Sun, Dec 01, 2002 - Page 17 News List

A rocky harvest

The same typhoons that frequently devastate Taiwan's east coast also churn up precious rose stones, a source of wealth for those who know where to find them

By Derek Lee  /  STAFF REPORTER

Mukua Stream flows through Tungmen community and is where some of the finest rose stones in Hualien can be found.

PHOTO: DEREK LEE, TAIPEI TIMES

Every year during the typhoon season from June to November in Taiwan, the Teruku tribe (德魯固族) in Hualien ask their tribal chief to hold a ritual ceremony by offering pigs, goats and chickens to God for a very special blessing: that He lead each typhoon during the year to their territory and give them storms with towering rains, the heavier the better.

Undoubtedly, this is the only group of people in Taiwan, and perhaps in Asia as well as the world, who adore these tropical storms in a way which is almost beyond comprehension, daring the devilish power of typhoons that inflict incalculable losses on the people of Asia nearly every year. This may seem to be hard to understand, yet the monetary rewards behind it make a lot of sense.

The Teruku were tough and proud warriors in the past and have refused to be identified with the more prominent Ami tribe both for reasons of language and custom. They originated in the Taroko mountains in the Tien-hsian (天祥) area and were forced to migrate down from their ancestral settlements at the turn of the last century by the Japanese colonialists. With a population of around thirty thousand, their tribal groups are now spread across the plains and river valleys of Hualien County.

They live mainly by growing vegetables and fruits in exchange for daily needs. However, what they are lacking -- money in particular -- the Almighty would deliver to them through the "blessing" of typhoons. Whenever one of these treacherous tropical storms, which usually sweep through the Philippines first before hovering down to Taiwan during the summer and fall, lands on Hualien, it brings along heavy winds and torrential rains. Such storms immediately cause massive landslides in the mountain areas and cause the rivers to swell.

A typhoon's horrendous power, with gusty winds and abundant rainfall, carries mountain rocks along with a huge amount of mud from the Chilai mountains (奇萊山), part of the Central Mountain Range in Hualien, to the nearby rivers and flushes the rocks and mud all the way down to the eastern coastal regions. Among these rocks, there is a kind which local people have nicknamed "black skin" (黑皮). These rocks have brought a great deal of wealth to the Teruku tribe and will bring international fame to Hualien in the future.

Diamonds in the rough

The Teruku people are blessed with a unique strength that allows them to carry these weighty rocks along the three rivers which happen to be in their territory. No sooner than the weather turns slightly fair and the water levels in the rivers subsides, the Teruku people and other residents of Hualien swarm to the riverbanks along the Mukua Stream (木瓜溪), the Sanchan Stream (三棧溪) and the Liwu Stream (立霧溪) to search for the "black skin" rocks along the winding rivers.

Amazingly, underneath a very thin black layer, these rocks contain some of the most beautiful colors and veins of any rock surface in the world. The rock, after it has been polished by machine as a whole piece or sliced into thin pieces, is called "rose stone" (玫瑰石) by locals. The stone derives this name largely from its color, which resembles pink-red roses, but it is known internationally as rhodonite (薔薇輝石).

In addition to Hualien, rhodonite is also found the Harz mountains in Germany, Langban in Sweden, the Urals in Russia, in Peru, Brazil, New South Wales in Australia, Colorado and Massachusetts in the US, and some parts of China. Although the rhodonite in most of these countries is renowned for its varied and refined colors, it is generally agreed that the rhodonite found in Taiwan is among the best, and for good reason. Only the rhodonite produced in Taiwan possess a surface that resembles a picturesque natural landscape, with rich and varied colors on a rose-red base. The colors and textures on these rocks have inspired local artists to produce paintings based on the patterns they see in the rocks, both traditional Chinese landscape paintings as well as modern abstract ones.

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