Sailing against the Wind: an Integrative Project on Austronesian Outriggers and Traditional Tools

In the project exploring issues of self, ethnic lineage, and identity, Lafin Sawmah and Akac Orat looked into the everyday life and oral memories of the Amis people, with the ambition to draw a bigger picture of Pacific islanders’ migrating culture.

Thanks to the growing influence of the immersive method, researchers working on the indigenous art and culture have dissociated their research from the festive celebration of the nostalgic past and started to integrate it into the practices of contemporary life. Lafin and Akac welcomed the paradigmatic shift and they particularly wanted to explain why their ancestors looked beyond the water after having been settled in lands. As they were drawn to the question of migration, they started to learn to make hunting, fishing, gathering tools, and most importantly outriggers, in order to trace the seafaring memories of their ancestors.

In 2020, Lafin created a work entitled Fawah. It was a boat made by hollowing out a log. For him, the dugout is a symbolic entity helping him to assess his Amis identity in contemporary society, especially when the traditional skills of his tribes are under critical threat of disappearance. In a work whose texture expressed his own strength as well as the prowess of the tools, Lafin was navigating a route that would take his people from the past to the future. This project could not have been achieved without the participation of a rattan artist also with the indigenous origin, Akac Orat. In addition to the dugout, the handmade fishing spears and wooden goggles they created together helped the creators raise ontological questions, to relate their existence more closely to Austronesian culture, and generate more imaginations of human migrations.

Akac Orat

Akac Orat is a curator, a craftsman, and also an art educator. His curatorial projects concentrate on the intersections of art and life but more recently he has shifted his attention to the relationship of the indigenous society to art while investing a particular effort to revive the indigenous craftsmanship.

Lafin Sawmah

Lafin Sawmah is an artist with the indigenous origin but his art works, unlike those of many indigenous artists exhibiting their indigenous heritage ostensibly, look rather abstract and contemporary. More recently, he started to explore the mutual dependence of ethnic tribes and the sea.