For more than a year-and-a-half, two members of the Taromak Rukai people in Taitung County have collected and recorded a number of traditional songs and chants, and will soon release a CD.
The Taromak Rukai, who live in Beinan Township’s (卑南) Dongsing Village (東興) — an area historically called Da Nan — were once the most populous of the Rukai Aborigines in the county.
Hung Chih-chang (洪志彰), the principal of Da Nan Elementary School, and Tu Yun-hui (杜運輝), a music teacher at Ren Ai Elementary School, began to compile and organize a list of traditional folk songs to use in schools.
Tu said he was sad to see that the Paiwan and the Puyuma tribes had both compiled lists of traditional folk songs belonging to their people, and he hoped the Taromak might one day be able to pass down their traditional songs from generation to generation.
Last year Hung and Tu began visiting tribal elders, seeking songs, and comparing the list they were building with one compiled by Takatomo Kurosawa, a Japanese musicologist, in 1943.
Tu and Hung said they have collected 23 traditional songs, including The Ancestor’s Teachings (祖先訓勉), Praise to the Chieftain (歌頌頭目), Village’s Hymn (村莊的歌謠) and Song of the Warrior’s Dance (勇士舞之歌).
Hung said that everyone in the tribe was excited and people were practicing the songs night and day to help make the recording better.
Aside from The Ancestor’s Teachings, almost none of the songs had unified lyrics, Tu said, adding that most of the time when Rukai elders were singing the songs, they improvised the lyrics.
The Eastern Rukai have different tones, tonal endings and word usages when singing than the Western Rukai, Tu said.
For example, the Kurosawa version of Oniyo — which says the lesson of the ancestors is for young people to unite and stick together — is completely different from the way the Pingtung Rukai sang the song, Tu said.
“It is clear proof that the East and West Rukai have different chants and songs,” Tu said.
Meanwhile, Pan Wang Wen-pin (潘王文賓) from the Eastern Rukai Culture and Education Assistance Association said the Rukai mainly passed on their history and culture orally.
If a recording of such a narration could be made for children to listen to and learn from, the culture and wisdom of the Rukai would could be passed on, Pan Wang said.
The Rukai are one of 14 recognized Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan.