Wed, Sep 26, 2018 - Page 13 News List

Awakening ancestral memories

With their cultural and linguistic heritage close to extinction, the Taokas People of Miaoli have since 2002 used the revival of a harvest festival to kickstart a cultural flourishing of the Pingpu Aboriginal group, which continues despite not being officially recognized

By Han Cheung  /  Staff Reporter

A scene from Saturday’s full-day harvest festival in the Aboriginal Taokas village of Singang in Miaoli’s Houlong Township.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Growing up, Lauyi’s father and grandfather were adamant that they were not Aborigines, despite looking the part. Even when the family moved back to the ancestral village of Singang (新港) in northern Miaoli County when she was around 10 years old, they only said that Aborigines once lived here.

“When I said that my classmates at school told me that I lived in an Aboriginal village, the family elders appeared upset and replied, ‘They are talking nonsense,’” Lauyi recalls.

In 2002, the village revived its Kantian harvest festival, which had not been held since the end of World War II. Lauyi participated it in for the first time in 2008 when she returned home from college, and she finally learned the truth.

Lauyi’s family were members of the Taokas, Pingpu (平埔) or plains Aborigines who once occupied territory along Taiwan’s west coast from northern Hsinchu to northern Taichung. She further confirmed her identity when she found her family’s old household registration documents, which showed that her paternal grandparents and all previous generations were labeled shou (熟, a Qing Dynasty and Japanese-era term for “tamed” or “civilized” Aborigines). She says it was an emotional moment.

Now running a Taokas fusion restaurant in the village, Lauyi was ecstatic this past weekend because the harvest festival was taking place again after a four-year hiatus.

With her people having to hide and suppress their customs for so long, and with the Taokas (and other Pingpu groups) still not officially recognized by the government, Lauyi sees the revival of her culture as a long process that may take generations. And although not all of her peers feel as strongly as she does toward their identity, Lauyi was glad to see many of them return home for the event.

“At least my nieces and nephews will introduce themselves at school as Taokas,” she says. “Even if you can’t motivate the entire community, I feel that we’re off to a good start.”

CULTURAL REAWAKENING

While most of the Taokas were either assimilated or forced out of the area over the years, the people of Singang endured as they set up fortified defenses and refused to intermarry with the surrounding Han Chinese until relatively modern times. Legend tells of a village elder at the turn of the 20th century who was favored by the Japanese, and even went on a tour to Japan to show off Taokas culture, contributing to the preservation of the community.

But by the time Liu Hsin-miao (劉新苗) was growing up in the 1950s, the village had entirely shifted to using Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) and Mandarin, with old people only using few Taokas words in their everyday speech.

“For example, the elders would say drink gyakaw,” he says. “I knew that meant alcohol, but I had no idea that that was from our original tongue.”

Most people in the village go by Chinese names — the majority surnamed Liu — and were never given Aboriginal names.

Cultural assimilation to the surrounding Hoklo and Hakka peoples was also significant, and Liu estimates that they only kept about 20 percent of their original customs such as bamboo weaving as well as certain culinary practices.

As Taiwan’s economy took off in the 1960s, few opportunities trickled down to the community, causing them to become increasingly afraid and ashamed of admitting to being Aborigines due to discrimination, Liu says. Lauyi says her father and grandfather’s denial of their heritage only started to change after the revival of the festival.

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