‘O radiw ko likisi no finacadanita，itini i radiw mahapinang ko orip no liteng.’
‘Amis history lives on through song, the elders say. The lifeblood of our tribe is carried in these notes.’
The Amis people, who have over 30 different traditional music instruments, can be said to have the most music-oriented culture out of Taiwan's indigenous tribes. Music permeates all aspects of their lives, from harvest ceremonies, marriages, and celebrations to work and leisure.
In their mission to bring back lost instruments ― some of which have been missing for over a decade ― the Taitung-based Amis Kakeng Musical Group (AMIS 旮亙樂團) has devoted the past five years to conducting field work and collecting oral testimonies from tribal elders.
Through the four instrumental categories of reed, wind, percussion, and string, the fruits of their research encompass the cultural and technical application of each instrument, as well as the art of crafting such pieces using traditional techniques and materials.
For example, a kakeng is a seven-rod bamboo percussion unit and the namesake of the band. The seven rods are of varying heights, tied together with cotton rope, and resound with seven different notes when struck with a pair of rubber-encased mallets.
Also known as an Amis "bamboo bell (竹鐘)," the kakeng is used to spread good news and can only be played by a female member of the tribe. Moreover, the player cannot be a widow or divorcee, as the instrument is most often used to welcome a groom when he shows up to marry his betrothed.
Through extensive field studies, Amis Kakeng has also brought back traditional methods for preserving these bamboo-based instruments. With support from Academia Sinica, the band has successfully replicated and refined techniques for ridding bug infestations with "bamboo vinegar (竹醋液)" ― an acetic acid made by distilling the byproduct of burnt bamboo charcoal.
Amis Kakeng is now stationed at the Amis Folk Center in Taitung, where the band performs Amis music and dances on a regular basis to introduce indigenous culture to visitors. More information on the Amis percussion group can be found here.