Sun, Oct 14, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan in Time: A community that needed to ‘change’

The Thao Aborigines celebrated the renaming of the local police office last week from the hated Dehua, a discriminatory term dating back to the Qing dynasty, to Ita Thao, which means ‘I am a person’

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Lalu Island was the Thao people’s sacred land, but it was nearly submerged when the Japanese flooded the area to build a hydroelectric dam.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Oct. 15 to Oct. 21

During a village meeting in June, the residents of Ita Thao unanimously voted “yes” to remove all traces of the government-imposed name Dehua (德化) from the area. They had successfully renamed the village in 2000, but colonial vestiges still remained.

“In colonial and authoritarian times, we were forced to use this discriminatory and stigmatized name,” Nantou County Councilor and village resident Rungquan Lkatafatu tells Taiwan Indigenous TV in a report. The villagers crossed off one item on their wish list on Wednesday last week, as the local Dehua police station was renamed Ita Thao. Their next target is Dehua Elementary School.

Occupying valuable land around Sun Moon Lake, the village’s Aboriginal Thao residents have suffered much since the arrival of outsiders in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, Ita Thao, which means “I am a person,” is one of two major Thao settlements remaining, itself a result of colonial oppression as they were forced to relocate here in 1934.

Ita Thao was originally called Barawbaw by the Thao, a name that was later changed to Puji when the Japanese took over Taiwan. When the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) arrived after World War II, they named it Dehua, one of many patronizing, Chinese-centric names that were imposed on indigenous peoples during this time.

Dehua, a concept that originates with Confucius, basically means that Chinese officials behave virtuously and morally towards people (in this case Aborigines) as an example of exemplary behavior that they could follow and thus become “civilized.”

While it was the Japanese who desecrated the Thao people’s sacred island, Lalu, by almost flooding it during a damming project and renaming it Jade Island, the KMT changed it to Guanghua (光華), which means “glory to China” or “glory to Chinese.” This was changed back to its original name when the Thao were officially recognized as the country’s 10th Aboriginal community in 2001.


Rungquan Lkatafatu says that even though it was the KMT who renamed their village, the term hua (化) has long been a burden on his people.

Living in close proximity to Han Chinese settlers who came in massive waves during the 18th and 19th centuries, the Qing Dynasty labeled the Thao as hua Aborigines, placing them somewhere between their shou (熟) brethren who adopted Han Chinese customs and were friendly to the government, or sheng (生), those who remained outside government control and were usually hostile. In historical records, the government defined hua as a sheng Aborigine, though one who had become “civilized.”

In 1874, the Qing Empire revoked the ban on Han Chinese entering Aboriginal areas and took these formerly “sheng” territories under their control, launching a campaign to “open the mountains and pacify the savages” (開山撫番) that devastated countless communities.

Wu Kuang-liang (吳光亮), commander of the Qing forces on Taiwan, set up the Zhengxin Academy (正心書院) on Lalu Island to jiaohua (教化), or civilize, Thao children. By this time, Thao territory had been reduced to the area around Sun Moon Lake and its surrounding foothills, and most of them were living in poverty, according to oral accounts published by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of Nantou County.

Wu also announced a set of laws to “civilize the savages” (化番俚言) that imposed Han Chinese customs of “good behavior” on them, for example, forbidding them to drink and hold feasts, requiring them to wear “proper” clothes and take on Han Chinese surnames. Each village was also asked to build a Taoist temple and worship according to Han Chinese festivals.

This story has been viewed 4695 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top