A group of young Maori people from New Zealand arrived in Taiwan on Wednesday. Traveling 9,000km, they came here to search for their cultural roots. They believe that, thousands of years ago, their ancestors departed from Taiwan and sailed canoes across the ocean. Relying on extraordinary nautical expertise and knowledge of astronomy and hydrology, they conquered the ocean and, after several stops along the way, eventually arrived in New Zealand.
For the Maori people, Taiwan is “where everything begins.” The group named itself Hawaiki Nui, as Hawaiki refers to the origin of ancestors and place of birth in the Maori language.
Arapeta Hamilton, traditional leader of the Ngati Manu tribe from New Zealand’s North Island, said he cried on arriving in Taiwan and on seeing the sun rise over the mountains, adding that he “wept with emotion for our common ancestors.”
The visiting group presented performances such as the Maori war dance kapa haka. They had language, cultural and worship exchanges with Taiwanese Aborigines, and observed their hunting skills, ecological education, oceanic knowledge, weaving, dance and music.
The kinship and historical ties between the Maori people and Taiwan’s Aborigines have been scientifically established.
Linguistic, archeological anthropology and genetic research point to Taiwan being the origin of all Austronesian peoples, or at least one of several ancestral sites.
An “Out of Taiwan” model is already an established hypothesis in the international academic community.
The Austronesian peoples have since expanded to a region encompassing Taiwan to the north, New Zealand to the south, Easter Island to the east and Madagascar, off the African coast, to the west, with more than 1,200 languages and a population of about 400 million.
Taiwan’s almost 30 Aboriginal languages preserve diverse and abundant characteristics of the Proto-Austronesian language, evidence that Taiwan might be the earliest departing point of the outward expansion.
A project led by Australian academics with a team of researchers from the US, Germany, Ireland and other nations used DNA analysis to show that Taiwan is the most likely origin of the Austronesians from the perspective of genetics and archeological anthropology.
Earliest Austronesian activities on Taiwan can be traced back 8,000 years, and 5,500 years ago, the peoples employed nautical skills learned on the Jianan Plain to expand from Taiwan to the southern Pacific Ocean, reaching New Zealand about 700 years ago.
The blood and cultural ties of Taiwan’s Aborigines and New Zealand’s Maori run deep.
Australian archeologist Matthew Spriggs has depicted the migration route taken by Austronesians: setting off from Taiwan, stopping in the northern Philippines and eastern Indonesia, and forming the Lapita culture before spreading out across the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the Fiji Islands, East Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand.
This major human migration has been neglected in Taiwan, as successive foreign regimes have viewed Taiwan as a backwater, debasing and belittling the nation’s Aborigines and suppressing study and understanding of the history of Formosa.
The majority Han Chinese population has lived in Taiwan for only 400 years, which does not compare with the thousands of years of the native Austronesian population.
Nevertheless, after the Chinese Civil War, the party-state claimed that Taiwan has always been part of Chinese territory, that the inhabitants of Taiwan are Chinese and belong to the Republic of China, and so on.
They forced Taiwan’s native population to identify with China, distorting and belittling the history of each ethnic group through the use of brute force.
This is why Taiwan must take a more expansive and rigorous approach to rebuilding its view of its own history.
Over the past 400 years, Taiwanese culture has incorporated elements of Han Chinese, Dutch, Spanish and Japanese culture, and Western culture has had a significant influence since the end of World War II.
Still, Aborigines were Taiwan’s earliest inhabitants. The nation’s cultural origins must be expanded back in time, beyond the Chinese migration.
Taiwan is a veritable treasure trove of Austronesian culture and knowledge worthy of study and research. More funding and resources should be made available, including for transnational and interdisciplinary research. This would yield results over the long term and would be a way for democratic Taiwan to project soft power on the international stage.
The visit by Maori youth coincided with the Ministry of Education’s review of its 12-year national education program. The new curriculum is to emphasize Aboriginal history and the identity of colonized societies.
The Maoris’ visit in search of their ancestral roots is a justified reason to rewrite history, to create a more international outlook that better reflects the facts. That is a welcome advance.
Translated by Chang Ho-mingand Edward Jones
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