This thematic issue of EASTS focuses on diagrams, and I was given responsibility for selecting appropriate images for the cover. Weeks ago, when members of the cover editorial team and I were discussing possible designs for this wonderful issue, Chia-ling Wu came up with an idea. She noted that the theme “diagram” had her thinking “postmodern,” and she suggested that I look for images that chimed with this particular concept. I was intrigued and relieved—just at that moment I was feeling deeply troubled by my assigned task, partly because, in a sense, every image could be a diagram in one form or another. Professor Wu’s suggestion helped me narrow down the scale and scope of my image hunting.
Some readers may think that the image we have chosen does not look postmodern in style. Nonetheless, my postmodernist pursuit raised a question: is it possible that society invented some forms of diagrams even before certain written language systems existed? My mind immediately turned to the subject of the Bunun, one of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. In the 1920s, when Taiwan was under Japanese colonial rule, anthropologists and colonial officers noticed that the Bunun had invented a kind of calendar to mark the months for important rituals. Because the Bunun did not have a written language, they used a series of intricate diagrams to note what they ought to do in any given month of the year. Having realized this, however, I quickly encountered a dilemma: though I really wanted to introduce this remarkable piece of cultural heritage to readers of EASTS, I did not want the cover to be made up of old photos taken by Japanese colonial officers. However, the crucial point is that the calendar and the diagrams have become one of the most important cultural symbols of today’s Bunun people; they are constantly in circles of invention and reinvention, becoming a lived and vivid tradition.
To address this inventiveness or afterlife of diagrams, in addition to using the diagrams—as shown in the Bunun’s traditional calendar in the background—we are delighted to have Eval Malinjinnan’s kind permission to use a painting of hers as the central element of the cover. Eval was born to Bunun shaman parents and is now living in Sydney, where, as she puts it, she is “continuing her ongoing quest for the divine initiation of her Ancestor’s Light in the hope of a brighter future for all humankind.” The painting is titled “Mouth-Harp under Moon,” and the following paragraph comes from Eval’s self-account of the painting’s motif.
The staging of the blue sky and green pasture on the back symbolize the sacrosanct relationship between the Bunun people and the land. The Formosan sika deer play a significant role in Bunun’s “ear-shooting festival.” Bunun people have the only lunar-centric belief system, conducting ritual ceremonies all year-round unlike other solar-centric Taiwanese Indigenous Nations. Thus the full moon, embedded with Taiwanese landforms, conceptualizes the spirit of the Bunun people. The black bird in this work is the mythological Bulbul Bird that brought back the first fire after the Great Deluge; it is the messenger of divinity, bringing a good omen of the continuality of Bunun heritage. The hong-hong, or mouth-harp, in the mother’s hands, and the bow that can be either a musical string or a weapon of skill in the son’s, speak of the Bunun’s world-famous eight-part polyphony and, most importantly, of Taiwanese classic heritage.
I will leave you with that, assuming that you have read the paragraph carefully. Please do go back to the cover and decode those diagrams embedded therein, or simply enjoy its beauty and prowess with a different understanding of how it is related to the themes of this issue.