Pingtung county, Taiwan – On a sizzling weekend in late August, two ladies slowly lay out shaved pig’s bone and mulberry leaves on a lounge desk in preparation for a seasonal blessing for the home’s occupants.
Harvest pageant has come to an in depth, and the pair – from the Indigenous Paiwan – have had a busy weekend visiting homes close to the final cease on Taiwan’s western rail line.
Whereas now inhabited by a mixture of ethnicities, the mountains and plains of central Pingtung county had been as soon as managed by the Paiwan, certainly one of Taiwan’s 16 recognised Indigenous teams.
Many managed to stay within the mountains till they had been relocated by the federal government within the Nineteen Sixties, however whereas their new villages now have Chinese language names, everybody is aware of how they correspond to their unique mountain hamlets and which neighbours come from as soon as competing tribes or buluo.
It’s right here in southernmost Taiwan that the 2 ladies, Paping Tjamalja and Kereker Recevungan, serve the communities as pulingaw, a place much like a shaman or spirit medium that permits them to speak with the spirits of nature and their Paiwan ancestors, their vuvu.
Whereas they recite spells and songs for particular person blessings, pulingaw are essential figures within the conventional Paiwan hierarchy and are current at main occasions like festivals, births, deaths, naming ceremonies and weddings.
The handful of pulingaw left on this a part of southern Taiwan are largely aged, however Kereker is simply 33.
She has taken the weird path of coaching as the world’s youngest pulingaw after spending greater than a decade away in Taipei. Instructing on the native faculty on the facet, she now spends most of her free time studying from different pulingaw.
“I’ve to recollect lyrics to songs, I’ve to recollect rituals and their meanings. Some phrases within the songs are very tough and I’ve to ask my mom and my father, however even they don’t know the which means (generally) so I’ve to ask my aunt,” who’s one other pulingaw, Kereker mentioned.
“I feel it’s tougher for me to know the which means of the rituals as a result of I’ve lived within the metropolis for thus a few years so I’m not accustomed to the tradition,” she admits.
Kereker’s profession path took a significant shift following a automobile accident in 2018, when she started to seek the advice of along with her aunt and took part in some conventional ceremonies to deal with her lingering well being issues.
It was round this time that she says she was visited by zagu, the spirits of ancestors that seem as small black balls round potential pulingaw. When she misplaced her job a yr later, she knew it was time to go dwelling.
Passing down Paiwan tradition and even taking pleasure in it has not at all times been simple.
Assimilation into Chinese language tradition has been a part of the authorities’ coverage in direction of Indigenous individuals ranging from the Japanese colonial period and into the Republic of China martial legislation interval.
Christianity, which arrived in Taiwan 400 years in the past and permeated deep into Indigenous tradition, has at instances portrayed conventional faith as near satan worship.
At a gathering of three pulingaw a day earlier on the home of Selep Curimudjuq, an area chief of the Tjuvecekadan village group in Qijia, an elder pulingaw recalled how she was compelled to put on an indication round her neck when she spoke Paiwan in class.
The Laiyi Indigenous Museum close by has reveals readily available tattoos, a customized outlawed by the Japanese and later the Republic of China authorities, which mandated cultural assimilation.
Since Taiwan’s democratic transition within the Nineties, nonetheless, the federal government has helped lead a nationwide resurgence in Taiwan’s Indigenous tradition from rewriting faculty textbooks to funding museums and heritage websites.
Indigenous research is now a significant tutorial self-discipline and 5 years in the past, following the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, the federal government established the Presidential Workplace Indigenous Historic Justice and Transitional Justice Committee.
In up to date Taiwan, nonetheless, a lot of the issue is demographic.
Most of the youthful generations of Indigenous individuals now dwell within the cities the place it’s simpler for them to lose contact with their cultural roots.
“If younger city Indigenous persons are really keen on cultural points, their id will probably be (primarily based) round their village, however once they return to their village it’s tough for them to get together with their childhood buddies as a result of they’ve probably not talked to one another for a few years. So when they are going to return, they are going to have their very own group,” mentioned Dremedreman Curimudjuq, a PhD pupil at Nationwide Cheng Kung College who can also be in line to turn into a hereditary chief like her mom, Selep Curimudjuq.
Time to attach
Kereker, the pulingaw-in-training, says she had an identical expertise of alienation all through her time in Taipei.
“Paiwan individuals say that every one issues have a spirit, that’s, every thing has a soul. Then we should preserve a really respectful coronary heart and be good to the mountains, to the river and to the land,” she mentioned.
“However I’ve lived in Taipei for too lengthy, and in such a high-pressure atmosphere with out a reference to nature for a very long time, it’s simple for us to neglect who we’re.”
Understanding that not each city Paiwan might wish to dwell in rural areas, holidays like harvest pageant and household occasions have turn into essential instances to return dwelling and reconnect.
Looking can also be some of the common methods for male Indigenous individuals throughout Taiwan to take care of rituals, whereas some colleges might provide Indigenous language lessons to younger college students.
Individually, central Paiwan individuals have acquired worldwide consideration for his or her award-winning choir at Taiwu Elementary College. Based by the Paiwan actor and musician Camake Valaule, who appeared within the Netflix-streaming miniseries Seqalu: Formosa 1867 earlier than he handed away in August, the group has recorded and carried out Paiwan-language songs abroad.
Because the second largest Indigenous group in Taiwan, Paiwan are just one a part of the puzzle of cultural preservation.
Some Indigenous ethnic teams are going through linguistic extinction and in others, numbers have dwindled to only a few hundred remaining descendants.
Taiwan’s authorities has made a severe effort to step in, because the Tsai administration is eager on setting its historical past and tradition aside from China, however on the bottom this varies from group to group and tradition to tradition, mentioned Daniel Davies, a PhD candidate on the Nationwide Solar Yat-sen College who research Paiwan tradition.
“Localism is an enormous factor. The way in which that every group has managed to protect components of conventional tradition sort of depends upon the power of establishments inside that group. In Qijia you would say the spiritual facet of formality and households and pulingaw have been robust and for some, that’s been part of the tradition the place individuals can collect round,” he mentioned.