Tue, Feb 15, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Aboriginal identity sought through name rectification

HERITAGE A documentary filmmaker has launched a campaign to encourage Taiwan's indigenous people to shed their Han names and reclaim their original names

By Mo Yan-chih  /  STAFF REPORTER

The recent announcement by the Ministry of the Interior of a measure requiring the renewal of national identification cards on July 1 has drawn calls on tribespeople to reclaim their Aboriginal names.

"Aboriginal names have been buried under cultural and political oppression over the years," said Mayaw Biho (馬耀比吼), a documentary filmmaker and key player in a campaign to rectify the names of the nation's Aboriginals.

"After more than 20 years since the launch of the first name-rectification campaign, many Aborigines are still reluctant to change their names," Mayaw said.

Mayaw has made several documentary films related to Aboriginal issues. The Amis tribe native uses his documentaries as a means to share Aboriginal culture with others. His films have won several awards and screened at film festivals around the world, including the 2004 Riddu Festival in Norway and the Taipei Biennial Festival. Capitalizing on July's national identification card renewal period as an opportunity to persuade more Aboriginals to change their names, Mayaw plans to shoot three promotional ads to raise public awareness about what he says is a necessity for indigenous people to use their native names.

Mayaw's plan has garnered support from private sponsors. He was awarded the 2004 Keep Walking Fund of NT$1,000,000. The fund, co-sponsored by the Chinatimes Cultural and Educational Foundation and Jonnie Walker Corp, encourages people to carry out their dreams through creativity.

In addition to television broadcasts, Mayaw's ads may also appear on the TV screens at MRT stations starting from May, with the assistance of the Taipei City Indigenous People's Commission.

Name rectification empowers Aboriginals and helps them become self-aware, People's Commission secretary Feng Ya-chun (封雅君) said, adding that Mayaw's ads might serve to subtly encourage Aborigines to adopt their original names.

In 2003, Taipei County's Administration Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs set up a one-stop service the enables Aboriginals to change the names on their identification and health insurance cards and other documents all at once.

Taiwan's Aboriginals were not allowed to use their tribal names under the Japanese colonial period and the subsequent Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime. It was not until 1995, after continuous lobbying by activists, that the KMT government allowed Aboriginals to use their original names.

The 1995 amendments to the Statute of Names (姓名條例) assured indigenous people of the right to use their Aboriginal names. Later, in 2003, another amendment to the law gave Aboriginals the right to list their original names in Romanized form along with the Chinese version of their names on identification cards, according to the Ministry of Interior.

But Aboriginal rights advocates are not satisfied with the progress being made.

Mayaw said that after a decade of having the right to do so, only 756 Aboriginals have reclaimed their traditional name -- less than 1 percent of the total Aboriginal population, or around 450,000 people in Taiwan.

"Discrimination against people with Aboriginal names discourages many from changing their names. The government has failed to give an additional incentives [to name changing] beyond amendments to the law," said Lin Pi-ching (林碧清), a non-Aboriginal webmaster of the Amis film-making team, which is dedicated to promoting Aboriginal name rectification through documentaries.

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