Tue, Dec 14, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Outrigger canoe highlights old links

LIVING HISTORY The National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung obtained a traditional outrigger canoe from Palau to celebrate Taiwan's Austronesian background

CNA , TAITUNG

A new outrigger canoe, a traditional mode of transportation for Austronesian people across the Pacific Ocean, has been built in Palau and is now on display in Taiwan at the National Museum of Prehistory in Taitung.

A ceremony was held at the museum yesterday to mark the completion of the seven-seat outrigger canoe.

In the ceremony, museum officials practiced a traditional Puyuma worship ritual while four shipbuilders from Palau practiced their traditional craft. Betel nuts, azure stones and hemp knitting were offered in the rituals as sacrifices.

According to the museum's deputy director, Tsuei Jui-ming (崔瑞明), the museum ordered a traditional outrigger canoe from Palau early this year to enrich its collections.

The shipbuilders were appointed in person by Palau President Tommy Remengesau, he said.

Widely used

Tsuei said that outrigger canoes have been used for thousands of years by the Austronesian people across the Pacific Ocean.

Taiwan's indigenous people are believed to belong to the Austronesian-language group, which probab-ly underwent the widest physical dispersion of a single language family -- prior to the European colonial expansion following Christopher Columbus -- from the island of Madagascar off the east coast of Africa all the way to Easter Island and extending to Taiwan, Vietnam, Northern Australia, New Zealand and most of the Melanesian and Polynesian islands.

Taiwan's indigenous people could have originated either from the southern part of China or from a vast Austronesian-language region.

Taiwan's Aborigines were considered the northernmost Austronesian people. The government divides them into 12 major mountain tribes and 10 Pingpu groups. While elements of the languages and culture of the 10 mountainous races have been maintained, most of the native languages of the Pingpu people have died out and no traces remain.

Among the mountainous Aborigines, the Saisiat and the Atayal are believed to have migrated to Taiwan some 3,000 years ago.

Anthropologists have no idea what exactly happened, or when, to cause some of Taiwan's earliest natives to die out or disappear, but efforts to seek traces of the original natives' existence via anthropological, linguistic and historical studies are continuing.

Theories

In a relatively newer theory developed in Australia and New Zealand in recent years, anthropologists believe that Taiwan is the place where the Austronesian-language people originated from.

Geoffrey Chambers of Victoria University in Wellington believes that Maori people and other Polynesian peoples of the Pacific "island-hopped" from Taiwan through the Philippines and Indonesia to West Polynesia. From there, he says, they traveled to the islands of East Polynesia and then south-west, eventually settling in New Zealand.

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