Thu, Feb 01, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan’s great epic of migration

By Jerome Keating

Life is fragile, short and often, as stated in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “a vanity of vanities.” Yet, throughout the ages, writers around the world have composed majestic epics that capture and interpret the depths of human experience. A few examples are: the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Indian Mahabharata and Ramayana, the Greek Iliad and Odyssey, the Roman Aeneid, and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

While these epics relate to specific cultural and language sources, after being translated they have reached far beyond their origin and constantly provide insight into the conflicts, values, glories and defeats that all humans face and relate to, regardless of the age they live in.

Today, with the aid of scientific research and inventions, the world that is known to humankind continues to shrink. Airplanes allow us to travel halfway around the world in less than a day and the Internet makes communication with any place on the globe instantaneously possible.

Earth is becoming a global home and while certain mythic concepts might then be questioned, this does not mean the age of the epic is over. In some ways, the opposite is true. With the discoveries of science, a new age of epics is just beginning and Taiwan finds itself a part of that.

Science, which includes DNA and linguistic studies, goes beyond giving us the age of the Earth; it now more accurately demonstrates the paths of human development and migration. This, in turn, creates potential epics that call for an author.

For example, the story of how all humans came “out of Africa” to populate the planet has yet to be told in a way that expresses its fullest meaning and dramatic form.

It goes without saying that such epics can still meet the basic standards that epics require. They must involve vast settings. What is vaster than the population of the world?

They must have heroes capable of deeds of great valor and strength. Who were the leaders and people capable of leading such great migrations?

They must also contain an answer to an epic question, such as: What reasons best account for such crucial migrations?

Three epics of human migratory experience immediately come to mind here. Each calls for its own author, and one directly involves Taiwan.

The first epic is the aforementioned “out of Africa” experience, which all humans can relate to. Were there different periods of migration with different motivations? Why and when did this migration split into two different directions: one that went to Europe and the other to Asia? What happened after that?

The second great migratory epic involves the population of the Americas. Who led the first groups across the Bering Strait? What epic question drove these people to leave present-day Russia and cross the strait into the continents that are now known as the Americas?

This “American migration” is one that will link to the latter development of the Mayan, Aztec and Incan empires, as well as the numerous plains, woodland and other “Indian” tribes and nations.

This epic would have a certain foreboding irony hovering over it. For after all the migratory development and empire-building in North and South America, those peoples would ironically receive that name of “Indians” in the 15th century when colonials from the European side of the “out of Africa” experience crossed the Atlantic Ocean.

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