Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Austronesian links

Taiwan, its 6 Pacific diplomatic allies, and the Philippines, announced they were establishing an Austronesian Forum - aimed at promoting closer ties between Austronesian members.

What's "Austronesian" ? you may ask. The Austronesian language is the world's biggest linguistic group, spoken by more than 200 million people.

Many scientists believe Taiwan was the birthplace of the Austronesian language family. Another, more controversial theory suggests that Taiwan could have been the original homeland of the Austronesian people, who then migrated to a wide area across the Pacific and beyond.
A beautiful traditional boat build by Orchid Islanders who rowed for the first time from their island to Taiwan.

The new Austronesian Forum aims to promote exchanges, academic, economic and cultural, between Austronesian communities. The body will be formally established next year. A draft charter pledges founder members to work to promote the goals of democracy, good governance, human rights and sustainable development .

This Hualien chieftan gave a traditional blessing at a ceremony to launch the first step in setting up the Austronesian Forum.

In recent years, the Taiwanese government has worked hard to promote its links with other Austronesian countries - seeing it as a way of trying to break out of its diplomatic isolation and stress its distinctiveness from China.

The island is recognised by just 24 governments around the world - six of them in the Pacific . Taiwan's own Austronesian people are members of the island's 13 officially recognized aboriginal groups who make up about 2% of the population.

President Chen Shui-Bian pointedly reminded his audience that Taiwan's indigenous peoples - like other Austronesian groups - had their own ancient cultures and languages which were totally different and unrelated to the culture of the Han Chinese - the main ethnic group in China and Taiwan.

But, like many aboriginals around the world, Taiwan's indigenous peoples have also been marginalized and faced discrimination. In recent years, though, they have gained more political power and recognition. Establishing closer links with other Austronesian countries could give Taiwan's own aboriginal communities a greater sense of pride and leadership - and wider respect .

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