Her Melihang Workshop produced more than 100 costumes for the epic film Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and also held a successful fashion show at the Shei Pa National Park in Miaoli during September last year that attracted more than 2,000 spectators.
During the show many Atayal elders shed tears while watching their tribal culture revived on the young models who wore clothes with Atayal totems.
“I saw our young people regain their confidence and pride in the ancestors’ culture [during the show],” Yuma said.
However, the fame and generous income resulting from those successes have not tempered Yuma’s anxiety over the future of Atayal culture.
“Our culture is disappearing. No, it’s already gone!” she said. “People have been talking about Atayal culture, but where is it now? In museums, in books and in videos, but not in real life.”
“In 100 years, there won’t be any cultural phenomenon for Atayals to see at all,” she said. “It’s time for us to integrate our collective knowledge for a greater cause: promoting ethnic education to continue the culture.”
For that, “we must have our own schools,” in which teachers know how to balance ethnic and modern education.
Yuma has vowed to spend the rest of her life setting up indigenous schools at all levels, even including a university one day, where all subjects, including math and English, will be taught with some Atayal hues.
To achieve that goal, she will head to the US to study ethnic education once the three-year preschool project ends.
“In Taiwan, no degree means no right to speak,” she said, explaining that in Taiwan, taking charge of a school requires a doctoral degree.
Asked whether the plan was too ambitious, Yuma simply smiled.
“I’ve never thought that way. Even if I don’t see such a school built in my lifetime, I believe there will be someone else to take over the job,” she said.
Back at the bamboo house school, an Atayal teacher shows children how to weave a rainbow-colored belt on a small wooden loom. Of course, they speak Atayal.
When the children reach elementary-school age, they will be sent to a nearby school whose principal, according to Yuma, is one of the core figures who shares her ideas. The school will become part of Yuma’s large indigenous school network.
“We will first try our ethnic education program in one class. Then we will expand the scale if the results are convincing,” Yuma said.
“We must do whatever we can now,” she declares with passion. “Otherwise it will be too late because what we have now will be gone.”