Sun, Jul 30, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: The struggle for a proper name

Taiwan’s Aborigines spent a decade trying to shed their government designation as “mountain compatriots,” finally succeeding in 1994 in an important symbolic victory for Aboriginal rights

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Protesters burn banners carrying the words “mountain compatriots” in 1994 during the push by Aboriginals to rectify their official collective designation.

Photo courtesy of Hsieh San-tai

July 31 to Aug. 6

To the Qing Empire, they were fan (番), or barbarians. The Japanese called them the Takasago, or high mountain people. And the Chinese Nationalist Party referred to them as shanbao (山胞), or mountain compatriots.

In late 1984, the Aborigines of Taiwan decided that they would no longer bear the designation handed to them by the colonizers. On Dec. 29, a group of 23 Aboriginal and Han Chinese intellectuals got together and formed the Taiwan Aboriginal Rights Association (台灣原住民權利促進會), with one of their demands being that the government officially call them yuanzhumin (原住民, or original inhabitants), which is the term used today.

“The organization was the first one that included the term ‘Aborigine’ in its name,” writes Icyang Parod in the book, Compilation of Historical Material on Taiwan’s Aboriginal Movement (臺灣原住民族運動史料彙編). Now minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples, Icyang was a key figure in various early Aboriginal movements.

It seemed like a simple and harmless request, but the process took almost 10 years. On Aug. 1, 1994, National Assembly finally granted the request along with an article in the constitution to protect indigenous rights. Aboriginal activists continue to fight for various issues today, but the rectification of their designation was seen was seen as a major victory to a long-mistreated people. Since 2005, Aug. 1 has been observed in Taiwan as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.


In 1983, along with two other Aboriginal National Taiwan University students, Icyang launched the publication High Green Mountain (高山青), which highlighted the danger of Aboriginal cultural extinction and called for Aborigines to start a self-help movement.

“Through looking at their own situation, they hoped to awaken an Aboriginal consciousness,” Iwan Nawi writes in the book, Taiwan’s Aboriginal Movement at the Legislative Yuan (原住民運動與國會路線). “Although this consciousness originated on campus, it quickly spread through the urban Aboriginal population as well as urban mainstream society.”

Icyang writes that the Aboriginal Rights Association was originally to be named “High Mountain Tribe Rights Association” (高山族權利促進會), but a month before the organization launched, current Kaohsiung Bureau of Education Director Fan Sun-lu (范巽綠) proposed that they use the term Aboriginal instead. The term was formally adopted after an intense debate during the organization’s first meeting.

“It was a pure term because it had never been officially used before,” Icyang writes. “The use of the term symbolizes the fact that our organization not only sought to resolve tangible Aboriginal social issues, it also fought for our status as well.

“We not only want to have our people identify with being Aborigines, through the term we also want to let the Han Chinese know that this land originally belonged to us. We will not dwell on the methods through which they obtained this land, but they should at least respect our rights and status.”

The newly-formed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) supported the movement, using the designation in its party constitution written in 1986. The same year, the Presbyterian Church also officially adopted the designation, and usage spread among the church’s roughly 80,000 Aboriginal members.


But the push for the government to formally eliminate “mountain compatriots” in favor of “Aborigines” did not take shape until 1991.

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