Labay Eyong

A Mother’s Woven Path

2020 / November

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Brandon Yen

In recent years, mothers in Taiwan have enthused about Su Mei’s Giving Birth to a Child: The Magical Cure for My Over-Sentimental Personality. The author describes trenchantly how motherhood transformed her from a tender-­hearted young culture vulture into a woman whose daily life requires her to take the bull by the horns.

Labay Eyong knows this transformative experience all too well. A sensitive artist, she once struggled with many issues related to her female subjectivity, her relationship with a foreign man, and her identity as a Taiwanese indigenous person. At the age of 30, she stood at the crossroads of life, not knowing which way to go. But when she became pregnant, everything changed.

Labay Eyong grew up in Hualien County’s Ihownang, a village inhabited by the indigenous Truku people. Ihownang’s Chinese name, Hongye, which means “red leaves,” recalls the abundance of sweetgum trees that once graced the place. Just as that primeval landscape has long since vanished, so the Truku people’s traditional art of weaving is also on the verge of disappearing under the pressure of the times.

Half Han, half indigenous

Many people have dubbed Labay an “indigenous artist.” It is true that her facial features bespeak her ethni­city, and she absorbed the Truku people’s rich culture at an early age, being raised in Ihownang. Traditional Truku craftsmanship has inspired her recent creative projects, which give pride of place to resplendent textiles.

However, Labay in fact has a mixed heritage. Her father belongs to the Truku tribe, while her mother has a mainland Chinese background. Looking further back in time, Labay also has Southern Min and Japanese ancestors. Her multiethnic lineage epitomizes Taiwan’s racial diversity. Brought up by her mother, she always went by her Chinese name, Lin Gieh-wen. It wasn’t until just before she traveled abroad for further studies that she gave herself an indigenous name—Labay Eyong—by combining the names of her grandmother and father. Labay doesn’t speak Truku; her ways of speaking and thinking aren’t much different from those of most Han people.

Labay spent her undergraduate years in the Department of Applied Arts at Fu Jen Catholic University, before traveling to Spain to study temporary space design at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. At Fu Jen, Labay chose to concentrate on metalworking, preferring to use her hands rather than computers. Her subsequent training in Spain, which focused on putting abstract ideas into practice, facilitated her move from jewelry design to installation art, enabling her to tackle larger-­scale projects.

“What does it mean to be an indigenous person?” Labay was haunted by this question when she returned from Spain. To embrace her indigenous identity was to enjoy access to various benefits and subsidies, but she didn’t want to be subjected to racial stereotyping.

Grandma’s magic wardrobe

After her stint in Spain, Labay returned to her home turf in Hualien. While pondering new creative poss­ibili­ties, she thought of the Truku people’s gorgeous textiles. Memories of seeing her grandmother weaving came flooding back, and she visited the family’s old house in Ihownang. Carefully searching every room, she discovered many bolts of fabric left behind by her grandmother.

Weaving has a vital significance for Truku women, just as hunting symbolizes coming of age for Truku men. “In the past, a Truku woman wouldn’t be allowed to have her face tattooed if she couldn’t weave. Without face tattoos, she couldn’t get married,” Labay explains. When the Japanese colonists forced the Truku to move out of the mountains in order to govern them more effect­ively, the few items that Truku women held onto included their looms.

Traditional Truku weavers utilized natural ramie fiber. After the Republic of China took control of Taiwan in 1945, US aid poured in during the 1950s and 1960s. Together with flour, butter, and other goods, woolen clothes were dispatched to the island’s remote villages. Truku women didn’t feel comfortable with Western clothing, so they unraveled the donated woolens and used the yarn to make their own clothes.

Her grandmother having passed away, Labay inherited the old floor loom (ubung) and other tools and started to learn from other female indigenous weavers. Now Labay is the only woman in Ihownang that knows how to weave. She convened a group of 32 female weavers from other communities to create a gigantic work of installation art—Elug Tminun (“woven path”)—for the Xin­cheng Taroko railway station.

Becoming a mother

It seems preordained that Labay should have become pregnant while she was committing herself to weaving. Elug Tminun, whose shape resembles a womb, is an emblem of motherhood, embodying the collective ex­peri­ence of women. The completion of this work coincided with the birth of Labay’s first child. She had reinvented herself as a wife and a mother.

“I suffered so much when I was 30,” Labay recalls. At that time, she was struggling to maintain her relation­ship with her Italian boyfriend (now her husband) across a long distance. As a woman entering her thirties, she also had to negotiate a passage through social conventions and expectations.

Sensitive by nature, Labay was beset by many perplexing thoughts. With her pregnancy, however, came the sudden resolution of her dilemmas. At one stroke, she became a mother‡artist and married her boyfriend. The family settled down in Hualien.

Pregnancy was a milestone for Labay, marking the end of her despondency and the beginning of a new phase of her creative life. Labay’s favored art media and expressive vocabu­lary remained largely unchanged, but her mentality and circumstances were different. No longer baffled about how to define her indigen­ous identity, Labay refocused atten­tion upon herself to probe the meanings of femininity, motherhood, and family.

The golden luster of life

Labay, who says that she has recently found her feet in life, declares with a hearty laugh: “I have come to realize that the big issue of identity—ethnic or otherwise—only leads you to learn to identify with yourself. If you can identify with yourself, then all those contingencies in life will no longer trouble you.”

Being pregnant conferred a sense of fulfillment; she felt as if her life shone “with a golden luster.” Since her pregnancy, her art has been characterized by an abundance of golden lines and rounded contours.

A prominent example is An Exhausted Mother, a sizeable work made up of three major components and exhibited at the Taoyuan City Indigen­ous Culture Center this year. For this project, Labay ­created metal frames and prepared ready-made objects such as round tables and a wok, wrapping each of them in handwoven textiles. She then assembled the whole into the shape of a mother. The round ­tables symbolize the mother’s breasts, while the hand on one of them represents a baby wanting to suckle. Labay says laughingly that the pair of scissors nearby alludes to the mother’s hope that her child will soon be weaned.

Although childcare occupies much of the artist’s time, An Exhausted Mother exudes bliss. Also this year, Labay exhibited another work, entitled Family, at Good Eats, a food shop and art space in Hualien’s Fenglin Township. The background of Family is an enormous piece of fabric woven by Labay while she was staying with her husband in Italy. Lines of various hues—dark green, jasper, and olive—are interspersed with red ocher, evoking the ambience of an olive grove at dusk. The golden objects hanging on the tapestry and resting on the floor symbolize Labay’s family. The airplane and the dinosaur refer to her first son; the camera tripod to her husband (a film director); and the stones to her second son, whose Italian name means “stone.” Labay portrays herself as a pot pouring out drops of water, as though she sees herself as a wellspring of life.

Labay is now a fulltime mother and artist, often up to her ears in work. She self-deprecatingly refers to herself as an absent-minded mother. While taking care of her children, she also has to contemplate her creative pro­jects, so that she may work on them whenever she has a moment. 

Undoubtedly, art is an intimate experience for Labay. She withdraws to her studio in the village to pursue her projects alone. Situated on her father’s land, and surrounded by lemon and cherry trees, the studio is closely bound up with Labay’s life. There she busies herself with weaving, as if she has returned to where she started, bravely confronting all of life’s challenges on her own.

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文・蘇俐穎 写真・林旻萱 翻訳・山口 雪菜






しかし、彼女は純粋な原住民族ではない。父親はタロコ族だが母親は中国大陸から渡ってきた外省人で、さらに上へさかのぼると閩南(福建南部)や日本の血も引いており、その系譜は台湾の多様なエスニックの縮図とも言えそうだ。ただ、母親に育てられた彼女は、子供の頃には原住民族の名前もなく(今はLabay Eyongという名前がある。海外留学する際に自分でつけた原住民族名で、祖母と父親の名前を組み合わせた)、タロコ語も話せず、言葉のアクセントや思考方法は一般の漢民族と変わらない。


























文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱






然而,血統駁雜的她,除了太魯閣族的父親,還有外省籍的母親,往上追溯,甚至有閩南、日本等不同的族群,她的血脈系譜就像一部台灣多元族群的縮影。只不過,被媽媽一手帶大的她,不僅小時沒有原住民名字(如今的原住民名字Labay Eyong,是後來出國念書,她才為自己取的,兩個單字各取自她的奶奶與父親之名。)她不會說母語,就連說話腔調、思考方式,也與一般「漢人」,沒有太大差異。



























X 使用【台灣光華雜誌】APP!