Exhibitions

Lesson 9: Proclaiming Heritage: Canoes, Carvings, and the Austronesian World

Summary and Objectives. Students’ study of selected objects from Austronesia (Philippines, Indonesia, Polynesia and beyond) provides opportunities to examine the roles that art plays in communicating peoples’ heritage and history. Activities encompass object study to investigate visual symbolism, work with maps and migration patterns to understand how geography and movement shapes family and community traditions, and creative writing to explore the importance of ancestry in communities’ values and belief systems. Students will

  • Gain a deeper understanding of the communicative role of the arts through a study of Austronesian arts.
  • Use maps to discuss reasons for immigration and its impact on the cultural traditions of Austronesian peoples.
  • Explore their own and Austronesian origin stories and belief systems through poetry writing.
  • Analyze visual symbolism to understand the importance of ancestry in Austronesian culture.

 

Download Lesson.
Lesson 9: Austronesian World Lesson Plan (PDF, 1 MB)

Background Information

Background Information

About five thousand years ago, the remote ancestors of today’s Austronesian peoples—who include Filipinos, Indonesians, and Polynesians, among others—began a remarkable series of voyages that over the millennia led to settlement of an area stretching halfway arounnd the planet, from Madagascar in westernmost Africa to the eastern end of Easter Island, north to Hawaii, and south to New Zealand.

Among the most important Austronesian art forms are oratory and the carving of figures representing ancestors. Both of these arts communicate by proclaiming heritage. Respected orators recite genealogies and lists of place names that support the claims of leaders to authority, while the carved figures of ancestors serve to remind people of their origins. Austronesian societies have traditionally placed a high value on cultural continuity, often stated as the necessity of doing things the way the ancestors did them. Honoring the ways of the ancestors has been felt necessary to secure their blessing, which promotes health, prosperity, and fertility in the community, the fields, and the fishing grounds. This outlook remains influential to varying degrees in contemporary Austronesian communities ranging from urban high-rises to isolated atolls.

 

About the Artist

Each of the objects in Proclaiming Heritage was carved by an artist in the community for which it was intended. While we do not have record of the makers’ identities, we do know that generally the work was done by men (textile arts were the prerogatives of women), and that in some instances the work was done only by those of noble birth. From the smallest pieces such as tools, musical instruments, and utilitarian vessels to the largest of examples—the meeting house and canoes—artistic styles reflect regional preferences. Still today it is said that every Yami man aspires to build a canoe sometime during his life, and construction and launching of the boat are occasions for celebration.

Suggested Activities

1. Magamaog and the Yami

According to current prevailing theories, the predecessors of today’s Austronesian society first came together on an island just off the coast of Taiwan about five to six thousand years ago. By 2500 B.C.E. from that home base, Austronesian-speaking groups had begun to migrate into the Philippines, and their descendants spread south to Indonesia. Although the Yami, local Taiwan inhabitants, did farm the land, they were avid travelers, moving outward on the open ocean in outrigger canoes—arguably their most important invention. They also constructed (and still construct) smaller boats that enable subsistence on fish from local waters. These canoes are of two sizes. Communal boats with identifying decorations are constructed by members of fishing associations, usually made up of ten to twelve men of the same lineage, while single families construct smaller boats that hold one to three people. It was their ancestral culture hero, Magamaog, who taught the Yami boatbuilding and agriculture.

Activity. Have students examine the ornamentation on the canoe in the exhibition (or study fig. 2.6), and let them conjecture on the significance of the designs and other visible characteristics.

  • Concentric circles surrounded by small triangles are referred to as the “eyes” of the boat.
  • The carved and painted geometric designs in red, white, and black represent the association that built and owns the vessel.
  • The high prow and stern are topped with feathered finials that represent Magamaog.

Activity. The Yami tell something about themselves on their canoes (respect for their cultural hero and familial association). Have students take photos or collect pictures that show how people in many cultures embellish their conveyances. Students might investigate the ornamentation of buses, trucks, and personal vehicles. What statements are these people making? Find out about the phenomena of “Art Cars” that are driven in our neighborhoods or displayed in exhibitions and competitions.

 

2. Geography and Movement

Voyages that began off the Taiwanese coast continued for thousands of years, resulting in the widespread distribution of people with a common heritage. Today the area settled by these groups encompasses islands in Southeast Asia and much of the Pacific Ocean, including the region of Oceania (Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia). Though diverse, people in this large area retain many commonalities, including their Austronesian language and their acknowledgment of heritage through oratory recitation and arts devoted to ancestors.

Activity. As they become acquainted with the geographic areas involved, students will appreciate the travel feats of these long-ago travelers. Many activities are possible to add to the class study of geography.

Consider how, without maps, people made their way to new lands. How did they navigate? Possibilities that students may offer are bird sightings indicating land, and knowledge of currents, stars, and wind patterns. It is possible that initial discoveries of new islands were accidental but their navigational skills enabled people to return to the same places.

You can introduce maps to younger students by having them map their classroom, measure distances, draw to scale a map of their room, play games that involve moving in specific directions, and similar tasks.

Older students can use maps to trace routes, delineate regions, define latitudes and longitudes, locate specific countries, understand the geographic features, etc. A good online source for information and printable maps is the Florida Geographic Alliance.

To further appreciate the distances involved in travels of the Austronesian people and the vast area concerned, the above source suggests cutting the outline of the United States from a world map, and superimposing it over the Pacific area.

Activity. There are always reasons for people to leave the familiar and venture out beyond. Let students make a list of possibilities. Note that some will relate to negative conditions at the home base that make leaving desirable (i.e., drought, environmental hazards, lack of economic opportunity, political or religious oppression, wars, crime), and other possible motives are related to hoped-for outcomes of the move (political or religious or personal freedom, better climate, fertile soil, work possibilities, proximity to family and friends, etc.). They could then follow with essays on the factors that might make them want to leave (or that influenced their family to leave) their home country.

If this topic or assignment is hypothetical, students can consider where they would choose to go and why, and the changes they would have to make in adapting to the new situation. Another approach would suggest essays on why they would not leave their home country or city.

Ask students why they think that such large numbers of Austronesian peoples sailed to new islands in outrigger canoes. Inform them of anthropological and archaeological studies that show 1) they were farmers looking for new plots of land to grow their crops, and 2) that only the eldest son could assume the honors of following the father as head of their lineage. Thus younger sons sailed to where they could found new settlements to establish their own independent branch of their lineage. In other words, in their society where higher status is given to a community’s founder and his descendants, there was more incentive to settle new lands.

Activity. There are always reasons for people to leave the familiar and venture out beyond. Let students make a list of possibilities. Note that some will relate to negative conditions at the home base that make leaving desirable (i.e., drought, environmental hazards, lack of economic opportunity, political or religious oppression, wars, crime), and other possible motives are related to hoped-for outcomes of the move (political or religious or personal freedom, better climate, fertile soil, work possibilities, proximity to family and friends, etc.). They could then follow with essays on the factors that might make them want to leave (or that influenced their family to leave) their home country.

If this topic or assignment is hypothetical, students can consider where they would choose to go and why, and the changes they would have to make in adapting to the new situation. Another approach would suggest essays on why they would not leave their home country or city.

Ask students why they think that such large numbers of Austronesian peoples sailed to new islands in outrigger canoes. Inform them of anthropological and archaeological studies that show 1) they were farmers looking for new plots of land to grow their crops, and 2) that only the eldest son could assume the honors of following the father as head of their lineage. Thus younger sons sailed to where they could found new settlements to establish their own independent branch of their lineage. In other words, in their society where higher status is given to a community’s founder and his descendants, there was more incentive to settle new lands.

Activity. The vast area we are considering has, in the past hundred years, seen many changes in population as a variety of countries, for a variety of reasons, sought to colonize parts of Oceania. Have the students investigate the history of colonization in the region. They may consider the cultural changes that possibly resulted from each wave of colonization.

Activity. The isolation of Botel Tobago, the island off Taiwan, kept it relatively free of outside influences until the mid-twentieth century. Today the inhabitants, including the Yami, struggle with contemporary issues as people do almost everywhere. Current major issues are the contesting of land rights and the placement of a nuclear waste dump on the island by the Taiwanese government.

Problems such as these are common throughout the world. Students, upon investigation, may discern if particular groups or areas are especially impacted. Can they find similar situations in other formerly isolated areas? Do they know of and can they do further research on comparable issues facing other indigenous groups?

 

3. Ancestors in the Austronesian World

Ancestors play an important role in the secular and sacred lives of Austronesian-speaking peoples. They are links to previous generations, they guide activities in the present, and they determine prospects for the future—both immediate and distant. Their influence on destiny can be positive or negative, dependent mainly upon the circumstances of death and the treatment given them after they die. Descendants, on their part, have many obligations toward ancestors, and failure to meet these may bring a wide variety of misfortunes. Almost every undertaking of a group involves veneration of ancestors, particularly with works of visual art and in arts of oratory including songs, chants, oral histories and acknowledgment of genealogies.

Activity. As ancestral sculptures are reminders of a people’s past, they also serve to inspire those who recite genealogies, memorialize feasts, and chant place names as a means of supporting claims of leaders to authority, and thus proclaiming heritage. The people of Nias, Indonesia, hold ancestral traditions at the core of their lives. Many trace their ancestry to the progenitor, Hia. In a recitation (recorded by M. Thomsen and repeated in an English translation by Jerome Feldman in The Eloquent Dead [1985, 56]), the account is given of the “origin of the ancestor image or the ancestor image as a substitute for the ancestor….” (Adu zatua translates as “ancestor image.” The rest of the italicized words are names for types of wood.)

Legend of Hia

Fetch the mauso lolo walho wood, 
Fetch the mauso adulo wood.

Carve it in the form of a human,
Carve it in the form of a child.

When it has been given a face,
When it has the appearance of a child,

Then place it up high,
Up in the main room,

In the beams of a ledawa house,
In the beams of a tubo house.

Make it bright with white leaves,
Bejewel it with ornaments on its headband.

Lead the soul of the father into the image,
Call him into conversation,

Bring offerings in the beating of the fondrahi drum,
Offer the crowing of the rooster.

Since the ancestor image sits like a human,
Since the offering song has come to an end,

Call it the adu zatua,
Call it the adu zabo.

It is the substitute for your old father,
The substitute for your caring father,

The soul [of Hia] will go into it,
The song of praise is intended for him.

Students can evoke present and past family members with two-line couplets, emulating the “Legend of Hia,” or they might choose to compose their poem about a family member. This might take the form of couplets, each one part of a long list of feelings about and memories of the subject.

Activities may center on the students’ own ancestors. If discussing their own family is uncomfortable for some students, the assignments can, instead, center on publicly known families, a family in literature, or the student’s extended family that includes friends.

Ancestor-related projects can involve students making family trees, locating roots on a world map, reporting on family traditions for remembering ancestors, interviewing older family members about customs of the past, etc.

Recitation of the names of those who have died keep those names alive for the people today. We remember the names of people in the history of our city, country and throughout the world by giving their names to streets, buildings, schools, etc. Whom do the students remember? Can they give names to places near their homes or school to commemorate someone they deem deserving of the honor?

Activity. Ancestral imagery, in human form, either represents or is a reference to an ancestor. Naturalistic or abstract, seated or upright, the representations vary according to culture. Some related aspects may be discerned among the examples displayed in the exhibition. Students can match illustrations of the works on view in the exhibition to the descriptions that follow in Handout PROCLAMING HERITAGE.

Useful Readings

Ellis, William S.
1986 “Bikini—A Way of Life Lost.” National Geographic 169: 6, 50.

McQuaid, Matilda
1985 The Eloquent Dead. Los Angeles: UCLA Museum of Cultural History.

1995 Arc of the Ancestors. Los Angeles: UCLA Museum of Cultural History.

Kirtch, Patrick V.
2000 On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands Islands before European Contact. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Rohmer, Harriet, ed.
1999 Honoring Our Ancestors: Stories and Pictures by Fourteen Artists San Francisco: Children’s Book Press.*

 

* Children’s book

Photograph Captions

Handout PROCLAIMING HERITAGE
A. Ancestor figure for house altar, Bawömataluo, Nias, Indonesia, 1870s or earlier. Wood, cloth.
H: 39.5 cm, Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X85.1072

B. Bin for storing millet from a noble house (detail), Rukai peoples, Taiwan, 19th–early 20th century. Wood, rattan. H: 108 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum purchase. X65.8157

C. Ancestor figures (adu zatua), North Nias, Indonesia. Collected before 1907. Wood, plant, fiber.
H: 24.8 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.5679

D. Male and female ancestor figures (ana deo), Nage peoples, central Flores, Indonesia. 19th–early 20th century. Wood. H: 57.5 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X91.613a,b

E. Offering post. Tetum peoples, Dafala, Belu, West Timor, Indonesia. Probably 19th century. Stone.
H: 92.7 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X86.3137

F. Post with ancestor figures, Leti, Southwest Moluccas, Indonesia. Collected before 1936, probably
19th century. Wood, metal. H: 175.2 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.3102

G. Ancestor figure (korwar), Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua (New Guinea), Indonesia. 19th–early 20th century. Wood, glass beads. H: 26.3 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. The Jerome L. Joss Collection. X85.1075

H. Male figure, Admirality Islands, Papua New Guinea. 19th–early 20th century. Wood, pigment.
H: 154.9 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.4990

I. Doorjamb (jow), New Caledonia. 19th century. Wood. H: 170 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Wellcome Trust. X65.7433

J. Hearth post, Ifuago peoples, northern Luzon, Philippines. 19th–early 20th century. Wood. H: 90.2 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of the Rogers Family Foundation. X86.3280

K. Architectural panel from a noble house, Paiwan peoples, Taiwan. Early 20th century. Wood.
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Museum purchase. X65.8158

L. Canoe (tatara), Yami peoples, Botel Tobago Island (Lan Yü), Taiwan. Early 20th century. Wood, paint, feathers, twine. L: 460 cm. Fowler Museum at UCLA. Anonymous gift. X91.5703a-d

Notes to the Teacher

This lesson is part of the curricular materials developed to accompany the exhibition Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives. Although this and companion lessons are self-contained, each will be enhanced when used in conjunction with others in this resource. Addressing several lessons within each unit will facilitate the incorporation of the study of world arts and cultures into your curriculum.

The lesson is based on works in the second section of the exhibition called Art and Knowledge. In this gallery works are introduced that served to communicate knowledge and a sense of history. See “Unit Two—Art and Knowledge” for an introductory statement on the unit, along with some provocative “Questions for Thought,” and suggestions that will inspire the students to relate the unit to their own lives.

Images of objects to be shown to students may be printed as handouts (from within each lesson), viewed online at the Intersections web link http://collections.fowler.ucla.edu, or downloaded from the curriculum page on our website.

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