucial foundation for interpreting the exhibition items. Through in-depth field surveys with community elders, the curatorial team uncovered the stories, cultural meanings, and symbolic significance behind each traditional Rukai artifact, and they even encountered long-forgotten Rukai vocabulary during interviews. The team realized that the exhibition preparation process wasn't just about planning an exhibition but also a journey of self-discovery for Rukai people.
The curatorial team conducted field research on traditional Rukai weaving
The Lawbubulu—Wutai Relics’ Centennial Trip Home grand opening ceremony
After nearly four years of preparation, the exhibition opened with great excitement on October 22, 2021 at the Rukai Culture Museum in Wutai Township. The opening day saw enthusiastic participation of many community members in their formal indigenous attire, along with a grand ceremonial launch. Throughout the exhibition, numerous people interested in indigenous culture came alone or in groups. In particular, the exhibition received continuous visits by members of the Rukai people from all over Taiwan as well as their precious input and exchange of views with the museum. In response to their expectation, the exhibition, originally planned to be six-month long, was extended by two months. When it was time to return the artifacts to Taipei, members of the indigenous community bid a farewell to their ancestral artifacts with a sense of longing, uncertain of when they would see them again.
On the opening day of Returning Wutai: A Dialogue Between NTM and Contemporary Rukai, Rukai visitors came in formal indigenous attire
Fortunately, in 2023, to continue with the moving story of the exhibition and provide more urban residents with the opportunity to appreciate the rich and beautiful material and spiritual culture of the Rukai people, the two museums collaborated once again to display all previously exhibited items at the East wing of the main exhibition hall of the National Taiwan Museum from June 20, 2023, to March 10, 2024. The name of this exhibition is Returning Wutai: Dialogue Between NTM and Contemporary Rukai. In Rukai language, "kialreba" means visiting families. When discussing the exhibition's title with community members, they believed that the Rukai artifacts in Taipei, vessels and clothing once used by ancestors, symbolize an extension of their spirits and thus making them family members. Thus, the exhibition is viewed as a family reunion.
The exhibition features the image of the six-petal "bariangalai”, indicating the actual use of indigenous artifacts that were once used by the Rukai people in the past in six dimensions. In Rukai culture, “bariangalai” symbolizes virtues such as self-discipline, generosity, self-love, diligence, perseverance, courage, sincerity, supportiveness, and accountability. By restoring the names of the artifacts and how they were used in daily life, the exhibition aims to provide a sense of groundedness after their trip back to the indigenous homeland and to pass on the teaching of ancestors: "Keep in mind the lily you wear on your head and live like a true human." Materials as an extension of our will enables us to reflect on the everyday lives and spiritual worlds of the Rukai people hundreds years ago through these artifacts, no matter simple or ornate.
Both of these two exhibitions were highly challenging with regard to field research, cultural translation and interpretation, curation, and administrative work. However, despite the arduous preparation process, the respectful treatment of traditional Rukai artifacts and indigenous oriented interpretation, along with the bilingual presentation of texts in both Chinese and the Rukai language, reflect the immense significance of these exhibitions for local cultural museums (small museums), professional museums (large museums), and the local indigenous community. As the society of Taiwan has been advocating historical and transitional justice, exhibitions foregrounding indigenous people’s interpretation of their own stories mark a significant step toward justice. Perhaps the approach can offer some solace to the indigenous people for the harms of colonization and promote greater understanding and acceptance of diverse cultures in society.