Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Hunting down Aboriginal pride

With the release of his second book, Paiwan author Sakinu aims to rediscover a philosophy of life based on the wisdom of his ancestors

By Ian Bartholomew  /  STAFF REPORTER



"The man who leads the wind" is the way the Paiwan (排灣族) describe a hunter going into the forest. The hunter opens the way and the wind follows. For Sakinu, a policeman who has successfully moonlighted as a writer, illustrator and educationalist, this pioneering spirit sums up virtues that are part of an Aboriginal tradition that is gradually being eroded. In his second book, he takes a philosophical look at what hunting means and how an understanding of this tradition can be a foundation on which a new Aboriginal dignity can be built.

Ina-vali (走風的人), which roughly translates as "leading the wind," is the title of his new book, which although released less than a month ago, is already in its fourth printing. The strong sales of Ina-vali are encouraging for Sakinu's larger ambitions, as they form the basis of his funding for the creation of a "hunting school," an institution which he hopes will help Aborigines recognize the value of their tradition in practical as well as theoretical terms.

And by practical, he does not particularly mean shooting animals.

Identity, respect, pride: these are the things that Sakinu believes hunting is all about. He regards his upbringing as a hunter under his father's tutelage as the defining element of his character.

A hunter's pride

Dressed in a padded jacket and wide pants of Aboriginal design, a woven red headband worn against the cold, he was the most distinctive character in a crowded Starbucks in Shihlin, where we met up -- in between teaching a class on Aboriginal worker's issues and a long journey back to his village in Taitung. What was most remarkable was that he didn't look dressed up: it was rather a proud state of his Aboriginal identity.

"Aborigines used to be ashamed of who they were," he said, speaking about the acquisition of his mother tongue, a laborious process started in adulthood. "[As a child], my father would not teach me my mother tongue because this would mark me as an Aborigine. I am one of very few of my generation who can converse in our mother tongue," he added, admitting that there are still many aspects of the language and its logic that elude him.

The father who would not teach him his mother tongue has now become his helper in recapturing a tribal identity and is the subject of Ina-vali, an account of how Sakinu learned the hunting lore from which he derives his wider philosophy.

"Hunting created a bond between us; it allowed us to communicate about things we otherwise would not have done."

In Ina-vali, Sakinu recounts his experience following his father into tribal hunting grounds and learning to read the language of the animals and of nature. He believes that it is this training as a hunter that has made his current achievements possible, for a hunter must have courage, self-assurance and judgment, things that he does not believe the Chinese education system gives to Aboriginal children.

"In the past, every village would have a men's house, the place of education and decision-making," he said. "With the establishment of schools, the importance of the men's house diminished, and with it the sense of tribal identity." For Sakinu, the men's house is fundamental to any sense of Aboriginal identity, and much of the money from his book sales and the numerous literary awards he acquired for his first book Mountain Pig, Flying Fox, Sakinu (山豬.飛鼠.撒可努), have been poured into a project to build a men's house where traditional wisdom can be taught.

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