Thu, Jul 19, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Millet wine incident highlights ignorance

By Pasuya Poiconu

When the family of the mazajzajngilajng (“community leader”) of the Paiwan Tjarilik community in Taitung County was brewing millet wine in preparation for their harvest festival a few days ago, they were questioned by police and the wine was confiscated for making alcohol for sale in contravention of articles 45 and 46 of the Tobacco and Alcohol Administration Act (菸酒管理法), to which the community reacted strongly.

This is the harvest season for millet, the most-prized crop among Taiwan’s Aborigines. Regardless of whether it is a good or a poor harvest, the community will follow the traditions passed down by their ancestors and hold libation ceremonies to give thanks to the earth god, the millet goddess and the mountain, forest and river gods to reward them and ask for their blessings.

At the ceremony, the community gathers to eat and drink food and wine made from millet. It is during such gatherings with relatives and friends, young and old, that the stories and tales of their culture are passed on.

These ceremonies are held in turn in Pingtung, Taitung and Hualien counties, and are conducted by Aboriginal communities along the Central Mountain Range. The gratitude and respect expressed toward gods, spirits, earth and crops is a ritual and a pledge that has continued uninterrupted for hundreds of years.

Aboriginal legends and myths stress that if these rituals and ceremonies are not complete and lack respect, the crops will fail, as it would imply that farming is not seen as important, making another good harvest difficult.

Brewing millet wine for the festival is necessary, as the millet cake, meat and other offerings must be accompanied by millet wine when they are given to the gods and spirits. It is also how a community expresses its respect and gratitude.

Some communities sing and dance, such as the Amis, while others, such as the Puyuma and Tsou peoples, maintain a solemn silence throughout, without any talk, song or dance.

These traditions and customs have been passed down for at least 1,000 years.

Someone allegedly reported the tribal leader for brewing and selling the wine, and when investigators asked about the price, he said: “About NT$200.” That was enough to determine that he had broken the law.

It is fortunate that these rituals can continue, as they are a symbol of the continued strength of the communities’ cultures, but that they became the target of legal interference is very upsetting.

Could it really be that the county government and police are so completely disconnected from daily life that they do not even know that the Paiwan people brew wine for their harvest festival or that these festivals exist, or that they think that the Amis are the only people who follow this ritual?

The Paiwan people, the Tjarilik community, the harvest festival and the brewing of millet wine have existed far longer than this nation.

The laws that police rely on and their lack of cultural understanding is flabbergasting.

Pasuya Poiconu is a professor in the Department of Indigenous Affairs and Development at National Dong Hwa University.

Translated by Perry Svensson

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top