Aborigines battle to save their culture
Taiwan’s Tsou tribe struggles to preserve langauge and mores
[…]Aside from Christian missionaries, no foreigners intruded on them until the Japanese colonization from 1895 to 1945.
The Japanese stopped customs that they considered barbaric, such as the Tsou practice of taking human heads as war trophies. The Mayasvi was itself halted for a about a decade.
Then, when the Chinese Nationalist government fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the mainland to the Communists, the Tsou language was smothered. The Nationalists imposed Mandarin Chinese in schools and banned all other languages and dialects.
“People say we are gradually losing our culture but it’s actually happening very quickly,” said Liao Chin-ying, a Chinese primary school teacher who married into a Tsou family in the neighbouring village of Dabang, next to Tefuye.
She said less than 10 percent of young people can speak Tsou, compared to 90 percent of the elderly. The government now allows schools to teach Tsou once a week, but Liao thinks that is not enough to pull the language back from the brink of extinction.
“If you don’t teach the mother tongue, then you lose your culture. Without your mother tongue, your culture becomes fossilized and doesn’t truly exist any more,” she said.
Liao speaks only Tsou to her 2-year-old daughter but says her little girl insists on replying in Mandarin because the other children in the village do not speak their native tongue.
Christian missionaries are trying to help preserve the Tsou language by using a romanization system.
“Some of the priests here speak better Tsou than me,” said Yangui Iuheacana, a Tsou woman who teaches village children how to spell Tsou words using the alphabet.
“They’re helping to put together the first-ever Tsou dictionary and are translating the Bible into Tsou,” she said.
It’s easy to see why small villages like Tefuye and Dabang, with only about 1,200 residents between them, fear assimilation. Mandarin is essential for anyone seeking further education or work, and for men doing compulsory military service.
Yet Tsou pride in tradition is evident everywhere, from the carefully observed Mayasvi to the scars on Peongsi’s arms and legs – the legacy of his numerous tussles with boars, bears, deer, goats and monkeys.
The Tsou still teach their boys how to hunt and farm up in the lush mountains far away from Taipei’s bustling streets and the high-tech microchip plants that helped turn the leaf-shaped island into the world’s 15th-largest economy.
I’d be surprised if this is really the first Tsou dictionary. Has no one at Academia Sinica, for example, made one already?