Sun, May 05, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Aborigines could help build bridges

By Manik Mehta

Taiwan might have been isolated, but it is not alienated from the rest of the world. Semantics? No, not at all.

Despite the global constraints and pressures weighing upon it, Taiwan has been able to assert itself fairly well, as many US strategic experts, academics and others familiar with Taiwan’s unique status agree.

The world can be the proverbial oyster, if one works hard to open it.

One bright spot visible for Taiwan in New York recently was the lively interest generated in the island’s indigenous people. A seminar on Taiwan’s indigenous people was held at the premises of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in New York, jointly organized by TECO, the permanent mission of Kirbati to the UN, the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University The Harvard Project on American Indian Economic Development, and the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University.

The large turnout at the seminar included not only Taiwanese and Americans, but also other nationalities, suggesting that culture does not have narrow geographic confines. After all, Beethoven may have been born in the German city of Bonn, but his music transcends all geographic boundaries.

An area of key interest is the commonality of cultural and linguistic characteristics of Taiwan’s indigenous people with the culture and language of the indigenous people in other parts of Asia, particularly the small islands in the Pacific and Southeast Asia.

In an interview with this author on the sidelines of the TECO seminar, Council of Indigenous Peoples Deputy Minister Calivat Gadu highlighted the “striking similarities” in the cultural and linguistic characteristics of Taiwan’s indigenous people, for example, with Malaysia’s Sarawak state in the Borneo region.

Gadu attributed the similarities with the indigenous people of Sarawak, as well as with the small island states in the Pacific Ocean, to the common heritage they shared in ancient times before tribes from Taiwan reportedly migrated to other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

Gadu has already been quietly, but effectively pursuing what experts describe as “indigenous people’s diplomacy” by establishing contacts with the indigenous people of Southeast Asia, garnering sympathies in these countries of the region; visits have been exchanged between the indigenous people of Taiwan and those of other regions.

Gadu led a large delegation comprising mayors, township heads and other public officials in February last year to Kuala Lumpur and Sarawak. During that visit, he also met Malaysian Deputy Minister of Agriculture Nogeh Gumbek.

“We were very touched by the hospitality of our Malaysian hosts. Ranu Ank Mina, the Sarawak state legislator received us. We visited the traditional long houses in Sarawak and held talks with the state’s indigenous people. We saw so many similarities with them, one such similarity being that like Taiwanese, Malaysia’s indigenous people also sit around the fire and talk to each other,” Gadu said.

Besides Malaysia, Gadu toured Indonesia, whose indigenous people also share common cultural and linguistic features with their counterparts in Taiwan.

“There is literature, based on research, suggesting the similarities, for example, in words in the Malaysian or Indonesian language. In many cases, the pronunciation of numbers is almost similar,” he said.

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