2022 Austronesian Forum: Empowering the Next-Generation Indigenous Youth Leaders for a Sustainable Tomorrow
文／Gielenny M. Salem
Gielenny M. Salem
Ph.D. student at the Graduate Institute of Microbiology and Public Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, National Chung Hsing University
The success of a cultural and leadership training program is pivotal to the revitalization and continuation of indigenous people’s culture, language, and practices for several generations. The 19th Cultivation Program of Young Talent for International Affairs held on July 22 through 27 clearly set a platform for the continued engagement of Taiwanese indigenous and Austronesian youths in international affairs through cross-cultural exchange efforts. Staying true to its mission, Taiwan’s Council for Indigenous Peoples (CIP) has successfully gathered delegates from 11 different countries that are home to Austronesian languages from Taiwan, the Philippines, and the Pacific island countries, including the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. There were also lone delegates from Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America.
Throughout the six-day bilingual event, 35 participants were divided into subgroups for extensive discussions about Austronesian issues, including the impact of tourism on the indigenous peoples’ cultures, where Dr. Jack Hua (華偉傑) of Splendid Marketing Ltd. and hails from the Paiwan tribe emphasized how cross-domain collaboration between the tribal communities, government, and the small-to-medium enterprisers would lead towards sustainable growth. Mr. Felix Yen (嚴樹芬), Guam Affairs Director, also promoted the Chamorro culture by stressing that designing indigenous-centered tourism products and incorporating the local communities’ core values are central to a more active and participatory tourism program. The youth leaders were also inspired by the interactive talk by Tina Wehipeihana-Wilson, the first Māori woman to serve as New Zealand’s Trade Director in Taiwan. She stressed the value of empowerment through education, respecting and preserving traditional knowledge and practices to remove the barriers to indigenous peoples’ participation in domestic, regional, and global economies.
To enhance the Austronesian peoples’ education and encourage the preservation, revitalization, and normalization of indigenous languages, the participants were invited to the recently renovated National Museum of Prehistory (NMP), with a special exhibition on the Austronesian peoples’ pre- and post-colonial activities. This well-curated museum, headed by Director Chang-Hua Wang (王長華), not only featured large-scale prehistoric relics and exhibits on the pre-colonial indigenous practices but also post-colonial Austronesian evolution towards regaining the sense of collective identity through language revitalization, reintegration of local agriculture, and traditional social practices, and radical reclamation of ancestral homelands and traditional territories.
Designed to highlight the need for indigenous youth’s homecoming and preserve indigenous knowledge, the event organizers from the National Chengchi University arranged community immersions with the Puyuma and Kasavakan indigenous communities facilitated by Abetayan Pakawyan (洪慶誠) and Alikay (潘晨綱), respectively. A walking tour brought the trainees back to some of Pinuyumayan’s traditional millet planting and harvesting methods and coming-of-age ceremonies by the young men in the tribe. In the community, the trainees were welcomed with traditional flower-wreathed crowns and millet wine and experienced the hunting prowess of the locals through archery. Despite the rich indigenous heritage, one of the most crucial issues being faced by the ethnic communities is the growing number of young people’s continued outmigration. Socioeconomic limitations, generational changes, and inter-racial marriages were some of the main driving forces discussed that motivate the youth towards these socioeconomic shifts. Soon after community visits, panel discussions addressing indigenous people’s healthcare and social security issues followed, including Ms. Yapit．Tali of the Taiwan Indigenous Long-term Care Service Rights Promotion Association (ICPA). She acknowledged that while universal health care coverage is in place, socioeconomic disparities remain between the aboriginal and general populations, and such need to be addressed and given immediate attention.
This highly international gathering also brought together some of Taiwan’s scholars, award-winning artists, and filmmakers to impart the realities of accessing funding for indigenous arts and creating more engaging, culturally relevant content while avoiding cultural misappropriation. For indigenous communities, music is central to identity and has always served as a nonviolent and unique avenue to unifying ethnic groups. The musical, On the Road (很久沒有敬我了你) was an epitome of musical modernity and successful collaboration between the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO) and the Puyuma musicians in Nanwang Village. This musical theater production inspired the book chapter “Highway Nine Musical Stories: Musicking of Taiwanese Indigenous peoples at Home and in the National Concert Hall (前進國家音樂廳！：臺九線音樂故事)” by Professor Chun-Bin Chen (陳俊斌), tracing the impacts of the Japanese and Chinese settlers on contemporary Puyuma indigenous music. More than entertainment, transporting the tribal music to the National Concert Hall allowed the Puyuma artists to control the narrative of storytelling. The Amis Hip-hop (阿美嘻哈), a film directed by an award-winning director and anthropologist Futuru C. L. Tsai (蔡政良), also took center stage in the international cinema by showcasing how the young Amis men in A’tolan blended elements of modern music and traditional aesthetics. Speaking to the young trainees, he emphasized the importance of audiovisual expression for storytelling, establishing cultural visibility, and raising global awareness of respective ethnic cultures.
The Austronesian Forum’s Cultural Night was the highlight of this training camp, where each delegate proudly displayed their cultural heritage through their national attires, dances, and songs. The rich ethnic pride of Taiwan’s Amis, Rukai, Pinuyumayan, Paiwan, Atayal, Tsou, Bunun, and the Kanakanavu groups were showcased through polyphonic songs and tribal dances. The Teube dance from the Solomon Islands, which signifies togetherness by praising the earth and calling the birds to dance together, the lively performance of Fatele of the Tuvaluans matched with head garlands, armbands, and colorful traditional skirts, and the Philippines’ Cariñosa (meaning “romantic” or “affectionate”), which depicts the courtship movements between a man and a woman during the Spanish colonial era, were spectacular additions to the musical diversity of the performances. The audience was also hyped by the vigorous movements from the Haka Ka Mate Ka Mate war chant lyrics, a Māori war chant performed by Temuera Hall of Aotearoa New Zealand, and the lively “roro” chant entitled Ñijirto Ñijirto, a traditional Marshallese navigation chant by Belottie Maun.
The training was a testament to the rich cultural heritage the Austronesian family possesses but is also a reminder of the depth and breadth of the societal issues being experienced by the indigenous communities. For years, there has been a constant battle in securing indigenous people’s fundamental rights and access to primary health care services, ensuring their inclusion in the sustainable development goals, and providing equitable opportunities to everyone for a safer, healthier, and more inclusive environment. The training may have concluded, but the preparations for a continued and holistic approach to growth are only getting started. Undoubtedly, trainings like this are gateways to revisiting historical accounts, nurturing inter-community dialogues, and strengthening relationships by sharing stories through the lens of individuals’ personal experiences. However, as trainees, the responsibility of challenging the rhetoric and non-inclusive ideologies is also at hand. Ensuring that the council governing indigenous affairs mainly comprises members of the indigenous communities, implementing autonomy on tribe-centered practices, and issuing tribe-ratified procedures are equally vital. These means will include indigenous voices and knowledge for more effective and engaging development strategies. Above all, the mission is not simply the triumph over the physical protection of the land but the revitalization of the living culture and indigenous traditions for future generations.