Mon, Nov 29, 2004 - Page 11 News List

Aboriginal couple carves out a niche

ECOMICALLY SOUND Dingko Nan and his wife, Lisuun Chang, have succeeded in building up a thriving business selling and promoting Aboriginal art and culture

By Jessie Ho  /  STAFF REPORTER , IN MIAOLI

Dingko Nan, right, and his wife, Lisuun Chang, talk about their handicraft store called ``Lima Workshop'' in Miaoli County's Zaociao township. Nan and Chang spent three years visiting various Aboriginal tribes and collecting materials regarding indigenous traditional customs as well as totems used in textiles and festivals.

PHOTO: GEORGE TSORNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Dingko Nan (南賢天) has one of the best jobs in the world.

An Aborigine of the Puyuma Tribe, Nan, 51, usually starts his day by putting on traditional Puyuma garments at his handicraft store, "Lima Workshop" (力馬生活工坊), in Zaociao township, Miaoli County

The shelves inside the workshop are lined with Aboriginal knitwear, as well as pottery pieces and ceramics bearing Aboriginal totems.

"We usually first check how many guests would visit us for the day and then plan how much food to serve," Nan said, while his Hakka wife, Lisuun Chang (張秀娥), bustled around serving Hakka delicacies to guests.

Guests at Lima usually sense the hosts' zeal and hospitality as soon as they walk into the store. In addition to the vitality and artistry portrayed in the Aboriginal artwork, Nan also brings guests audio enjoyment by performing Aboriginal songs in his naturally powerful voice.

"My husband was the champion at a national Aboriginal mother-tongue singing contest in 1997," Chang said proudly. She, also dressed in Puyuma apparel, usually shares with guests ancient Puyuma legends and fairy tales during the intermissions.

The workshop is not only a place for them to sell products. In fact, Nan and Chang have turned their store in the remote countryside into a community workshop where they hope to help contribute to the advancement of Aboriginal peoples' lives in the longer term.

Before they opened the shop, Nan established a trading company called Di Gang Enterprises Co (帝岡企業) about 10 years ago, and has been exporting ceramics products ever since.

During the ceramics industry's golden days, it was easy to make over NT$10 million in revenue every year, he said.

In addition to their work, with their passion for Aboriginal culture, Nan and Chang spent three years visiting various Aboriginal tribes and collecting materials involving indigenous traditional customs, as well as totems used in textiles, festivities and local economies.

But as the ceramics industry suffered huge losses due to industry migration to China during the past few years, Nan sensed the necessity to redesign products to differentiate between rivals in Taiwan and abroad. The research the couple did showed them exactly the right elements to add to their products.

"It started during a visit to the US in 2001. I visited several handicraft stores in different states and was impressed by the development of minority handicraft stores there," Nan said.

"I knew perfectly well how to make a living, and what to make to do this. But this is not enough [for our tribal people]," he said.

"As a descendant of a Puyuma king, I feel obligated to promote my culture to the world, not just sell ceramic products," he said.

With this idea in mind, the couple asked elderly people from different tribes to design their products -- ranging from dishes, tea services, notebooks and backpacks -- with patterns and totems from their culture. In the meantime, they set up booths at department stores and local fairs to test the water.

Consumer reaction proved their decision was right, and the Miaoli County Government touts Lima on its Web site as one of the must-visit tourist sites. Apart from supplying souvenir items for government or corporate clients, Lima also showcases its products at an outlet near gate 4 of the City Hall MRT station in Taipei, as well as in gift shops at airports and internationally recognized hotels.

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