Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 14 News List

Hard-core hippies

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Taiwan has few hippie festivals — the annual Peace Fest in Taoyuan County’s Kunlun Herb Plant Tourism Garden (崑崙藥用植物園) and the new Earth Fest (地球藝術節) are the two that come to mind — but now it has another: the Rainbow Gathering.

The first Rainbow Gathering, Taiwan started on Jan. 25 and continues through Wednesday in Taitung County’s Dulan Township (都蘭村), a coastal village home to mostly Amis Aborigines and a few artists and musicians. Planned as a shared living experience in an alternative community, the gathering takes the hippie ideology to a new level.

“The goal is to identify the ways to live light, to have less of an [ecological] footprint, to identify where our products come from and to have less of an impact,” said Chris Anderson, one of the organizers of the gathering, though he insisted there are no real organizers since the gathering is a communal effort.

Thousands of Rainbow Gatherings have been held over the last 40 years, starting in North America and spreading worldwide over the past decade. Some draw more than 30,000 people. They are typically in hard-to-reach places — but, being in Taiwan, this gathering is near a 7-Eleven.

Rainbow Gatherings have strict rules that participants will remind you to follow at every opportunity: no alcohol, all must eat in common and sit in a circle while doing so, no dogs, no meat and no cigarette butts in the fire pit. Attendees are also required to “leave [their] consumer addictions at home.” Some of the rules are easily explained. Ash from the fires, for example, is used to cleanse dishes, and sometimes bodies.

I spent five days at Rainbow Gathering, Taiwan over the Lunar New Year. A typical day at the gathering goes something like this: People crawl out of their tents shortly before noon, waking up when the few early birds yell “food circle!” in unison, the cue that breakfast/lunch is ready. Attendees gather in a circle around the communal food and hold hands while singing a song about unity.

Still holding hands, they hum the Sanskrit word “om.” Everybody is then invited to sit and eat, again in a circle. When the food is finished, someone takes up a guitar and walks around singing a song about the “magic hat” and how it keeps “our bellies full.” This is the cue to make a cash donation.

After the singing and eating, a stick-council may or may not be held during which attendees, when holding a stick that is passed around the circle, voice their voice their opinions on what ought to be done that day. This is how decisions are made: by consensus, although there is sometimes a good deal of whingeing.

After the stick council, each person volunteers their services or is suggested a task to perform. Tasks included cutting down the elephant grass that covered the site, digging toilet facilities, cleaning and cooking, collecting rocks, and building a sweat lodge. Around 6pm a dozen or more people call out “food circle!” signaling the final meal.

With no electricity, the only light as the day wanes is the fire pit, which naturally becomes the central gathering place. At night the party atmosphere picks up. Out come guitars, hand drums, flutes, didgeridoos and various improvised instruments. The music can be a cacophony of discordant sounds or a rhythmic jam that lasts all night.

Many Taiwanese who showed up were startled when greeted with the chorus, “Welcome home!” Some felt too uncomfortable to stay, calling those in the camp “hippie nazis” or “hippie fundamentalists.” Of all the rules, the one Dulan residents found the most baffling was the alcohol ban. But some decided to give it a try anyway, and they seemed to have a good time.— TOM WALK

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