For fans of the film Titanic, the Sihbisihbi Titanic Rock (斯比斯比鐵達尼峭岩) in southern Taiwan offers an opportunity to feel the romance portrayed in the movie, but for an Aboriginal village in Chiayi County’s Alishan Township (阿里山), the rock means a lot more.
The rock is the centerpiece of Laiji Village’s (來吉) attempt to revive its tourism-dependent economy, which has been sluggish since Typhoon Morakot battered the southern part of the country in 2009 and cut off the Tsou community’s lifeline.
Village warden Chen Yu-fu (陳有福) said severe mudslides destroyed massive swathes of farmland and brought down seven bridges in the mountainous village. Since then, tourist numbers have dropped to fewer than 20 per weekend, about 10 percent of the average number before the storm, Chen said.
Chen said the village was ready to welcome tourists again, because the Titanic rock had not been damaged by the powerful typhoon and transportation links are almost completely restored.
The rock got its nickname because of a cliff shaped like the ocean liner’s bow — the setting for the iconic scene in the moview where the protagonists, Rose and Jack, stand on the bow’s railing, and Rose extends her arms as if she is flying.
The rock’s appeal goes beyond its association with the Oscar-winning movie and its breathtaking views. Those who climb it can look over Tashan (塔山), a sacred mountain for the Tsou where the spirits of the tribe’s ancestors are thought to reside, Chen said. There is a traditional belief that couples are likely to get married soon after visiting the site together, he said.
For single people, a visit to the mountain may bring them more “messages of love from admirers,” Chen added.
If the rock is to once again become the foundation of the village’s tourism, sound infrastructure is a necessity, Chen said. Most of the roads and bridges that were destroyed by the storm have been repaired and a proposal to rebuild a trail that will make it easier to scale the Titanic cliff has been submitted to the Forestry Bureau, he said. If everything goes smoothly, Chen said, he expected the trail would be completed by the end of the year.
The village has also taken the initiative to diversify its sources of income, including by developing a handicrafts business featuring the tribe’s iconic animals.
The villagers have begun to produce wood carvings in the shape of wild boars and owls, said Pasu Eiahasa, a member of the association for the development of the community.
Owls are auspicious symbols for the Tsou people and their presence close to a building signifies a new addition to the residents’ family, Chen said.
“Our ancestors used to hunt wild boar, so we’re called ‘the tribe of wild boars,’” she said.
Villagers have also taken up coffee farming to bolster their income, the village’s chief said.
“We’re continuing our efforts” to increase tourism revenue, Chen said, adding that he hopes that developing tourism will help attract young people to the village.