The Truku elders of Taiwan still dream about their mountain home four decades after bulldozers tore it down — a classic symptom of trauma as community members struggle to accept their loss.
At one evening gathering, Miya Yudaw, 65, described his recurring dream, where the mountain was still whole, dotted with quiet farms of millet and sweet potatoes, and the air clean, only to wake each time to the misery of reality.
“The mountain is our home and the land is our blood,” said the farmer, who leads a group that has been fighting for more than 20 years for a mining firm to return their ancestral land in Hualien.
“When it is being taken away, it is like a part of us being taken away too,” he told the other Truku elders as they drank kaoliang at his dimly lit home.
The historical trauma of Taiwan’s 17 officially recognized Aboriginal groups, who were evicted from their land and banned from speaking their own languages, using their native names or practising traditions such as hunting — has only recently been acknowledged.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in 2016 apologized for “centuries of pain and mistreatment” dating back to the Japanese colonial era in the 19th century and Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) assimilation policy in the 1960s.
Such trauma has led to depression, anxiety, alcohol dependence and high rates of liver disease and fatal accidents among the 24,000-strong Truku community, National Taiwan University researcher Ciwang Teyra said.
However, the younger generation are breaking the cycle by reconnecting with the culture that their parents were uprooted from, through language, music and nature, as they push for the government to recognize and protect their rights.
Aborigines make up 2 percent of Taiwan’s 23 million people, with most of the rest tracing their ancestry back to China.
Buya Ici’s memories are equally painful. His childhood was filled with the deafening sound of neighbors’ roofs and kitchens exploding as the mining company blew them up, forcing his family to abandon their farm and trek down the mountain.
“They used some giant machines to tear down the house. There was simply nothing left,” said the 50-year-old train technician, who is also a Truku. “This kind of psychological trauma has remained with me until now.”
Globally, many indigenous peoples have higher suicide rates than the general population due to colonization, dispossession, discrimination and culture loss.
An analysis last year of 30 countries and territories by Canada’s Memorial University found the highest disparities in Canada and Brazil, where suicide rates were 20 times the national averages.
In Taiwan, suicide rates among some indigenous groups were six times higher than the rest of the population, it found.
“Today, our people face the issue of abusing certain materials, abusing alcohol and drugs,” said Ciwang Teyra, who is also a Truku. “It is because we have been deprived of our own power to cure our own hearts. When alcohol is easily accessible to you, it naturally becomes a tool to alleviate your stress.”
Ciwang Teyra’s research found that alcohol abuse reduced among Truku who were able to hunt, weave and perform traditional rituals in their ancestral mountains.
“Our culture can help us cure the historical trauma and bring comfort in the face of discrimination. To have close ties with our land is a way to restore our own health,” she said.
Council of Indigenous Peoples Deputy Minister Iwan Nawi said that the government has made numerous reforms.
Hunting is now allowed in certain areas, while the government has also set up a TV channel for Aborigines and improved education to promote native culture after a 2005 law was adopted to recognize Aboriginal rights.
“We have loosened some of the policies ... this is a long dialogue,” said Iwan Nawi, an academic-turned-politician from the Sediq people, who number 10,000.
Wearing a crown of flowers and a long, flowing dress, Panai Kusui sang at London’s first Taiwan Film Festival of her community’s loss of land, language and identity.
“When the mountains collapse, the beaches are sold, the wind from ancient times is polluted, human hearts are also contaminated,” she sang, on a break from a sit-in over land rights that she began in 2017 in Taipei.
Panai Kusui’s songs, partly sung in her native Puyuma language, have become a symbol of protest and a source of inspiration for the younger generation to re-engage with their culture and take up the land struggle.
Despite better recognition, Aborigines are still fighting for greater control of their land. Official data show that about two-thirds of Taiwan’s 174 mining sites are on their ancestral lands.
In Hualien, the protests have awoken the consciousness of Buya Ici’s 25-year-old son, Yudaw Buya, who took part in his first land protest in 2017 — the same year he officially replaced his Chinese name with his indigenous one.
“When I was in primary school, I didn’t have a strong sense of my ethnic identity,” said the teacher, who identified meeting other indigenous students at college as a turning point for him.
He joined the Truku Student and Youth Association, which he now leads, and has become passionate about the Taroko National Park, named after the Truku people who used to live there, organizing hiking trips to former Aboriginal villages in the area.
“We do this to make up for what we, the young people, missed out on in the past,” he said. “It’s like a healing process... I feel like a real Truku now.”
UNDER INVESTIGATION: Huang’s body was found just outside the bathroom and showed no signs of a struggle, and no alcohol or drugs were found Singer and actor Alien Huang (黃鴻升) was found dead at his home in Taipei’s Beitou District (北投) yesterday. He was 36. Huang was also known by the nickname Xiao Gui (“little ghost”). His body was found when his father went to check on him after being unable to reach him by telephone, and called emergency services to the house at 11am, the Taipei City Police Department said. Huang’s body, which was discovered just outside the bathroom, showed no signs of a physical struggle, and he appeared to have been dead for some time, police said, adding that no drugs or alcohol were
Scooter riders should regularly clean their helmets, especially in summer, to prevent dirt and sweat from accumulating and causing scalp problems, such as hair loss and permanent baldness, a dermatologist has warned. Poor hygiene practices by helmet wearers often lead to scalp problems, such as bacterial folliculitis, tinea capitis and seborrheic dermatitis, Lu Pei-hsuan (呂佩璇) at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital said on Aug 31. The first step to maintain good scalp care is proper hair washing, as shampoo residues can easily cause dandruff and itchy scalps, while improper scratching will cause inflammation, Lu said. The best way to wash your hair is to
INTIMIDATION: Chinese military maneuvers have mostly led to heightened support for Taiwan’s defense forces, while China appears poised to continue its campaign China’s incessant military activities in and near the Taiwan Strait over the past several months are “greater in meaning than in substance,” and are aimed at polarizing Taiwanese society, a researcher said in a report published on Friday. China has attempted to intimidate Taiwan through military threats, while at the same time calling on Taiwanese and US officials to practice restraint, which is aimed at causing a rift between those who prefer resistance against China and those who prefer peace, said Lee Kuan-cheng (李冠成), a researcher at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “China’s goal is to obscure public awareness
CONFIRMED IN PHILIPPINES: The CECC would conduct contact tracing for the migrant workers to determine if they had come into contact with elderly people or children Six Filipinos tested positive for COVID-19 upon returning home from Taiwan, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday as it reported a case of imported COVID-19 infection, bringing the number of confirmed cases in Taiwan to 500. Philippine authorities reported four of the cases through the National IHR Focal Point, while the other two were reported by the company that they had worked for in Taiwan. The six — five women and one man — are aged from their 20s to 40s, and worked as in-home care workers, domestic workers, factory workers and sailors in Taiwan, said Minister of Health and