Bulletin

An online magazine of news and opinions from the Asia New Zealand Foundation

Shared experiences - Māori and indigenous Taiwanese

With support from a Foundation media grant, Newshub journalist Maiki Sherman travellied to Taiwan in late 2016 on a programme aimed at building understanding of indigenous connections between Māori and the indigenous Taiwanese. 

Maiki Sherman taking a selfie with a group of indigenous Taiwanese behind her

One of the first things to note about my trip to Taiwan is that I was almost eight months pregnant at the time. This came as a surprise to many of the local people I met during the trip but was greeted with sentiments that my child would be blessed by the Taiwanese gods. This was not surprising to me.

The purpose of the trip was to meet the indigenous people of Taiwan. As an indigenous person myself, a Māori from Aotearoa/New Zealand, the connection was instant. The warmth and hospitality of the indigenous people in Taiwan was familiar and comforting. So too were many of their traditions: flax weaving, village life, the high regard they have for their elders, traditional song and dance, and the food - oh my god the food.

But the connection between our two cultures was perhaps strongest through the shared struggles and oppression suffered through colonisation.

I visited villages and spoke with elders and young people working to revitalise their traditional culture and knowledge. To recover what was forcefully taken from them and their ancestors over hundreds of years.

Many of the indigenous languages in Taiwan face extinction. There is still much negative stigma surrounding aboriginal Taiwanese by non-indigenous people. The lack of awareness and recognition for indigenous rights is still prevalent, sadly, not only among non-indigenous people but also Taiwan’s own aboriginal population.

But despite the major challenges they face, many of those leading the charge for cultural revival are optimistic and positive. They are walking the talk. Much of this is being done through tourism.

One of the major barriers to cultural revitalisation in Taiwan is the need for indigenous villagers to move away from their homelands and into the city for work and greater opportunities. Indigenous tourism ventures are being used to create jobs while practicing and promoting indigenous knowledge.

We travelled to indigenous villages along the east coast of Taiwan to experience what the locals were offering by way of tourism ventures in an effort to regain their traditional independence. It’s certainly no mean feat.

A black and white image of a group of indigenous Taiwanese in traditional clothing

The word independence is very much taboo in Taiwan. The power struggle with China asserting its supreme authority over Taiwan is an issue being played out on the world stage.

The latest Donald Trump controversy with “that call” to Taiwan’s president simply stoked the fires. So, for Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, the challenge is two-fold. Not only are they seeking the recognition they deserve from the Taiwan government, but also considering what implications that could have with regard to big brother, China. 

The programme was organised by the Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), working with Te Puni Kokiri. Sherman’s travel was supported by an Asia New Zealand Foundation media travel grant.

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7 April 2017