Wed, Jul 30, 2014 - Page 12 News List

Indigenous matters

Following a series protests against tourism in tribal villages in recent months, Aboriginal rights activists say the problem lies in their lack of land rights

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Residents of Mqmgi Village in Hualien County’s Sioulin Village fire hunting rifles early last month.

Photo: hua meng-ching, Taipei Times

There has never been a “tour” in Taiwan quite like the one given earlier this month at the Tourism Bureau headquarters in Taipei.

“Now, everyone, let’s take a look over there. You can see the staff are performing the act of working,” a tour guide said, pointing to employees behind a glass door.

“Wow, so that is what they wear at the Tourism Bureau. But where is your buttoned Mandarin jacket?” a curious “sightseer” observed.

At another spot, a young Aboriginal woman dressed in high heels and a summer beach hat, snapped a few “selfies.” Other tourists asked the civil servants to sing and dance.

Several bureau employees protested that it is a workplace, not a tourist attraction.

“Tribal villages are where we live, not tourist attractions either,” a “tourist” answered back.

Surprise protest

Namoh Nofu, an Aboriginal rights activist who acted as the “tour guide,” said that what started as a chat with friends on Facebook turned out to be a successful surprise protest against the agency’s plan to promote Aboriginal ceremonies and rituals as tourist events.

“We got upset talking about it and came up with the idea of touring the bureau,” he says.

The “tour” of the Tourism Bureau ingeniously encapsulates what Namoh Nofu and other activists have tried to do to raise awareness of Aboriginal rights that they say are often overlooked in Taiwan’s Han-centric society.

“Since the education system fails to integrate our cultures [into the public school curriculum] ... we need ... to expose the public and our own people to the Aboriginal issues,” Namoh Nofu notes.

What ‘harvest festival?’

This includes targeting the type of tourism promoted by authorities to encourage vacationers to visit tribal events such as the “harvest festivals” (豐年祭) held in Pangcah (Amis) communities along the island’s east coast every summer.

It may come as a surprise to Han tourists, Namoh Nofu says, but there is no such thing as a harvest festival as promoted by tourism pamphlets. The Pangcah communities in different regions have rituals known by various names, such as Ilisin, Malalikit, Malikoda and Kiluma’an. While each one is distinct, the rituals are important occasions where a tribe’s cultural inheritance is passed down to younger generations.

Take Namoh Nofu’s hometown, the Pangcah village of Tafalong (太巴塱) in Hualien, for example. The Ilisin ritual was originally about offering sacrifices to the hunted heads of the tribes’ enemies. During the ritual, which lasts several weeks, tribal youth would carry out community projects such as mending thatched roofs and learning how to hunt, all of which culminates in a ceremony dedicated to expressing respect to ancestral spirits and the elderly.

“These rituals are important because they encompass the whole aspect of our culture. So are they a performance?”

Yes they are — at least in the eyes of government officials. Every year, local governments allot some money to each tribal village — usually, Namoh Nofu says, around NT$150,000 — through government-funded community development associations managed by tribal leaders in the village, who will then recruit villagers to learn songs and dances that are promoted by the local government to tourists as an Aboriginal festival.

Each participating performer receives “NT$1,000 and a lunchbox” on the day of festivities, which is presented to tourists who are brought in by dozens of tours buses, who “walk right into the middle of the ceremony with cameras and snap away or start dancing with villagers without being invited.”

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