When visiting Majia (瑪家) and Taiwu (泰武) townships in Pingtung County on Aug. 6, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) praised the reconstruction work done after the region was ravaged by Typhoon Morakot two years ago by comparing the two places to Provence in France and to the Peach Blossom Spring (桃花源) — a secluded utopia described in a popular Chinese fable. Ma’s analogies hint at a subconscious concept of an ideal country that is either a foreign land or an imaginary paradise on Earth — not his real home in present-day Taiwan. His choice of words was therefore rather inappropriate and worrying.
This incident shows just how far removed and alienated Ma’s administration is from the land of Taiwan — which the Portuguese called Ilha Formosa, meaning “beautiful island” — and from Aboriginal society. Dawushan (大武山), from whose name Taiwu is derived, is a pristine mountain where limpid streams wind their way through verdant forest. Nestled in quiet valleys, deep in the mountains, one comes across villages where Aborigines live in houses built with stone slabs. The villagers’ songs linger in the mind of the departing visitor, as do their enchanting legends and beliefs. In what way is this place less perfect than Provence or the Peach Blossom Spring?
Is it not the nationalist ideology promoted by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) over five or six decades that has caused the society of these people who originally lived in a real-world Peach Blossom Spring to gradually break down? Now, in the year supposedly marking 100 years since the founding of the country, they find themselves idling away in a new Peach Blossom Spring. When are the Aboriginal peoples destined to finally connect the past and the present?
The Aboriginal chiefs who appeared in televised reports from Majia and Taiwu no longer had the same air of confidence and dignity they used to have. It was a sad reminder of a paternalistic comment Ma once made, when he said that he regarded Aborigines as “people.”
Centuries ago, the son of the paramount chief of Old Taiwu Village married the daughter of the paramount chief of the neighboring Old Jiaping Village (佳平). The bride and groom each inherited the subjects and land of their forefathers, and they presided over nearly 30 other villages headed by dependent chiefs. Ruling over such a big area, they were like feudal lords. Still, their power could not compare with that of the paramount chief of the still larger Old Majia Village to the north.
These chieftains had dealings with Dutch colonists in the 17th century. Records of a meeting called by the Dutch in southern Taiwan in 1644 show that the chief of Jiaping Village was one of the most renowned figures in attendance. Only the “kings” of Beinan (卑南) and Longkiau (瑯嶠) — as the Hengchun Peninsula (恆春) was then called — held greater prestige.
Japanese anthropologist Yoshimichi Kojima, who researched Aboriginal customary law under Japanese rule, was deeply impressed by this kind of cross-territorial vassal structure. He saw it as something like a federal state, or a miniature version of what was then the German empire. This history and these traditions are on a larger scale and more highly organized than those of many small countries in the South Pacific, providing a firmer basis for the establishment of an independent country.