Taiwan’s Aboriginal culture has won considerable recognition in recent years, with tribal identities and cultural practices reinforced both from within the communities themselves, and through support of government and non-government agencies. Despite all of that, Taiwan’s indigenous culture remains largely hidden, not just from foreign tourists, but to many locals as well.
Certainly for visitors from overseas, there are limited opportunities to appreciate the culture of Taiwan’s indigenous people, mostly due to a lack of adequate English-language information. Cheryl Robbins, a 24-year resident of Taiwan who now lives in Taitung County, wanted to remedy this situation, and has recently published the second in a series of three books about what Taiwan’s Aboriginal communities have to offer.
A Foreigner’s Travel Guide to Taiwan’s Indigenous Areas (台灣部落深度旅遊), which covers Hualien and Taitung, was published in May. A volume focusing on central and southern Taiwan was released in June last year, and a third on northern Taiwan (including Yilan County) is scheduled for release by early next year.
The three volumes of A Foreigner’s Travel Guide to Taiwan’s Indigenous Areas are bilingual books providing an introduction to the culture of Taiwan’s various tribes, a guide to their ceremonies, recommendations for guest houses and restaurants run by indigenous people, as well as a good selection of photos taken by Robbins in her own extensive travels around Taiwan’s indigenous communities. Robbins said she hoped to cover both well-known destinations such as Dulan (都蘭) in Taitung County, which already attracts a large crowd of domestic and foreign tourists, as well as lesser-known destinations where visitors will be able to appreciate Aboriginal culture and hospitality in idyllic rural surroundings.
Robbins’ interest in Taiwan’s indigenous culture dates back to 1997 when she worked for the National Museum of Natural Science (國立自然科學博物館) as an English-language tour guide and translator.
“There was a permanent exhibition there on Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, so to be able to take foreign guests and dignitaries through this, I had to learn about it. I realized I did not really known anything about it, and also found that there was really not very much information available in English,” Robbins said. Subsequent visits to Aboriginal communities at the invitation of coworkers involved in the anthropology and ethnography of Taiwan’s Aborigines cemented a passion that has lasted 15 years.
“Growing up in America, there are Native Americans, but their way of life is not really accessible. In Taiwan, one of the most amazing things is just the accessibility, and when you go into indigenous villages, it is a chance to be in a place where people are very friendly, and they have similar values. A lot of my indigenous friends have remarked to me that they like talking to Westerners because we have a lot in common in terms of our personalities... Just a bit more laid-back, and not so serious [compared to Han Chinese]… There is a broader definition of success among people living in indigenous areas. And it is a chance to be in nature, as many of these communities are in areas of natural beauty,” Robbins said about the appeal that Taiwan’s Aboriginal communities have for her.