Wed, Mar 27, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Aborigines teach about preserving cultures

By Chen Jing-Young 陳景揚

Aborigines from the Atayal tribe -- who live in the Peilaman (北拉曼) mountain area around Chienshih Township (尖石鄉), Hsinchu County -- have generated controversy by sealing a mountain pass to protect the "Peilaman divine woods" -- a group of millennium-old cypress trees. In judging the Atayal's actions, we should consider what regulations exist governing these kinds of environmental, ethnic and cultural issues. In addition, the sentiments of the tribe should be taken into account, so that we can come up with high-quality development plans for Taiwan's tourism industry.

First of all, according to local minister Yuting Payen (預定巴彥), himself an Aboriginal, his people hope to use the trees to boost local tourism and attract business opportunities. This, apart from anything else, would help alleviate the high level of unemployment in the area. To strike a balance between boosting tourism and preserving the tribal way of life and the natural ecology, they insist that the opening of Peilaman woods to tourism be delayed until various complementary measures have been completed.

The Han people, by contrast, have far fewer qualms about actively developing and opening to the public precious natural and cultural resources to promote tourism. They blindly sell whatever is popular and in demand. As a result, large-scale publicity campaigns for scenic spots are often launched long before complementary measures have been taken and development plans have been completed. All too often visitors turn up with great expectations, only to go home disappointed. As soon as a place is described as a sightseeing attraction with "local cultural characteristics," it quickly becomes so inundated with people that all such characteristics are destroyed. Take Chiufen (九份) in Taipei County for example, where excessive development has drawn criticism.

As for the Atayal's potential to develop tourism in a sustainable manner, they point out that apart from the local agricultural and natural resources, their tribal culture is also a primary attraction. The woods and the mountains are not just natural scenery. They are the inspiration behind philosophies and folk tales.

By contrast, the Han people tend to emphasize external packaging rather than inner ideals in developing and marketing cultural products. Consider their efforts to rebuild old streets and old towns. The pavement designs are fascinating, the woodcarvings spectacular, and the ceramics beautiful, but hardly anything of the local history and culture remains. So how can they inspire visitors to come back?

Sightseeing spots are all over the place in Taiwan, such as cherry blossoms and hot springs. But that doesn't stop many Taiwanese from spending big money to enjoy those in Japan every year. The Japanese secret in attracting foreign tourists is not that they have trees or springs that other people don't have. Rather, it is the exquisite service and nostalgic cultural settings they provide.

Han society in Taiwan has long given priority to the economy while ignoring traditions and cultures. It is good at manufacturing and reproducing. But it is weak at providing services and lacking in imagination. To a far greater extent than the Han people, the Aborigines revere and treasure the traditions passed down by their ancestors. Although they would be hard pressed to catch up with the Han people economically, they have cultural characteristics that the Han people lack. For that reason, the Han people must not only support the Aborigines, they should also learn from them.

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