Pan Ying-chieh (潘英傑) and Wang Pan Mei-yu (王潘美玉) were honored for their poetry yesterday at a ceremony for outstanding literary works written in romanized Aboriginal languages — something they said they could not dream of five years ago.
“The treasure of a culture can only be found in its language, while the essence of the language is hidden in its literature,” Minister of Education Chen Jei-cheng (鄭瑞城) said at the ceremony. “The purpose of this competition is to preserve and promote Taiwan’s rich Aboriginal languages and cultures.”
Out of 107 works that were entered in the competition held by the Ministry of Education, a total of 49 pieces — poetry, short novels, essays and translations written in Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Sediq and Pazeh — were selected to receive the award.
Among them, Wang Pan and Pan’s works in Pazeh were the most eye-catching.
The Pazeh are an assimilated plains tribe that used to inhabit regions in Taichung, Changhua and Nantou counties before the Chinese migrated to Taiwan in larger numbers about 400 years ago.
Over the centuries, the Pazeh have gradually disappeared from those areas because of marriages with non-Aboriginals or cultural assimilation.
The great majority of Pazeh have adopted Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese) as their native tongue.
However, about five years ago some Pazeh who did not want to see their language and culture become extinct began efforts to save the language.
“In the 1990s, many academics predicted that the Pazeh language would completely die out,” said Lai Kuan-yi (賴貫一), a linguist who played an important role in saving the Pazeh language. “It’s a miracle that they [the Pazehs] brought it back to life.”
“I knew I may be an Aborigine, but I didn’t know which tribe until someone told me about five years ago,” Pan, 60, said. “There’s only 94-year-old Pan Chin-yu [潘金玉] in Puli [埔里] — where I live — who is able to speak Pazeh, so I learned from her.”
Wang Pan, who is now 70 and also lives in Puli, began to learn Pazeh five years ago from Pan Chin-yu as well.
“Right now, there are about 200 regular students who attend Pazeh classes offered by Pan Chin-yu in Puli,” Lai said, adding that classes with fewer students also exist in Miaoli and Taichung.
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