News of volunteers helping in Taitung County’s post-typhoon recovery efforts criticizing Amis Aborigines for holding their annual Ilisin harvest festival despite the devastation might not have drawn much attention, but it shows how ignorant mainstream society is about Aboriginal culture and how such a mentality might have a larger impact.
On learning the extent of the damage caused by Typhoon Nepartak that hit the nation earlier this month, leaving Taitung County devastated, many people did not hesitate to join volunteer groups to assist with the recovery efforts.
However, many volunteers said that they were “shocked” to find Amis communities “happily preparing for festivities” when they arrived in Taitung, saying that it gave them a feeling of betrayal.
The so-called “festivities” that volunteers saw are not the carnival or party-like festivities they might have imagined. These “festivities” are the most sacred and important religious event for Amis each year.
Although often translated as “harvest festival” because it is held after the harvest of crops, Ilisin — held throughout June, July, August and September depending on each Amis community’s tradition — is more than just celebrating a harvest: It is an event in which Amis rally, show their solidarity, pass on their traditions and give thanks to ancestral spirits for their blessings throughout the year.
It is not like having party after homes and crops have been destroyed by a storm. Such religious events serve as an important psychological support and play a critical role in the healing process.
It is not only Aborigines — other Taiwanese also have different religious rituals to help heal the harms brought about by a major natural disaster and often the organizing of a traditional festival immediately after a devastating natural disaster would be seen as a symbol of community strength, despite what has happened.
Amis are the most populous Aborigines in the nation and if other Taiwanese cannot understand their culture, it is unimaginable what mainstream society’s level of understanding of other Aboriginal cultures would be.
Earlier this month, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) made himself a laughing stock by saying that Siraya Aboriginal rights activist Tuan Hung-kun (段洪坤) shares the same ancestral lineage as him, since they both have the same family name.
Tuan Hung-kun immediately rebutted Tuan Yi-kang’s claim by saying that his “Tuan” actually comes from the last syllable of the Siraya name of his family, Akatuang, and that changing the last syllable of a Siraya family name into a one-syllable Han Chinese family name that sounds similar was common practice when the Sirayas were forced to Sinicize their names.
A few weeks ago, Tuan Yi-kang also criticized New Power Party Legislator Kawlo Iyun Pacidal for joining Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Aboriginal lawmakers in a protest against the DPP caucus’ refusal to include clauses to rectify injustices suffered by the nation’s Aborigines prior to 1945 in a DPP-proposed bill on transitional justice.
Tuan Yi-kang’s criticism triggered protest from Aborigines, and Pacidal defended her actions by saying that all Aborigines should stand in solidarity for their rights regardless of party divisions.
While many people claim that they love Aboriginal culture and enjoy making friends with Aborigines, most lack a deeper understanding of Aboriginal cultures and history, and such ignorance could lead to ethnic conflict.
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