Amoy A’okay Haiyawan: Ethnicity in the Tourism Industry

by on Tuesday, 30 October 2012 Comments

I come from the Saisiyat tribe of Wufeng township in Hsinchu county. My reason for taking part in this international exchange program stems from the fact that I am going to graduate this year and enter the job market, so I want to make the most of still being a student and see other countries. The exchange program organised by the Council of Aboriginal Affairs not only allows us to go abroad and broaden our horizon, but also to share the experiences that we have had abroad with our family, friends, and tribe members. We are like a seed being planted, which will later grow and share what it has seen and heard with the whole of Taiwan.

In Fiji, we visited four villages, namely Navala village, Navua village, Muaivuso village and Korova village. When looking around these four villages, I formed lots of different opinions. The first two villages were focused on the tourism industry, and were fairly developed. One of the reasons for them to develop their tourism industry was to preserve their traditions. They believe that “developing tourism” is the best way road to “preserving tradition”. I couldn’t help but think that in modern Taiwanese aborigine society, “developing tourism” and “preserving tradition”, are not often things that you see together, so I think it is really worth it for us to study this and take it back to our tribes. Another thing that left an impression on me was that, while at Navua Village, the locals not only introduced the particularities of Fijian culture, but also constantly impressed on us the importance of culture, and how careful we should be about not losing it. I was very moved; in their eyes we are probably just a group of tourists that will only come to Fiji once in their lives, but they still used their life experiences to illustrate the importance of culture for us. They hope that not only their own culture can be preserved, but rather that every ethnic group should preserve its own traditional culture. This kind of mentality moved me a lot.

 

After visiting these villages, I compared them to Taiwanese aborigine villages. In Taiwan, lots of aborigine villages that have developed tourism are not so capable of preserving tradition, even to the point that people from aborigine towns involved in the tourist industry, change everything about all things aborigine in a capitalist way, regardless of the feelings or habits of aborigine residents of that area, just to cater to the tastes of the consumers. Not only do the aborigine towns become more Han, but even the aborigines themselves gradually become assimilated to Han culture. Actually when I first laid eyes on the villages of Muaivuso and Korova, they reminded me a lot of the tribes in Taiwan now: Simple houses, a relaxed pace, no traditional buildings, etc. It felt the same as being back home. The difference is, however, that they still maintain their way of life, where as we beg for our existence under the capitalist system.

IMG_5916amoy

In Fiji, there are two main types of tourism: the first is ecotourism, such as the aforementioned visits of villages for sightseeing. The other type is the one typical of any tourist destination nowadays; tours of scenic spots, luxurious hotels, all manner of aquatic activities, etc. Combining these necessary elements with the unique local culture is the approach most tourism companies are taking nowadays. At this point, too, it is inevitable to draw a comparison between Taiwan and Fiji. In Fiji, even though a lot of foreign businessmen have established a presence and developed the tourist industry, I have also noticed that the smart ones have understood the need to incorporate the cultural characteristics to the tourism industry. For example, when we went to Denarau Island and visited two hotels, they both included elements of local Fijian arts and crafts and building styles. In contrast, in Taiwan, the tourism industry and hotels run by so-called “Foreign businessmen”, always seem to focus on the concepts of “high-class” and “cosy” as their defining characteristics, striving their hardest in order to pander to the requirements of the consumers. They don’t really think about how to integrate their tourist model with the local culture. In this sense I think Fiji is definitely a place worthy of our study.

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When visiting the “Pacific Harbour Cultural Extravaganza”, we all realised it was a little similar to Pingdong’s “Aborigine Culture Park”, it is a completely packaged experience and has become cultural tourism. What made it feel special to me was that they used acting to narrate their culture, an approach that made for an intimate experience, and also made it easier to absorb the knowledge on a personal level. Just as I was considering whether this style of performance would be suitable for Taiwan or not, I heard one of the members of our group say that if this method were to be used in Taiwan, it might lead to the problem of stereotypes. After all, indigenous Fijians represent roughly half of the local population of Fiji, and they are all of the same ethnicity. Local people are very familiar with indigenous Fijian culture, which makes it unlikely for stereotypes to arise. In Taiwan, however, aborigines amount to only 2% of the population, and what’s more there are 14 distinct tribes, each with their own cultural characteristics. Certainly, not everyone who lives in Taiwan understands aborigine culture, even how many tribes there are is unclear, so how can we demand that they become completely familiar with 14 different tribes? If it’s not clear how can acting be used to narrate, and tell them about our history? I hope that one day in the future everyone who lives in this piece of land we call Taiwan can come to understand the distinct aspects of Taiwanese aborigine culture, since after all it is our most precious asset.

In the meeting on the night of our last day in Fiji, Teacher Guan proposed a question for us to ponder: “If your tribal village was to develop its tourist industry, how would you like it to go about doing so?” He told us there was no hurry to answer this question. In fact, I had already started thinking about this question since I first arrived in Fiji. If the tribal village in question is my own, then I would not be interested in the slightest in developing its tourism. Perhaps the increase of tribe tourism has started to become a trend over the last few years, but I think that tribes are just that, tribes, and I wouldn’t want too many people coming from the outside and causing a disturbance, since it really is a kind of “disturbance” after all. In Fiji, we saw how tourism development and the preservation of tradition can coexist, but I don’t think this is possible in Taiwan at this stage in time. Perhaps you may ask? How do we make money then? Well, before the trend for tribe tourism had taken shape, tribes already had their own way and rhythm of life, did they not? Why do we need to risk the hazards posed by these “disturbances” just to “modernize” our tribes, especially when it’s not clear whether these “modernizations” will be beneficial or not?

Actually, speaking as a Saisiyat, I don’t think we currently need to rely on tourism to preserve and pass on our culture. The event that people are most aware of, our Pas-ta’ai religious festival, will carry on being held with or without tourists. Even when tourists do attend the festival, they have to respect its predetermined rules, such as attaching Chinese silvergrass to our bodies and cameras, and staying in the outer circle as opposed to the inner one. Just because tourists are curious and want to participate in our festival, doesn’t mean we should cater to their demands. When it comes to preserving traditional culture, I think us Saisiyat are actually quite a conservative tribe.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

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