Wed, Jul 19, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Maritime tribal connections

A delegation of Tao Aborigines are in the Pacific Northwest to take part in an indigenous canoe journey and visit a long forgotten Tao canoe

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Canoes sit along a beach at a stop on last year’s Tribal Journey from Canada’s Vancouver Island to Seattle in the US.

Photo courtesy of Gary Smoke

The canoe has lost its soul.

For decades the vessel hung from the ceiling of a Seattle salmon restaurant, and is currently in the possession of the city’s Burke Museum, estranged from Taiwan’s Orchid Island and the Tao community that built it.

Syaman Lamuran, a Tao Aborigine, has come to Seattle on a journey of discovery and restoration. He is participating in Tribal Journeys, a three-week trip that began on Monday and will see Native American and First Nation’s communities bring more than 100 traditional and modern canoes up the Pacific West Coast.

Lamuran will then return to Seattle to determine if the vessel of his ancestors can regain its lost spirit.

CONNECTING COMMUNITIES

Lamuran’s journey is organized and funded by ATAYAL, an American nonprofit that seeks to connect indigenous communities around the world. Gary Smoke, who has lived in Taiwan for 26 years and serves as the organization’s international relations director, says the journey is more of an exploratory trip to initiate contact between Lamuran’s Tao with Native Americans and Canada’s First Nation’s people. Next year, with more time to raise money, Smoke hopes to bring a full Tao crew with a freshly built canoe.

“It’s a connection between maritime peoples from across the world,” Lamuran says.

ORCHID ISLAND TO SEATTLE

Smoke, a native of the Seattle area, learned about Tribal Journeys while visiting his family last year, when he observed part of the journey and saw similarities between Pacific Northwest canoe culture and that of the Austronesians, who are believed to have spread across Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean from Taiwan.

“I was determined to get some people from Taiwan to join so that we could develop a relationship, exchange cultural ideas, languages and even students,” Smoke says.

Smoke met Lamuran at the International Austronesian Conference in Taipei last November. As chairman of the Tao Foundation (蘭嶼部落文化基金會), Lamuran has been actively promoting and preserving his culture. Smoke says it took a significant amount of time to plan the trip and get a full commitment from the foundation, which left them with six weeks to raise US$8,000.

There aren’t enough funds for Lamuran to bring his own canoe, but he still has a chance to navigate the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Smoke says that due to the large number of participants, canoe families are formed so different groups can take turns “pulling” the canoes, the preferred Native American term, rather than “paddling” or “rowing.” Lamuran met his canoe family on Monday.

At the end of each leg, the pullers need to request permission from the host community to come ashore following a specific protocol. After all the canoes arrive, a feast commences with dancing and singing.

WANDERING CANOE

Lamuran says he hopes to learn about how other indigenous people deal with drastic environmental changes and various social issues. He’s also interested in intratribal relationships as well as how they deal with outsiders and mainstream culture.

“I hope that more people learn about Taiwan’s maritime culture and learn that [Taiwan’s inhabitants] are more than just Han Chinese,” he says.

After the journey, Lamuran’s group will head to the museum, located on the University of Washington campus, on July 27 to visit the Tao canoe. They will meet with curators and local Native American groups to discuss the vessel and other indigenous issues.

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