Focus: Exhibiting Indigeneity: Lessons from Fiji
In mid April of 2012, I joined FISION International Exchange—The Aboriginal Youth New Vision Team—and embarked on an adventure that was to take me away from the limitations and constraints of my native Taiwan. Only a few of my teammates were members from my student club at school, most were fresh new faces.
I belong to the Paiwan tribe, we live in a tribal village in Pingtung county. My indigenous name is Limuasan, which I inherited from my vuvu (female ancestor). Since I wasn’t raised in the village, I didn’t always have a strong sense of ethnic identity. I also suffered racism from my schoolmates during my elementary school years, so I’ve always felt rather negative about my ethnic identity. It wasn’t until I met several indigenous friends in high school that I regained a more positive view of my ethnicity. This changed even more when I entered college and participated in the Taluan university society. The Taluan Society is a society for indigenous people. We organize trips to aboriginal villages to engage in community service there, which in turn enables us to learn more about aboriginal culture. These experiences made a deep impression on me and I can say now that I am proud to be a Taiwanese aboriginal person.
I went into this trip with certain unconscious preconceptions about the idea of ‘aborigine’ and what an ‘indigenous culture’ should be. This preconception consisted in the idea that they should be the naive, artless minority amongst a corrupt majority race of ‘latecomers’ - the Hoklo and Hakka migrants to Taiwan. Their way of life has often been portrayed in documentaries as a healthy and balanced, essentially good way of life on the brink of extinction, thanks to the evil oppression of colonialism, whether cultural or imperial.
The idea of International exchange programs is not foreign to us. However, when you add life experiences and tribal sensations, it seems like a much more foreign term. I think back to my remote ancestors, who struggled and created fixed hunting grounds, with well-defined limits. Should another tribe cross over these boundaries, war would surely ensue; there were also some tribes that were good at social contact, which, by means of friendly mutual exchange, would swap goods or offer information, giving rise to stable alliances which lasted for hundreds or even thousands of years. These exchanges, full of friendly intentions, are probably no different from our modern concept of international exchange programs. Hundreds and thousands of years after our ancestors, we too are going to engage in what they did, an exchange of information to strengthen our common culture, and to find a “new understanding” of ourselves.
This time the exchange was focused on international interaction. Different from past experiences, in which both sides shared a common tongue, this time the exchange was between people from different countries and with different languages. Before the flight to Fiji I had expectations of “the indigenous people of two countries” engaging in an investigation of similarities and differences. After the plane landed, however, I discovered that my previous attitude of superficially observing and understanding any single ethnic group’s culture meant that I ignored the interactions between different ethnic groups within society as a whole, as well as how they are affected by global political and economic factors. If these “environmental” factors are put to one side, and only the individual characteristics of the single ethnic group in question are discussed, this kind of exchange trip can be of little value.
Generally speaking, the population of Fiji is composed of about 57% indigenous Fijians, and 37% Fijians of Indian descent. The former are classified as part of the Melanesian people, and speak Fijian; the latter are the descendants of the workers who came to work in sugar factories during the English colonial period of the 19th century, and then decided to stay. Because of Fiji’s colonial past, the locals often use English.
From a political point of view, indigenous Fijians are the majority. Because of the 2009 coup d’etat by the military, and the subsequent abolishment of the constitution 4 months after, Fiji is now ruled by a military junta, of which most of the members are indigenous Fijians. In addition, because of the fact that the deposed government was largely of Indo-Fijian origin, this caused friction between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians, which caused a large amount of Indo-Fijians to migrate overseas. After going to Fiji and interacting with the locals, I found that, even though there is no direct conflict, misunderstandings and discrimination still exist amongst different ethnic groups. For example, our indigenous Fijian tour guide Julia felt a little out of place when, during our trip, we paid a quick visit to a Hindu temple. Even though indigenous and Indo-Fijians are the two largest ethnic groups in the island, after chatting to the locals I found out that it is fairly uncommon for them to intermarry.
In economic terms, the Indo-Fijians have the upper hand. As well as some major domestic large scale industry companies, the Indo-Fijians have connections with international business. Currently the most important domestic industries including tourism (comprising over 21% of the GDP) and sugar are in the vast majority of cases in Indo-Fijian hands. However, the majority of the land (more than 80%) of Fiji is owned by indigenous Fijians, and this severely limits the potential for the economic development of Indo-Fijians. Throughout the military junta period, there have been several instances of indigenous Fijians raising the rent on the land in order to discriminate against Indo-Fijians.
Muaivuso village was very different to others we had visited previously. This village has avoided developing its tourist industry, instead focusing on working together with academic institutions to continue developing itself. I really admire this village, because the tribe has left behind the typical focus on tourism, and has chosen an academic route. Apart from the opportunity to advocate the integration of indigenous culture and modern knowledge, and the chance to promote the power of learning, it helps to share a traditional cultural standpoint with the wide world. As well as culture, another important aspect of the collaboration with the universities is ecology, preserving the indigenous people’s relationship with the earth through the concept of sustainable development. Amongst all of this there was a moment that moved me. When I was taking pictures to record the interior design of a house, a grandmother thought I wanted to take pictures of her grandsons, and pushed the two roughly two-year-old kids so that they were facing my camera, despite the fact that the children were busy tasting candy we had brought for them from Taiwan. The language may be different but a smiling grandmother probably has the same meaning anywhere; maybe she just wanted to cater to us “tourists” with a friendly gesture, but, if this kind of interaction springs from a “gaining more benefits” kind of mindset, it would inevitably leave a sour taste in my mouth, in the same way that the exploitation of the Orchid Islands for tourism does.
Right then, I heard one of my companions shouting: “Come get the candy so you can share it!”, and at once I found myself in a strange emotional predicament. Since arriving at Fiji, we have been to two or three villages, giving them candy, taking photos together, and giving out gifts. In these situations, my actions and attitudes have seemed to express the arrogance of someone who comes from a place he mistakenly believes to be more advanced. Giving candy or gifts is usually probably just an act of courtesy or an expression of friendliness, but, if you don’t spend time to consider the motive, you might not realise that in fact, you might be implying an act of “giving charity”. Even though locals don’t have access to modern factory-made candy, in no way does this mean that they need your candy to survive! A lot of Taiwanese tribal villages have also suffered this fate, but the experience of going from victim to perpetrator has made me reflect on my own behaviour and reproach myself. I hope that in the future I will be able to lead by example.
In Fiji, there are two main types of handcraft stores: Indigenous and Indo-Fijian. The reason we separate them like this is because they are both different in the way they do business. Instead of focusing on selling products, indigenous people will try to make friends with you; when they saw we were foreign, they asked us all sorts of everyday questions, and didn’t even particularly market their product. Indo-Fijians, on the other hand, proactively engage in business, and when they come in contact with foreigners, they give it their all; they say of every product that you will regret it later if you don’t buy it now! The initial price offered by the Indo-Fijians is higher, so people often pay a higher price than at the indigenous stores. However, if you bargain, you can often get things for a lower price than you would at the indigenous stores. I assume it’s because indigenous Fijians might be relatively worse at business, so if the price goes below a certain number they won’t accept the offer. Indo-Fijians always aspire to reach an agreement when doing business, even if they occasionally lose some money in a transaction.
The thing that I was most concerned about in Fiji was actually the relationship between indigenous and Indo-Fijians. Living together in the same island is just a consequence of history, but being able to interact with each other hand in hand and harmoniously, is the true road to happiness. Despite being an indigenous Taiwanese myself, I found myself sympathising more with the Indo-Fijians, who don’t have land to the point that they are often penniless, and lack support resources, in contrast with the indigenous Fijians, who have the majority of the land and benefit from welfare policies and insurance. Even though they constitute almost half of the total population, in the period of the military government some Indo-Fijian stores were destroyed, leaving the people homeless and destitute. Those that left the country and live abroad as political refugees still consider themselves Fijian above Indian, and still care about Fijian affairs. Thinking about this makes me feel sad.
In Fiji, indigenous and Indo-Fijians used to deal with each other in a harmonious way, but later the political propaganda caused problems between the two ethnic groups, including opposition for the sake of opposition. Taiwan is the same, first separating between Benshengren (those descended from people who arrived from China before Chiang Kai-Shek) and Waishengren (those who came after), and later on making distinctions between South East Asian immigrants and aborigines. There are also the current issues over unification and independence, which are all part of this political language. After this bickering, society becomes full of unrest and instability. We separate people this way and that, but are we not all just trying to grow on this land? We can be confident and proud when emphasizing our aborigine culture, but to sink to ignorant bickering, to isolating ourselves, will just cause more issues. As far as I know, the meaning of the word “yuanzhumin”(aborigine) in Taiwan is in constant evolution; it is not only defined by mainstream society, or the so-called “9 tribes” or the current “14 tribes”, how far can we keep going until we stop separating into groups? In the end, it is all to no avail.
One of the reason why culture is to be treasured lies in the fact that when you conduct cultural exchanges, you can learn the strong and beautiful aspects of each other’s culture, allowing for the culture to grow in charm and power. This process can be big or small in its scope, like when I assimilated my Fiji experiences to make them a part of me. I discovered an optimistic and leisurely people, and understood that living in this way is living a blessed and beautiful life. If, one day in the future, I become someone who can exert influence, I hope to be able to bring the charm of these people to our own culture. My ideal of culture is one that is compatible with others and grows, a heterogeneous culture. Rather than worrying about being assimilated into the mainstream majority culture, it is better to strive to develop the truth, goodness and beauty in one’s own culture, in order to influence the mainstream train of thought.
Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy
My motivation for participating in this activity, stems from the fact that when I was evaluating the Canada international exchange which I took part in a year ago, I realized that, in certain aspects, aboriginal affairs and the law can work together, as well as internationally on top aborigines about modern law and traditional systems under attack and their response. Afterwards, I took part in the “Aboriginal international affairs personnel training”, which helped me to understand more deeply the influence that can be exerted by aborigines worldwide by establishing ties with each other, which then let me to realize the importance of promoting an international perspective. When I found out about the trip to Fiji, in Austronesia, this year, it made me feel all the more resolutely that I must try the experience again, I must go once more.
When talking to the locals, we realized first hand the similar high pitch of our languages which is proof of our common ancestry. We took part in a class by Professor Morgan of the University of the South Pacific. We asked him if the people of the villages thought they were originally part of Austronesia, and he said that most of them thought they originated from Africa. However, we were surprised by the fact that counting from one to ten sounded almost the same in all of our mother tongues, we could barely believe it! This also seemed to give irrefutable evidence to the Austronesian grouping of languages. I had always thought that the concept of Austronesia was just discourse, I had never experienced it in a heartfelt way. After going through this kind of experience, however, I felt quite strongly that, despite the skin color and external appearance having changed somewhat due to environmental factors; we have clear proof that our institutions, languages and culture share similarities, and this gives me a deeper sense of identity.
In the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture performance area at the university, we found a pillar on which words had been written. The words were those of deceased scholar Epeli Hau’ofa in his influential essay Our Sea of Islands. The contents of this essay he discusses how the ocean is a means for developing an Oceanic identity. He claimed the ocean was the main link that joined together all the small islands, that we are the ocean. This concept allowed us to look upon the world and the ocean from a new perspective. Hau’ofa devoted himself to creating an Oceanic identity: the islands of Oceania are not isolated, but rather a community linked together by the Ocean, so we should connect with one another. And as a native of Oceania, I think that Taiwan should also be a part of this.
Photo by Sakenge
The indigenous Fijian people, unlike the young Taiwanese, don’t have any identity crisis issues. The indigenous Fijians are not divided into over ten different ethnic groups like the Taiwanese, the difference between some of these groups being the fact that the people are from a different village or with a slightly different dialect. Identity is very personal and subjective, and manifests in a natural way in one’s daily life. After this first personal level of identification, ethnic groups will often try to find reasons behind their defining aspects, using sociological, historical, and anthropological concepts to justify their identity and purposefully separate one group from another.
There are two types of tourism in Fiji; the first is run by foreign businessmen and consists mainly of large-scale resort hotels, and the other is a grassroots ecological experience promoted by individual villages. We experienced both during the course of this trip. I think that part of the negative effects of tourism stem from the fact that the managers don’t really understand the locals, so they present an overly simplistic form of their culture, in addition to adding all the comforts of capitalism. In order to cater to the expectations of the outside world towards Fiji’s culture and nature, these expectations are packaged to create the sense of a holiday paradise; for example the view of cannibalistic natives becomes a selling point for the business, which causes the local culture and ecology to come under attack. I think if some of the power to shape the way tourism works were to return to the village, that would be a good way to mitigate this problem. Villages should have autonomy when deciding how to manage tourism, how to present their culture, and how to defend their ecosystem.
From visiting the villages, we noticed that all of them had a very high level of self-determination and subjectivity. Muaivuso village in particular is collaborating with the University of the South Pacific to defend knowledge about traditional ways of life and protect the ocean through the creation of ocean conservation areas. Although the government provided some technological help, the main driving force has been the people from the village and their tribal spirit. Seeing this has motivated me to go back to the tribe and encouraging them by telling them just how many things can be achieved with their strength of will. This will show other people our achievements, will allow for many possibilities in our hometown, and can also be used as a bargaining chip with the government or mainstream society when trying to defend our rights.
Fiji and Taiwan have a rather similar system of land division and land preservation. The difference, however, is that in Fiji all the land is collectively owned, which differs from Taiwan where it is privately owned. Land preservation is managed jointly by the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the traditional tribal chiefs. If a foreign business wants to make use of the land of any given village, they must first visit the village and gain its consent, before submitting an application to the Land Trust. After that the three parties will come together to discuss the terms and conditions of the contract, and to sign it if an agreement is reached. This high level of respect for the opinions of the tribe can serve as an option to ponder and an example to follow for Taiwan. Maybe we can use village meetings to exercise the communal rights of the tribe, such as discussing the usage of natural resources and the way we open up land for development.
After this trip, I think that establishing international connections and gaining an international perspective are very important! I decided that in the future, I would focus all my efforts on developing and studying tribes, so before I left Taiwan for this trip, I thought that just learning about development in Taiwan would be enough. However, when you represent only two percent of the population, how can you dialog efficiently with mainstream society, when you both have different views shaped by your differing culture?Most indigenous people are not the majority in their respective countries, so they need to use international connections and agreements to interact with the mainstream government, and on occasion even to resist it. However, indigenous people need to have a strong cultural foundation before trying to expand their international point of view. Only in this way can they become a medium of communication between the tribe and the world. Otherwise, the connection with their roots will be lost, including the ability for the tribe to pass on information. If this happens, then the internationalization of the indigenous people will have lost its meaning.
This international exchange was a great opportunity for young Taiwanese aborigine people to have a broader view of the world, as well as allowing us to engage in cultural diplomacy with different indigenous people from around the world. If we form connections with each other, then our youthful power will become ever stronger. I also look forward to the opportunities that will arise from participating in this event, such as becoming the foundation for building a relationship between Taiwan and Fiji, and making sure Taiwan is in sync with the indigenous people of the world.I hope that these international exchange programs can continue in a far-reaching and sustainable way, so that this meaningful activity can continue to help young Taiwanese aborigine students to broaden their horizons.
Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy
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.
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.
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
In the course of reading my masters, I got to know aboriginal classmates from different backgrounds, and we founded a group of Amis young people in our age set studying in the North of Taiwan called La Qinghan. It was as if we’d brought the feel of our tribal villages to the capital. Whether we were having a laugh, singing, or engaged in more serious discussions about the current issues affecting aboriginal peoples, it made me feel that even though I was in the capital, I had a concrete sense of belonging.
When I complete my studies, I always hoped to be able to integrate the fields of diplomacy and ethnology. This was, therefore, a great opportunity for me to broaden my own horizons by harnessing my own identity as a Taiwanese aborigine and coming into contact with the larger world; at the same time, I had the chance to interact with other Austronesian groups like myself, the indigenous Fijian people, from several different perspectives, in the hope that the dialogue we engaged in during the visit would provide a frame of reference for the way aboriginal affairs are dealt with in Taiwan.
Our trip was divided into two parts, specifically our encounters with the different villages and our visit to the University of the South Pacific. We visited four villages during the trip: Navala, Koromakawa, Muaivusu and Korova. In our visits to these four villages we observed not only the beauty of the villages themselves, but we also got an idea of the social intimacy amongst the villagers. Even though we spent only half a day in each village, the feelings of unfamiliarity were quickly broken down by the overwhelming similarities in language and culture.
I attached a lot of importance to how the village had chosen to orientate its development and how it took the initiative to develop autonomously. In contrast to the more touristic development model of the villages of Navala and Koromakawa, I’d like to share my experience of visiting the other two villages, which left the deepest impression on me of the whole trip.
Muaivusu village chose marine life protection as its orientation for village development. Muaivusu wasn’t involved in the tourism industry, and few tourists visited the village. USP Professor Randy Thaman brought us to the village, he had been working in cooperation with local villages to protect the ocean for over ten years, throughout this period he’s seen how the marine ecology had gone from near destruction to gradual recovery. His environmental protection work did not just extend to protecting marine life and their natural environment, but it also included recording the local Fijian indigenous peoples’ knowledge and techniques with regard to animals, plants and ecology. Professor Thaman understood that this section of ocean was a big part of the Fijian way of life, their knowledge of it came from their interaction with it, and had been passed on through generations. Protecting was not just blindly following the demand to ‘let natural reserves recuperate’, but rather it was the idea of incorporating man into the ecological model, in that Taiwanese aborigines and the indigenous people of Muaivusu village know how to interact with the ocean.
However, this is not an easy road to take, and in the process of protecting the marine ecology they’ve come up against some stumbling blocks. There are still instances of illegal fishing that occur there, the rubbish from neighbouring towns pollutes the ocean, amongst other problems. The most serious problem, however, is that the knowledge of the ecology passed down from the elders in the past, is gradually disappearing amongst younger generations. Due to the loss of local languages, young people no longer use traditional fishing methods, and the elders, due to their great age are no longer able to go out on the ocean to observe the ecological environment, this is one of the reasons that Professor Thaman is recording local indigenous knowledge of the ecology. In the course of this visit, I was able to perceive clearly how to take a positive and active role in pushing for development in the village, as well as observing the role that academia should play, not sitting in an ivory tower unrelentingly pursuing esoteric abstractions, but engaged in the issues, big or small, that life throws up, contributing academically to the society of which they are a part.
The fishing village of Korova is a little village in close proximity to the capital. It was there that we came across an instance of land issues that was still an issue today. This was because the land on which the village was built didn’t legally belong to the villagers. However, according to Professor Paul Geraghty, who took us to the village, when the villagers migrated there, they asked the then chief of Suva if they could use the land there, a request to which he acquiesced. This approach was the most commonly accepted way of going about this under the traditional system, and so Korova village felt they had the right to use the land, but this was not acknowledged by the legal system. There are several examples of similar circumstances when it comes to Taiwanese aborigines, like the Sanying (三鶯) tribal village and the Xizhou (Shijou 溪州)) tribal village.
On the first day of our visit to the University of the South Pacific Professor Marika Kuilamu and a graduate student from the university Apisalome Movono shared with us the current state of the tourism industry in Fiji. Apisalome’s presentation compared the social impact of involvement with tourism on two villages. He employed both qualitative and quantitative information to relate how tourism had affected local culture, it felt as if he could just as easily be talking about Taiwanese tribal villages. Taiwanese tribal villages have faced many similar problems, like, for example, funding, professional training, as well as land issues. Apisalome’s presentation reminded us once again of the similarities between the Fijian and Taiwanese indigenous peoples. That afternoon we participated in a forum with five professors who taught at the school, in which one of the professors informed us that the term ‘Austronesian’ was a linguistic term, and that, in fact, people from Oceania did not recognise themselves as being Austronesian. However, recently, some countries that speak Austronesian languages had started to incorporate the concept of ‘Austronesian’ as an ethnic grouping, so younger people were more familiar with the idea. This was quite a shock for me.
On the final day of our trip we visited the Pacific Harbour Arts Village, which resembled something akin to the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park. However, in their arts village they had only to introduce Fijian indigenous people as a whole, they didn’t have the task which falls to Taiwan of introducing fourteen different ethnic groups in one go. At the start the tour was hosted by warm hearted elderly gentleman, who had been working there for 30 years. First he took us to an area where he introduced the origins of the lovo (an earth oven), which had originally been used to cook people, as part of Feiji’s cannibalistic tradition. In our discussion afterwards we considered the possibility that the cannibalism had perhaps been over-emphasized in the interests of tourism. In aboriginal societies, cannibalism perhaps wasn’t as common or as everyday a custom as they seemed to suggest. I think, it perhaps merits comparison with the way Taiwanese aborigines are often said to have loved headhunting, but was headhunting so lightly or casually looked upon by aborigines? I doubt that very much.
We went on a little boat tour, on which they introduced different aspects of the traditional Fijian way of life: mat weaving, making fire by rubbing sticks together, how the tapa bark cloth is made, pottery techniques, as well as traditional Fijian weapons and defences. In the second part they took us into the forest, to experience other aspects of Fijian traditional life. In the course of this second part several interesting things happened, like when a Fijian performer came up on us as if to kill us, and the idea that traditional Fijians didn’t want a pretty wife, because it meant that they would live longer. I gleaned two concepts from this experience:
The first was that the Taiwan Aboriginal People Culture Park could use this performance-led tour experience model to introduce the different tribes within Taiwan, allowing tourists to get closer to the aboriginal way of life, which would help to facilitate better communication between aboriginal peoples and the Han population, or even between different aboriginal tribes. What concerns me, however, is whether or not this experience model would turn make tradition overly formulaic, and would simplify the diversity of development and culture between different tribes.
The second idea was that this experience model would lead to the formation of another stereotype of aborigines. To me aboriginal life is not just about maintaining and continuing traditional ways of life, but aborigines are surviving in the contemporary world, and they play an important part in our country.
On this journey to Fiji, we discovered that Indigenous Fijians owned 80% of the land, and they can choose their own development model. Therefore, some villages, in response to the demand to maintain their livelihood, choose to rent land to property development groups, who launch large scale tourist resorts. Others choose to develop their own tourist industry, and others still choose to protect the natural resources of the village, choosing environmental protection as an orientation for development. Regardless of which developmental model is in place, the village always plays an important model within it. This is very different from the experience of aborigines in Taiwan. In Taiwan, aborigines don’t own their own land completely. The majority of the area of our traditional territory is now called “government-owned land”, and aborigines cannot take the initiative to make use of their own natural resources. To me, land holds the role of a mother to our culture. With the loss of land, how is it possible for a society to pass on its culture and social structure to the next generation? I rejoice for Fijian Indigenous people therefore, as they don’t need to concern themselves with land issues, as land can’t be bought or sold, nor cannot it be lost.
How can we apply what we learned in this experience to the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal people? It’s true that Taiwanese aborigines no longer hold the rights to their traditional territories, and they are still engaged in a struggle over it. This will take a long time to settle, whether from a political point of view, or a cultural one. My experiences in Fiji inspired in me a thought on this issue, the drawing up of the borders between traditional territories and their promulgation is an extremely important act. Although in the context of the gradual erosion of aboriginal knowledge of the ecology, is this really possible? Are we still capable of using the wisdom of our ancestors to manage mountain forests, rivers and lakes or the ocean? Therefore, in addition to continuing to research traditional territory, there should be an attempt to discover and record traditional aboriginal knowledge and ecological knowledge, and pass these on to the younger generations in the tribe. This is the only way that aboriginal wisdom can continue to be passed on. In the future, if aborigines gain autonomy, we’ll be able to demonstrate aboriginal wisdom and techniques to the government, proving our ability to look after the forests, rivers and oceans that our ancestors had entrusted to us.
As well as autonomous development by the villages themselves, we discovered that professors and students from the University of the South Pacific also play an important role. Through cooperation with the University of the South Pacific, the villages got access to a lot of management techniques and wisdom, as well as paving the foundation for a friendship with USP. For the university, the village provides an opportunity to put their theory into practice, and to give back to society. For the village, the university’s participation gives the village more resources in managing the land, allowing the village to keep up their livelihood, as well as passing on local cultural practices. It made me think of National Taiwan University, or any other academic organization that researches aboriginal culture, and how they could take part in tribal village life in this same spirit, allowing the villages to develop autonomously, not just treating it as the passive object of research.
As my undergraduate degree was in diplomacy and by masters is in ethnology, I had hoped that through this experience, I could get a feel for the interaction between different Austronesian communities. I did feel a sense of intimacy between the two groups of aborigines, not only through hearing Paiwan tribe businessman, Shi Xiongwei, who is based in Fiji, sharing his experience, but also through direct interaction with local people, as well as with USP professors and students. They gave me the feeling that Taiwanese aborigines have a lot of brothers and sisters in Oceania. Although Oceanic islanders don’t universally identify as being Austronesian, but I think that the more contact we have with other Austronesian communities, we can form a new connection, reconnecting the people living in Oceania, and this new connection will provide a narrative of the similarities between our languages, cultures and even our social structures.
For me it is important to share my experiences in Fiji with other members of my tribe. Although it’s not possible for them to go to Fiji themselves, I hope that through pictures and film they can get a general idea of what indigenous Fijians were like, and to use the issues revealed about them to reflect on the development of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples.
This trip also helped to decide my own direction of research into Austronesian peoples. Currently my research is focused on “Austronesian Diplomacy”. However, in the future I hope to go to Oceania and engage in regional research there. I hope, as well as comparing this experience to Taiwan, that my research will enable links between different Austronesian groups in the Pacific.
In the hope of engaging in a pilot study for Austronesian research, I have applied for next year’s World Austronesian Project. As well as this, I am trying to save money, in the hope that I can attend the Pacific Arts Festival, which will be held in 2016 in Guam. If at the time I have enough money, I’m sure that the exchange will be of great benefit for Oceanic arts and culture as well as encouraging links between different groups of Austronesians.
If it were possible, I would have liked to have stayed in the village for a night. If we had stayed in the villages for a night I think we would have gotten a more complete picture of life in the village and it would have facilitated more interaction with the local aboriginal people.
I’m extremely grateful to the Council of Indigenous Affairs and to the Ricci Institute. Thank you for allowing us this rare opportunity, at the same time I hope that this scheme will continue to be held, to give young aborigines a chance to create their own links with aborigines from other countries, and to share their history, their society and culture, as well as harnessing this experience to make a difference to their own tribe, helping contribute to the future development of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples.
Photos by Sra Manpo Ciwidian and Lin Yimiao. Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart
Navala and Koromakawa had a very touristic feel to them, both in their sevusevu welcoming ceremony and in their village tours, you felt that the whole thing was as a result of accumulated and experience, somewhat rehearsed.
On the other hand, however, I discovered a lot about the background of the development of tourism in those villages, and how they struggled to preserve traditional culture at the same time. In Navala for example, all the buildings were traditional “bures”, not as a result of government grants or encouragement, but rather because the village residents took the initiative to preserve this tradition. The ceiling of the meeting house in Koromakawa village was covered in all sorts of totems, these were painted by the women of the village bit by bit standing on ladders. It’s possible that the conservation of traditional culture was an attempt to attract tourists, but even if the motives are suspect, the traditional culture is still being preserved, and it plays a very important role in the everyday life of the villagers. In Koromakawa we asked the spokesperson (the person who spoke for the chief) if they were concerned that the development of the tourism would contribute to the loss of traditional culture, he answered that they were; he told us that because of modern developments, that they had suffered cultural leakage, some ways in which the villagers lived their lives had long changed from the way they lived before, the young people leave the village to work elsewhere, there they came in contact with very modern things, and became accustomed to a new way of life. From the example of Koromakawa, I was able to observe that bringing the tourism industry into the village brought another advantage: that young people were gradually returning to the village to help in the development of tourism there.
The University of the South Pacific is one of the most important universities in the Pacific region, concentrating talented young people from all the different islands in one place. Several professors from the region made time in their busy schedules to hold a forum with us, sharing with us their research and their own experiences. What made the deepest impression on me was the response that we got after our dance performance, and the opportunity afforded us to attend Professor Morgan Tuimalealiifano’s class, and get to know his students who came from a wide variety of backgrounds. I was really moved when we got a rare opportunity to share the similarities between our languages, it was as if a family that had been separated by circumstance had been reconciled. Perhaps our life experiences were very different, but the links between us could be felt in a multitude of little similarities. I felt that the way Professor Tuimalealiifano brought the backgrounds and experiences of the students and the teacher into the discussion was different from the usual model of the teacher just feeding the students a string of impersonal professional knowledge, which really resonated with me and provided a lot of food for thought. When Professor Tumalealiifano was sharing his thoughts about Fijian identity he got quite emotional at times, which just went to show how much of himself he invested in each class, and led me to the discovery that the classroom can be quite an emotional place.
In the course of this trip, I was charged with observing of the legal and political system, in an attempt to understand what channels of communication there were between the government and the villages, how ideas were exchanged between them, and how the implementation of policy concerning indigenous people could effectively incorporate the opinions of the villages, enabling the compatibility of government activities and the expectations and demands of the indigenous people. What struck me most was the extent to which Fiji’s chiefly system was still so intact. This traditional leadership structure of the villages was developed by the British colonists and became the structure of governance for Fiji. The British even set up the Great Council of Chiefs, with the aim of more effectively governing the colony, although it later became an important safeguard ensuring the rights and protecting the interests of indigenous people. Each chief is like an elder of the village, dealing with everything within the village, and collecting together opinions from villagers; he acts as a spokesperson to the outside world for the village, the decisions he makes are a result of consensus amongst the entire village, encouraging close relationships between villagers, and good communication between a chief and his villagers. This interactive model functions within the Fijian government structure in the way the Great Council of Chiefs incorporates the opinions of all the villages represented by each of the chiefs who form its ranks, and through discussion and cooperation work towards a consensus, to influence government policy, and oversee the implementation of policy, creating closer links between the government and the villages, as well as clear channels of communication between the two. The application of the traditional chiefly system into the modern system is an accumulation of long-term experience, even though there have been several political upheavals in Fiji in recent years, the importance of the chiefs in the politics of Fiji cannot be overlooked, which left us with the impression that traditional knowledge and the modern system were not necessarily in conflict. With enough communication and discussion, the two can integrate with one another. Perhaps Taiwan’s situation is a little more complicated, but this makes a good reference point for us. We discovered that the sense of autonomy and initiative among the villages was very strong, although many young people leave the villages to work, you could still feel the presence of traditional culture in the villages was being preserved. Some of the mountain villages had preserved the traditional architectural style, elders and youths in the village took the initiative to teach the traditional building skills to the children in their spare time, hoping to pass on these skills to future generations.
The coastal villages continue to fish using traditional canoes, not only making use of traditional wisdom, but also preserving a sustainable balance in the ecology. The cultural similarities, are essentially that they are both engaged in a Fijian way of life, traditional culture is inseparable from their daily lives, which preserves it, and this again is a very good example for us to reference. To have just such an opportunity to get to know Fiji is, without doubt an invaluable experience, and we were burdened with an important mission, we were most likely a group of young people amongst Taiwanese aborigines who most understood Fiji, and we have a duty to maintain this important link between Taiwan and Fiji, and to share the things we had learned in Fiji with our tribes, this latter is one of the most important objectives for our group. We both belong to the Austronesian ethnic group, we were very excited about discovering the common features between us, using this to try improve our relationship, although the vast Pacific lies between us, but it is this very stretch of ocean that is what connects us, the ocean is not an obstacle, but rather it is a connecting bridge, connecting our languages, culture and even our history.
I haven’t lived in Hualian since I was a little girl, I was brought up in the city and received a modern style education, and was always in search of an identity of my own, but I had forgotten to turn my gaze to the world’s many aboriginal peoples who have never forgotten their own roots, living on with all their efforts for their selves and for their tribe, they told me that having heart is always important, going with one’s heart will always lead you to where you belong. This Pacific connection was not the end of the story, but rather it was an important beginning.
Translated from the chinese by Conor Stuart