Aborigines and personal names

Twenty years ago a few young aboriginal men established Taiwan’s first organization dedicated to the rights of the aboriginal people….

Launched in the early 1980s, the movement aimed to empower aborigines and to heighten their awareness of self-identity. In the early stages, the movement urged indigenous people to use their aboriginal names in their original languages, instead of taking Chinese-language names.

Past rulers of the island tended to adopt an assimilation policy under which they tried to “refine” what they saw as the “savage” aborigines. Both the Japanese colonial government and the subsequent Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) government respectively required aborigines to adopt Japanese and Chinese names.

Over the years, numerous activists attempted to change their names from Chinese language to aboriginal, but were refused by the Household Registration Administration. It was not until 1995, after continuous lobbying by activists, that the government allowed the use of aboriginal names, but still insisted that Chinese characters must be used….

Voyu Yakumangana, chairman of Association for Taiwan Indigenous People’s Policies, who also has a Chinese name, Yang Chi-wei, said the rectification campaign now aims to have all aborigines proudly claim their names in their original languages….

Payen Talu (巴燕達魯), one of the initiators of the rights movement twenty years ago, is however not totally satisfied with the progress being made.

“So far, less than one percent of the total aboriginal population have changed their names from Chinese to their aboriginal languages,” Payen said, though he allowed that there have been some gains, such as acceptance for the “aborigine” identity.

“Most indigenous people now would proudly admit that they are aborigine, which is very different compared to 20 years ago when the term “aborigine” carried a stigma in the wider society,” Payen said.

“But when you see most aboriginal politicians today still using their Chinese names, then you know that the movement still has a long way to go,” he added.