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PostPosted: Fri Dec 18, 2009 2:34 pm 
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Joined: Wed Dec 16, 2009 6:06 pm
Posts: 1
When I arrived in Taiwan just one year ago, I made it a point to contact as many
people as possible who were in some way related to textiles: designers, weavers,
museum people, academics, people in the textile industry, historians, collectors,
dealers in historic textiles, researchers and so forth. When I mentioned that I am a
handweaver and would like to learn about local handloom textile traditions, I was
referred to the traditional weaving of Taiwan's minority tribes of " original people",
the yuan zhu min.

I was given some books with excellent photographs, but the Chinese text did not help
me much as I could not read Chinese characters. Furthermore, many of the best early
documentation was done by Japanese ethnographers who worked here during the
period of Japanese rule (1895-1945). These studies were published in Japan and I'm
told that some of the finest collections of Taiwan aboriginal artifacts are in Japanese
museums today. Nevertheless, efforts are being made here to preserve some of the
artifacts of these cultures which are on the decline in the rapidly developing,
fast-moving, urbanizing , globalizing society of modern Taiwan.

The "original people" now constitute less then 2% of the island's population (roughly
400,000, out of a total population in Taiwan of 21.5 million). There are nine major
tribal groups recognized today: Atayal, Saisiat, Bunun, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyauma,
Ami, all of whom live in the mountainous central and eastern regions of Taiwan, plus
the tiny community of Yami who live on isolated Orchid Island. At one time the Han
Chinese inhabitants referred to all of them as shan di ren, "mountain people," or
"highlanders" because they retreated to the higher mountains as the Han Chinese came
in over the centuries to settle and farm the richer lowlands.

From the nearest point on the island of Taiwan it is barely one hundred miles across
the Taiwan Strait to Fujian Province on the mainland of China, yet the yuan zhu min
probably did not come from there, but more likely hailed from the sea-going Pacific
Island cultures of Austronesian origin. There is a school of thought that some of the
tribal groups did come from minority groups still living on mainland China, but much
of the lingisustic and cultural evidence, including weaving technology, points
elsewhere. Just how they came here, when and from where remains something of a
mystery. Apparently, archaeological excavations reveal the presence of people on the
island as long as fifteen thousand years ago, but whether or not they were related to the
present tribal people is not known. Physically and culturally, the yuan zhu min were
very different from the Han Chinese settlers. Inevitably, some of the lowland groups
assimilated, while others were pushed into more isolated locations, including the
central mountains, where their hunting and gathering way of life, combined with their
simple forms of agriculture, would not compete with that of the newcomers.
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Last edited by gema on Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:51 am 
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Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 10:41 pm
Posts: 69
Location: Formerly Taipei -Taiwan, now Shanghai - China
Hello gema

Thanks for this message on the Taiwan aboriginal peoples. I’ve been myself very attracted to their culture since I discovered it. Unfortunately, their culture has been quite ignored inside and outside the island for historical and political reasons.

As you mentioned, some of the finest collections are in Japan, but there are also some good ones in Taiwan. I considere the most interesting museums or institutions in Taiwan with aboriginal artifacts on permanent or occasional displays to be the Shunye Museum (in Shilin, Taipei), the Taiwan History Museum (close to the train station, in Taipei), the National Prehistory Museum (in Taitung), the Ethnology Dep. of the Academia Sinica (in Nankang, Taipei), the Ethnology Dep. of the Taiwan University (Taipei), the Shisanhang Prehistory Museum (Bali, Taipei District), the Wulai Atayal Museum (Wulai, Taipei District), the Katagalan Cultural Center (Peitou, Taipei) and a couple of other local institutions.

Private collectors are usually not showing their collections. The two main private collections in the island are belonging to Chen Cheng-Ching and to Hsu Ying-zhou, but they are not easy to see, except if you have the right connections or when these collectors are participating to a museum exhibit, what is rare. There are few other private collectors with worthy collections in Jiayi, in Taichung, in Taitung, in Hualien, in Kaohsiung and in Taipei. Less than a dozen.

Gema, what you said on the aboriginal people from Taiwan is exact, except for two things :
– The number of tribes : today, they are not anymore 9 but 14 as new groups have seen their tribal identity recognized as distinct. First, you forgot to mention the Thao, and in addition, during the last few years, the Truku, the Sediq, the Kavalan and the Sakizaya (also called Sakiraya) have been added officially to the list of the Taiwan Austronesian groups. The Siraya have not yet obtained this status, but it could come next.
- You wrote “the yuan zhu min probably did not come from there, but more likely hailed from the sea-going Pacific Island cultures of Austronesian origin.” If I understand well the verb’ hail from’, you mean that the yuanzhumin came from the Austronesian culture, when it is the opposite that happened : in fact, the ancestors of the Taiwanese aboriginal groups are at the origin of the Austronesian culture. It has been shown today through the linguistic studies and even scientifically proven through DNA analysis and comparisons. Some other recent studies on the early jade trade from Taiwan towards Asia and South East Asia (see Peter Bellwood) are also pointing into this direction.

I would like to learn more on the traditional weaving technic of the Taiwan aborigines, and I would be happy to read your comment about their textiles, as you are yourself a handweaver.


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