Retaining tribal names for people and places is the key to preserving Aboriginal cultures and bringing about Aboriginal autonomy, said panelists attending a conference on Aboriginal affairs yesterday.
The conference, hosted by the Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Aboriginal New Youth Association of Cultural Exchange, discussed recovering personal and place names.
"They are not merely name changes ... ultimately, it's about the restoration of a lifestyle, an entire set of interpersonal relationships and even the rebirth of a people," said Tibusungu e Vayayana, a geography professor at National Taiwan Normal University and a Tsou tribesman from the Alishan (
The Tsou culture is based on a clan system in which each clan has its own political, religious and hunting units, he said.
The clan system also dictates how two people would interact with each other, he said.
But when the Tsou, like other Aboriginal communities, were forced to adopt Japanese and then Chinese names, cultural and social systems came under serious threat, he said.
Taiwan Association for Human Rights secretary-general Lin Shu-ya (
She related an incident that took place near Smangus (
Two years ago, three young men from the village followed up on a decision made during a community meeting to remove part of a fallen tree on a roadside.
They were then arrested and indicted, with the Forestry Bureau accusing them of "stealing property from state-owned forests," Lin said.
The men were sentenced to six months in prison plus fines earlier this month.
"The location of the fallen tree is defined by the bureau as within forest area 81 under the bureau's Dasi regional office," Lin said.
However, for the people of Smangus, the area belonged to an ancient village where they used to live and was still under the jurisdiction of Smangus according to traditional Atayal law, she said.
"The Forestry Bureau was able to tell its version of the story in court because the state set up the rules and had the power to name; the situation may be reversed if Smangus' residents can get back the power of naming," Lin said.
Once Aborigines have "the right to tell their version of the story, they may as well tell people how they managed these places" during the past hundreds and even thousands of years, she said.
That process is underway.
Haisul Palalavi, a Bunun cultural activist, spoke of a plan by a southern Aboriginal township to revert to a name more closely connected to its local identity.
Activists in Sanmin Township (
In 1957 the majority-Bunun township was renamed after the Sanmin Zhuyi (Three Principles of the People), the political ideology of Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) co-founder Sun Yat-sen (
"But the name has no connection to local history and culture whatsoever," Palalavi said.