Robbins believes that increasing the avenues for different types of tourism to access Taiwan’s Aboriginal areas might help mediate the effects of mass market tourism on how indigenous communities present themselves to outsiders. “Many local tourists go in there [Aboriginal communities] with a stereotype of what indigenous culture should be, which is the dancing and singing and so on, and I don’t see the people in indigenous villages doing very much to break that stereotype,” Robbins said.
Robbins, who is a licensed English-language tour guide in Taiwan, has created a number of itineraries in cooperation with Edison Tours (宏祥旅行社), a travel company specializing in inbound tourism. “Tourism is a chance to educate people and so I think indigenous people in the villages where tourists visit should make more of an effort to educate tourists.”
In addition to the tours she herself provides, there are “a number of Aboriginal tour guides with English-language licenses, but they are not yet able to use English to effectively explain their culture and introduce where they live,” she said. “This [the training Aboriginal tour guides to introduce their own culture] is something I really want to be involved in,” she said.
Robbins pointed out that in many cases Taiwan’s Aboriginal culture is still relatively hidden even in locations that are already popular with tourists. “I’ve tried to incorporate places that tourists like to visit, but which they may not know as being indigenous areas, such as Hsiulin Township (秀林) where Taroko Gorge is located,” Robbins said. “Many tourists know about Taroko Gorge, but they might not know it as the home to the Truku Aboriginal people, and in addition to the gorge, I tell them about the many indigenous communities they can visit nearby… The same with Ruisui (瑞穗鄉), where many people go for rafting and canoeing, but they may not know that communities of Amis and Bunun are located all around and there are lots of things you can do to learn about Aboriginal culture while staying there.”
Robbins is very much aware of the danger faced by indigenous communities as they try to respond to a new tide of Chinese and domestic tourism, in which the adulteration and commodification of their culture has become a real risk. “When tourism was first opened to Chinese tourists, many of my indigenous friends were very excited. But these tour groups go into these areas, destroy them, don’t spend any money there and leave. This is not the kind of tourism that indigenous villages need. It’s not sustainable,” Robbins said. “I advocate that indigenous villages try to encourage small groups, whether they be local or foreign, where people can get a more in-depth experience and learn about the culture, the environment, the ecology. They stay in the guesthouses, they eat in the restaurants, they buy local handicrafts and perhaps hire a local guide. By spending money in the village, real economic activity is generated to benefit the village.”
A Foreigner’s Travel Guide to Taiwan’s Indigenous Areas provides an avenue for Western tourists to do just this, and these efforts may help to preserve the identity and culture of Taiwan’s Aborigines.
“Indigenous culture is a unique and important part of Taiwan culture and history. It would be a tragedy to lose it because Taiwan would lose an important part of itself,” Robbins said.