Sun, May 04, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Aboriginal folklore providing a link to the past

A new bilingual book series provides encyclopedic insight into the legends of Taiwna's Aboriginal population - and it's made for children

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

Legend holds that when the ancient Atayal needed water they had only to call out qsya! qsya! and their cooking pots would be filled with enough to drink and make dinner.

Likewise, when they needed meat, they would yell vha! vha! and a mountain boar would appear. If they pulled a few hairs from the boar's hide and placed them in their cooking pots, within minutes the hair would turn into just enough meat to feed the entire family.

Today's Atayal should have it so easy.

When Rimuy Aki steps in front of her class, not only are there no magic words she can utter to teach her students all they should know of their ancestral language and culture, there aren't even many texts at her disposal.

The publication of a new bilingual series of children's books on Taiwanese Aboriginal folklore has forged a path by which educators and parents can teach children about Taiwan's aboriginal heritage from the Aborigines themselves.

Edited by the former Commissioner for Aboriginal Affairs Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) and published by Third Nature, the series contains a book for each of Taiwan's 10 official tribes, with stories told and illustrated by members of the tribe.

In addition to the stories, each volume contains a glossary of words and phrases and encyclopedic information on the tribes' individual histories, cultures and customs, down to what they ate and -- in the case of the Atayal -- why women tattooed their faces and men hunted enemies' heads.

"We have no system of writing in the Atayal language and so a book like this is a welcome tool," said Rimuy, who served as the storyteller for the Atayal volume.

"Of course, my own students have heard these stories in their native language, but [the books] are a way for others to hear them, too."

Many of the stories, while based on myth, give insight into many Aborigines' modern-day customs. The Atayal legend of the giant stone, for example, tells not only of the tribe's origins, but why women tattooed their faces, a custom which is now rare but can still be seen in some elder members of the tribe.

According to the legend, the first Atayal man and woman were born from the same stone and shared the land with families of sika deer and birds. They saw the love these creatures had for one another but they didn't know how to have a family of their own.

One day they noticed a pair of flies resting on top of one another and were made aware of how to have children. But this embarrassed the man, who thought of the woman as his sister. The woman stole away from his side one night and, disguising her face with mud, met up with him the next day.

Lost without the only friend he'd ever known, the man embraced the stranger and together they bore a child. From then on, when an Atayal woman came of age, she would tattoo a band across the breadth of her face.

The Saisiat tribe creation legend, told by Iteh a Atau (潘秋榮), is actually a re-creation story. After a devastating flood that all but eliminated the Saisiat, the only surviving man and woman, a brother and sister, bore a child in order to keep their people alive. But how could they create more Saisiat? Their own children shouldn't have to marry as they did.

They decided to chop the child into pieces and throw it in the water. When they did, each piece became a new person. The names they gave each new person remain the family names of the Saisiat today.

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