Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A new tribe

The government has granted official recognition to people from the Sakizaya tribe - who have become the 13th legally recognised aboriginal tribe in Taiwan.
They have an interesting story: the tribe were once one of the strongest and largest in Taiwan; but almost decimated after an attack in 1878 by soldiers from China's Qing dynasty.

Survivors hid among aboriginals from the Amis tribe, to avoid persecution. Abas Lai, a primary school teacher from the tribe, told me that the tribal chief was killed in a particularly vicious manner..his skin cut into 1,001 pieces.

"The Sakizaya just hide [with the]Amis [tribe]… they lose their self confidence. They don’t want to show their name, because they are afraid of the force, of the army, of the government… ", she said.

The group began to push for recognition about 20 years ago. As Taiwan emerged from martial law and began to flourish as a democracy, the island’s ethnic groups demanded greater rights and government recognition. Today, its thought there are between 5-10,000 members of the sakizaya tribe, who have traditionally lived in the island’s eastern county of Hualien.

While government recognition is largely symbolic - giving the tribe a sense of pride that their culture and language is now valued and respected - it also means tribal members will have access to government funds to help preserve their culture as well as medical and educational benefits.
But as the Sakiraya celebrate, several other groups in Taiwan are still struggling to get official recognition – including the Pingpu plains people. To get recognition, groups need to meet
certain thresholds to demonstrate they have a unique language and culture, or occupy specific territorial areas.

Despite living with the Amis, and having many similarities, the Sakizaya have demonstrated their language is unique; and also say there are differences in their costume and dance.
They hope now that their new status will give new life and confidence to the tribe – which once was in danger of disappearing altogether

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