Saturday, June 27, 2009

Plains-tribes Austronesians make up the majority of Taiwan's population

This week I visited the Taiwan Shop in Taipei across from National Taiwan University and I found many books about the Austronesian plains tribes that were eventually forced to assimilate with the Han immigrants under the Manchu empire. They often are called the Pingpu.

If one actually stopped to consider, almost all of the Hoklo Taiwanese and Hakka Taiwanese have Pingpu ancestry. The majority of people in Taiwan today are descendants of the Austronesian whether Pingpu or East Coast and High Mountain peoples. Why are Austronesians in Taiwan only numbered at 2 percent of the population? Did they stop having children? No. But those who lived among the Han peoples on the west coast in the past 300 years and also those moved to the cities and began going to Mandarin language schools in the past century eventually were assimilated into the dominant culture.

Some of these descendants of Pingpu peoples are trying to regain their cultural distinctives. An article in the Taipei Times this week shows how the recognized Austronesian tribes would like to welcome them, but certain government officials are trying to drive a wedge between the plains tribe Austronesian descendants and the Central Mountain and East Coast recognized tribes.

Part of the motivation may be to try to discourage identification with a non-Chinese culture because that would expand the legitimacy of Taiwan's distinct status and make it clear to the world that China has no right to claim Taiwan. Imagine if Taiwan were classified at 60 percent Austronesian (genetic studies would put the number higher). That would leave the "pure-blood" Han Chinese as an ethnic minority and people would start thinking of Taiwan as they think of Malaysia or Indonesia that has a large ethnic Chinese minority. No one believes China has a right to claim these countries.

Also found at the Taiwan Shop was a new work in the plains-tribe Austronesian Siraya language published in 2002 by Edgar Macapili. Mr. Macapili writes his own version of the story of Noah's Ark in the Siraya language, called "Ta Avang ki Noe-an." The book also carries Mandarin and English translations. His story concludes with a hopeful tone of a new earth to live in. One can understand this hope in the hearts of the assimilated Pingpu plains Austronesian tribes: that one day they may walk this land with the names and languages of their ancestors instead of always being under a forced alien culture and language.

I quote the opening:

"Ka si-uru-uru tu naunamu ki way k'ata, nipey-ring-ey pa-ilpugh ta ti Alid ki vulu-vulum ka nay apa. Ni pakavantaw tin k'ana ta imεd ki kamamangka aku-kawagh-εn: ki irang, usi-using apa, ni-maran, ni-munonang ka ni-saw-abigh-apa. Ni murila ka pa-kaw'h-'mha-ato k'ana tu purugh tumang ka na vavare ki mariang-amighki vare, ka ududo ki matikanagh ku ralum."

The name for God is: "Meirang Alid"

English: "In the beginning God made heaven and earth. He filled it with life that jump, walk, hop and fly; green, red, short, long, circle and all kinds of colors and shape. They all dwelt and grew in the land where blew fresh cool breezes and flowed clean ocean water. Blossom and fragrance of grasses filled the air. There were sweet as well as sour fruits, also all kinds of vegetables grew in different seasons. All things were good and beautiful."

... [full text; this story was turned into a musical to be performed at schools; see the song lyrics; blog of the struggle of the Siraya people]

Both at the Taiwan Shop and at the nearby SMC Publishing there are dictionaries of some of the plains tribe languages now almost lost -- including Siraya (Sinkang dialect), Pazeh, etc. Also there are many language resources for the Austronesian languages in Taiwan -- all of them are endangered because of the government of Taiwan's insistence on using Mandarin as the only language of instruction in the public schools.

Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's current president, has moved recently to downgrade even the one-hour per week "local" language class. Now these classes have been classified as extra-curricular languages -- like foreign languages and have been put into competition with English. Faced with the decision of whether to have one's child learn English or some rapidly disappearing language, what would most parents in Taiwan choose? Without actually abolishing the classes, Ma's government has taken steps to destroy them. Without a consistent steady class offering, those language teachers who teach these local languages will not be able to earn enough to make a living and so basically there will be fewer teachers able to teach the languages in future years as we begin to see losses from the current group of language teachers.

What needs to happen is what happens in Ireland and Wales: Elementary schools for each township with its local language should be offering at least half of all academic instruction in the local language. Signs in the communities should be bi-lingual -- the local language and also Mandarin. These non-Mandarin languages and cultures need to be shown respect.


The following video shows Edgar Macapili's performance of a Siraya song, "Spring forth Siraya":

Pictures from the 2008 Siraya conference: (You'll notice how the Siraya from this township had already taken on many of the dominant Han culture -- Hoklo's -- cultural elements including architecture and way of life:

News report on the Siraya dictionary compilation. The language had been basically extinct with the Siraya people using Hoklo Taiwanese. TITV reports that the only extant remnant of the language was that a few old folks remembered a few expressions in Siraya.

Children's Choir singing in Siraya:

On their fight for recognition. (Notice that many in their discussion are speaking Taiwanese and Mandarin.)

One Siraya interviewee said that the government's "Council for Indigenous People" under the current Ma administration has a function to "eliminate" indigenous people. Some Seediq peoples and other recognized Austronesian groups joined the protest. One of the Pazeh Pingpu people also was interviewed: