Pingpu Aborigines, academics and participants at a public hearing at the Council of Indigenous Peoples headquarters yesterday called on it to officially recognize Pingpu Aboriginal tribes.
Pingpu, which means “plains” in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), is a term used to describe Aboriginal tribes who inhabited the nation’s western plains areas.
Having enjoyed official recognition until the end of the Japanese Colonial Period in 1945, most of Pingpu Aborigines lost their status in the 1950s because they failed to officially register their ethnicity due to a series of administrative problems.
In the past few decades, Pingpu Aborigines have been campaigning to regain official recognition of their Aboriginal status.
However, the council has not responded positively to the calls, though it has created a special task force to research the issue.
Citing evidence from DNA, geneticist Marie Lin (林媽利) said that the Pingpu are no different genetically to currently recognized Aboriginal tribes.
“Based on my genetic research, there’s no question that Pingpu and current officially recognized Aboriginal tribes are all Aborigines,” Lin told the public hearing. “The DNA structures of Pingpu Aborigines from the Siraya tribe and most of the officially recognized tribes are very similar.”
While many Aborigines have opposed granting official recognition to the Pingpu, fearing that it may divert scarce resources, Awi Mona, a Sediq and an associate professor at National Taipei University of Education, disagreed.
“The Pingpu were around way before the modern state, and while some have lost their cultures, languages, and social structures to a degree that it’s difficult to recover, we must not deny that there are still Pingpu who have obviously retained their cultures and communities,” Awi said.
“It wouldn’t have too much impact — or at least not as serious as some people imagine — on the rights enjoyed by Aborigines currently recognized by the government,” he said.
Responding to the fear of some Aborigines, Awi said that rather than granting the Pingpu all the rights and welfare measures enjoyed by Aborigines in one go, the government could consider creating a set of different laws and regulations for Pingpu Aborigines once they are granted official recognition, or create a transitional period and grant the Pingpu special Aboriginal rights gradually.
However, Hsieh Chung-hui (謝中輝), an Amis and school administrator from Longshan Junior High School in Taipei, voiced his opposition to granting the Pingpu Aboriginal status, saying that they have lost their cultures and have been “assimilated into Han culture”.
Cheng-hiong Talavan, a Siraya from Greater Tainan said the Pingpu should not be held responsible for the loss of their cultures and languages.
“It’s the government’s fault that Pingpu languages and cultures are severely endangered, it’s not our fault,” Talavan said. “It’s the government’s responsibility to protect the nation’s Aborigines, and to make up for the mistakes of the past.”
Tainan Mayor William Lai (賴清德) also appeared during the public hearing to express his support for the Pingpu movement.
“I am here to give my full support to the restoration of Aboriginal status for the Sirayas in Tainan, as well as all Pingpu tribes across the country,” Lai said. “I cannot agree with the council’s view that ‘Pingpu’ and ‘Aborigines’ are different, because they are all the same whether viewed from a genetic, linguistic, or cultural point of view. Such a situation was a strategy by colonial regimes to divide peoples. We do not understand why the council would hold such a view.”
Lai went on to say that, historically the Pingpu had suffered the most, but as they have stood side by side with other Aborigines in struggling for Aboriginal rights, “the Pingpu should not be excluded from enjoying government policies to make up for the past mistakes.”