Introduction to Taiwan Indigenous Literature
Taiwan is a beautifully lush and scenically diverse island nation rising in the Western Pacific near the Asian mainland. Nearly half a million indigenous Malayo-Polynesians, some 2 percent of the population, live today on our island. Among Taiwan’s 14 officially recognized indigenous tribes are the Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Tao (Yami), Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya and Sediq. Each retains distinct cultures, languages, traditions and social mores. The histories and cultures of indigenous peoples are a strong and irreplaceable part of the Taiwan experience. While none of the tribes developed a written language, oral traditions, songs and ceremonies have greatly enriched the content and historical significance of the Taiwan literary stream.
Indigenous literature, in the form of oral stories and traditions, flourished well before Chinese or Europeans took up residence on the island. Taiwan’s indigenous peoples created epic tales, legends, songs and ceremonies in distinct languages that reflected the unique social and historical experience of each tribe. Such was passed orally from generation to generation. Deep into the night, village elders would tell the ancient tribal tales of migrations, battles, epic hunts and magical events. These tales were fit into forms similar to the epic poems of other cultures. By the 1990s, indigenous authors were not only tapping their heritage to write prolifically in Chinese – many were working confidently to publish stories in their native languages using a Romanized alphabet, hoping to preserve the tongue of their ancestors in order that future generations may continue the dialogue across time and space. Now in print, Taiwan’s indigenous experience is increasingly available for all to treasure and enjoy.
Indigenous Literature Appreciation – Lover Eternal
Curling up for the night in some dim corner;
Under pounding rain from which there is no escape;
In bone-chilling winter, that affords no mercy;
You are as a bright morning star;
A brilliant shaft of loving light, ever leading my way.
Should you have been a verdant banyan tree;
Your love, shading us as luxuriant foliage;
You would be
a cherished place for our children to swing and sing happy songs;
A haven for the weary;
A sanctuary for tired travelers to rest and regain their strength.
Like the 14th spring at Wawaniao Lini;
Sending forth its crystal pure water day and night;
Wiping away the tears of neglected orphans.
Cleaning away the dust and mud from those with nowhere to turn;
A place where withered souls are nourished and revitalized.
You will always be known by the name Pathagao;
A name that proclaims your eternal nobility;
What you have given us
is eternal warmth, pride and respect;
Now as forever, you are my eternal love.
note: this poem was written by Auvini Kadresengan in memory of his beloved wife.
Auvini Kadresengan, an ethnic Rukai, was born in 1945. His ancestral village of Kochapongane is located in Wutai Township in Pingtung County, at the upper reaches of Southern Ai-Liao Stream. Moving down to the plains to pursue his studies at 16 years of age, he returned to his native Kochapongane when he was 45. He finished a study of village culture at age 47 and, since mid-1992, has remained with few resources in the crumbling vestige of his village, writing a creative stream of works intended to reanimate the words of Rukai ancestors. Stories of particular note include Peoples of the Cloud Leopard, Song of the Wild Lily, and The Demise of Mystery.
Websites referenced for this article include:
Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan
Council for Hakka Affairs, Executive Yuan