In any ethnic group, there will always be those who are worse off, but who work hard to overcome adversity. For some it is easy going, while others encounter difficulties; some cultivate their moral character and are careful with what they do and say, while others are confident and active, ignoring minor details; some are worn out with work, while others are born with a silver spoon in their mouth; some die young, others live to a ripe old age; some are rich, others poor. This is life.
However, reliance on a single outlook means to jump to conclusions, criticize and even discriminate against other groups: This is prejudice and bigotry.
An example of this ignorant and vulgar prejudice took place at a meeting of the Taitung County Council on Sept. 3, when a Han Chinese councilor said things like: “Aborigines live shorter lives because they like to drink” and “Taiwanese do not owe” them anything.
Some words are neutral, but the moment they contain a reference, stereotypes and implied attacks come to mind.
Words and expressions such as “like to sing, dance and drink,” “athletic,” “passionate,” “laidback” and “optimistic” are not perceived as malicious attacks when directed at a Han Chinese, but rather expressions of affirmation.
However, when they refer to an Aborigine, they become prejudicial and imply a fondness for playing around, naivete, not knowing one’s place, laziness, not thinking things through, drinking to excess, and so on.
The statement that “Aborigines live shorter lives because they like to drink” raises several questions: Does drinking really result in a shorter lifespan? Are Aborigines more fond of drinking than Han people? Do Aborigines live shorter lives because they drink?
I suspect that an expert would not be able to quickly provide definitive evidence in response to these questions.
The life expectancy of Aborigines is shorter than the national average. Experts believe that this is the result of major practical differences in livelihood, income, living environment — including work and relationships — medical resources and transportation facilities.
The statement by the Han Chinese councilor that “Taiwanese do not owe” Aborigines is the result of a major historical mistake.
The word “Taiwan” derives from the name of a Sirayan Taioan community in what is today Tainan’s Anping District (安平). In Chinese, that was rendered “Taiyuan” (臺員) and “Taiwowan” (臺窩灣) among others, and gradually developed into “Taiwan.” This is evidence that the Minnan, who arrived from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou in China’s Fujian Province, were not “Taiwanese.”
When their descendants call themselves “Taiwanese,” they are using a stolen name. The same is true about Hoklo, today called “Taiwanese,” but which in fact is not Taiwanese, but Minnan. Neither of these uses are supported by historical facts.
There is also the question of whether the groups who pass themselves off as “Taiwanese” owe Aborigines something. One sentence in Lien Heng’s (連橫) The General History of Taiwan (台灣通史) answers it all: “Taiwan was originally the land of the indigenous population.”
According to studies conducted across several disciplines, such as archeology, linguistics and anthropology, Aborigines and all who would become Austronesian migrated to Taiwan more than 6,000 years ago and even the plains Aborigines arrived 1,000 years ago.
Today, Taiwan’s Aborigines are a disadvantaged minority group. The main reason for this is that during the Age of Discovery, they were robbed and oppressed by armed colonial rulers such as the Netherlands and Spain. Those were followed by Zheng Chenggong (鄭成功, also known as Koxinga), whom Han people respectfully refer to as Kaitaizu, meaning “the one who opened up Taiwan.” He turned Taiwan into a Han society by bringing large numbers of Han Chinese to Taiwan.
From that time on, Aboriginal land was occupied and claimed, for example in what is now Yilan County and Puli Township (埔里) in Nantou County. When the Japanese arrived, the state apparatus worked with the private sector to steal Aboriginal land. This system remained in place after World War II, as the Han-led state continued to occupy Aboriginal land and turn it into state-owned land.
Looking at it from this perspective, do those who pass themselves off as “Taiwanese” owe the Aboriginal population something?
Culturally speaking, Aborigines do not think the land belongs to them, but rather that humanity belongs to the land. Having sufficient resources is enough. That is why they relied on slash-and-burn agriculture and shifting cultivation, and allowed Han people to share the resources when they first arrived.
The Han people who immigrated here — a place where others had lived for thousands of years — gradually occupied and claimed territories. To survive, Aboriginal communities had to move away. Those who did not were killed and decapitated.
The so-called “400 years of Taiwanese history” is the history of how the Aborigines were oppressed and had their land stolen.
As a result of chance historical events, Taiwan became a multicultural nation; mutual respect and tolerance should be our highest virtues. To hear a councilor tear asunder ethnic relations in such a clueless and ignorant manner in a county council is shameful and a blemish on the nation’s democracy.
Pasu’epoiconx is president of the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University.
Translated by Perry Svensson
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