The Hoanya Aborigines of central Taiwan held a yearly festival in Nantou County’s Puli Township (埔里) this weekend, in which clan elders conducted worship rituals and celebration events in an effort to pass on their traditional culture to the next generation.
Cheng Mu-ting (鄭木廷), chairman of the local Pipa Borough (枇杷) community organization, said Hoanya youths were enthusiastic to take part in the traditional mini-marathon footrace known as zou biao (走鏢), a mock deer-hunting competition and other activities, while the “Adulthood Ceremony” drew older teenagers.
The main ancestor-worship ritual was held at the Wukang Natural Spring (五港泉) in Pipa Borough, which was a main source of water for the community in the old days. It was the original site of the Hoanya’s settlement in Puli when they migrated from the western plains during the 1820s and 1830s, due to the loss of their traditional territory and agricultural land to waves of Chinese immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces.
“The ancestor-worship ceremony is conducted twice a year. By holding it along with festival activities, it is an occasion for our clan families to commemorate the struggles of our ancestors and to mark the glory of their achievements through the past 200 years. It is also a reminder for us not to forget our Hoanya identity, and to strengthen our determination to preserve our traditional culture,” Cheng said.
An important development at this year’s event was the assembly of representatives from all 14 original Hoanya communities in the Puli area, which includes the Pipa Borough, along with Shueitou (水頭), Pacheng (杷城) and Jhuge (珠格) boroughs.
The representatives of the 14 Hoanya communities put their hand prints and signatures to a “Clan Assembly Statement,” pledging to work together to restore and protect their Hoanya culture, and also to join the fight for all Pingpu Aborigines to gain “Indigenous people” status under the law.
Although the Hoanya language is now lost to history due to assimilation and the governing regimes’ language policies over the past 200 years, Hoanya communities are making efforts to restore and preserve their culture.
In the past decade, historian Teng Hsiang-yang (鄧相揚) has retrieved many records and documents during his research into collections about Hoanya and other Pingpu Aborigines at Japanese museums and universities.
The footrace between unmarried young men was called Movai in the Hoanya language, while the ancestor-worship ritual was known as Tei-vakkai, the mock deer-hunting ceremony was known as Murao and the evening feast was called Manitan, Teng said.
With the help of Teng’s research materials, the Hoanya communities were able to reconstruct their traditional festivals and ceremonies, while gaining ammunition for the fight to be recognized as an “indigenous people” by the government.
The other lowland plains-dwelling Pingpu groups that once stretched from northern to southern Taiwan (also known as Plains Aborigines) include the Ketagalan, Taokas, Pazeh/Kaxabu, Papora, Babuza, Siraya, Tavorlong and Makatao.
Unlike the “Mountain Aborigines” who make up most of the 14 groups that have been granted “indigenous people” status, the Republic of China government does not recognize the Pingpu groups.
The government claims that the Pingpu are all but extinct today, a stance denounced by rights activists as an “official state policy of cultural genocide” by denying the existence of a whole group of the island’s original people.
The Austronesian cultures and languages of the Mountain Aborigines and the Pingpu Aborigines are related to Malay-Indonesians and Polynesians of the Pacific Ocean, including the Maoris of New Zealand.
According to Teng, the traditional Hoanya Festival, with ceremonies and other activities that lasted four days, was still being held during the Japanese colonial era (1895 to 1945).
Like the Hoanya, much of the language and culture of other main Pingpu groups was still very much alive at the end of the Japanese colonial era and into the early decades of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government’s rule.
Hoanya leaders and other activists said the current government, with its Council of Indigenous Peoples, should end the state’s discriminatory policy against the Pingpu.
They said that denying their existence and refusing to grant them “indigenous people” status is a violation both of the Constitution and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.