Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Atayal aboriginal village

I spent the weekend before Xmas in Jienshih township, home to many people from the Atayal aboriginal tribe in the beautiful mountains of Hsinchu county, northern Taiwan.

Locals are trying to develop ecotourism. And the area is already becoming a magnet for tourists.

One key attraction is a forest of giant Taiwanese red cedar trees - said to be between two and three thousand years old. Years ago, tribal elders believed the trees protected the area: like a guardian.

These days, the villagers - who are Christian - remain in awe of the size and age of the magnificent trees; but few regard them as having any mystical or sacred qualities.

Its a hike of about 2 hours to reach the area - and I was surprised how many tourists had already begun to discover this site.

The two trees receving the most attraction are called the Tree of Adam and the Tree of Eve: because their bases and roots are shaped like male and female body parts...as you can see!

I stayed in the settlement of Hsin-kuang, where we got some insights into local culture: including how traditionally people would hunt; and a class in Atayal dancing.

We also took part in a Xmas Eve party outside a local church: gathering around 2 giant bonfires for warmth and watching young teenagers doing breakdancing and singing.

An ecotourism experiment in the nearby settlement of Smangus is seen as a model; and the people of Hsin-kuang are hoping to emulate it: so that it can create new jobs and bring other positive benefits to the village which, like many remote aboriginal areas, has developed more slowly than other parts of Taiwan and has struggled to keep the younger generations from drifting away to the cities

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