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Taiwanese Indigenous artist Ali Istanda inspired by traditional stories and customs in designing Lunar New Year lantern

Ali Istanda's artwork, 13 Months, is on a lantern in the Varley Art Gallery Courtyard.

(The article below about Bunun tribe member Ali Istanda appeared on the LunarFest GTA website. She designed one of the large lanterns that will be part of the Lunar Lanterns exhibition at the Varley Art Gallery Courtyard in Unionville, Markham until February 29.)

Ali Istanda of the Bunun tribe keeps to her own pace.

Growing up in the mountains of Taitung, she participated in many cultural events in her tribe that shaped her philosophies of life. In Bunun culture, they follow the pace of the natural world. When Ali entered university in the city, she found that the rhythm of urban life is much faster and much harsher than she was used to. On top of being discriminated against as an Indigenous person, she was often called “slow” by her competitive classmates. But Ali remains true to herself—it’s not the pace that is important, but rather knowing who you are!

As an Indigenous artist, sometimes Ali feels restricted with the need to accurately represent her people. Her chosen mediums are 2D art and woodcut, something rather unusual for Taiwanese Indigenous. Master carver and “living national treasure” Pairang Pavavaljung once encouraged her, “As long as you do what you like, then everything will work out.”

Ali wants to close the distance between Indigenous culture and the youth of today. She draws inspirations from traditional stories and customs, designing them with a lighthearted flair and positive approach. Ali Istanda hopes that people will become more interested in the values of Indigenous peoples through her art.

In the Bunun tribe, there is the practice of carving the year’s activities into wood. Following the moon, sometimes there is an extra month—the 13th month. Ali Istanda hopes that everyone can take this thirteenth month to rest and reminisce about the good things that happened in the previous twelve months.

Image by Ali Istanda.

Istanda wants Canadians to know about Bunin tribe’s 13 months

Inspired by the traditional calendar of the Bunun tribe, here are the 13 months:

1 – The shamans sleep, and if they dream of the goddess, there will be a harvest.

2 – Families help each other plant the millet seeds.

3 – Slay pigs and sheep as thanks to the neighbours who helped you.

4 – Cut the grass and weeds to ask the millet to grow well.

5 – Gather around the fire, the men at the centre and the women behind them. Share how you have contributed to the tribe this year, what you have hunted, and everyone chants and sings the Pasibutbut, a polyphonical eight-part harmony that is ritually sung for a bountiful millet harvest.

6 – The harvest month. Slay the pigs by the throat; the louder they scream, the better the millet grows.

7 – The men go hunting and the women begin to weave.

8 – Come back home to take care of the millet. Play spinning top; the faster it spins, the faster the millet grows.

9 – Parents of newborns create a necklace of seedlings as a protective charm for their child.

10 – Hunt other tribes; protect our tribe.

11 – Turn the dirt over and prepare for next year’s crops.

12 – Clear the weed and wood from the field to burn for fertilizer.

13 – Rest and reminisce this year!

The Lunar Lanterns exhibition continues at the Varley Art Gallery Courtyard until February 29. For more information on LunarFest GTA, visit the websiteLearn more about diverse communities from the Toronto Spark website.


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Arts for Canadians Tomorrow Society is grateful to be held on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of many nations, including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat peoples, that is now home to many diverse First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. We acknowledge our privilege to be gathered on this land, and commit to work with and be respectful to the Indigenous peoples whose arts and stories inspire us to bring communities together.