In 1957, Maya, a small town in Taiwan’s Gaoxiong (Kaohsiung) County, was assigned a new name: Sanmin Township (S?nmín Xi?ng, ???), after Sun Yat-sen’s S?nmínzh?yì (???? / Three Principles of the People). Although the residents of Maya — then, as now, predominantly members of the Bunun tribe — were likely not in favor of this change, Taiwan was then under an authoritarian regime with an assimilationist policy, so there’s little to nothing they could have done.
During KMT rule, when the change to Sanmin was made, a major point of government policy was stressing the Chineseness of Taiwan — even if, such as in this case, the links had to be manufactured. The Kuomintang (Guómínd?ng), after all, was and still officially is the Chinese Nationalist Party, as the Taipei Times likes to remind its readers.
Fortunately, Taiwan no longer has the same political situation as 50 years ago. Some activists are now trying to get the name of the town changed back to Maya. President Chen Shui-bian recently expressed his support for this, which is not surprising considering that the current administration prefers to stress Taiwan’s historical links with just about anyplace but China. In recent years Taiwan’s ties with Austronesia have been receiving increasing attention.
I’m still trying to find out if “Maya” represents the proper spelling or if it’s merely a romanization of a Mandarinized form of the Bunun name. In Chinese characters this place is written ??? (M?y? Xi?ng / Maya Township). The characters ?? are also used for the Maya people of southern Mexico and northern Central America.
- Tribal names hold key to preserving Aboriginal cultures, Taipei Times, August 5, 2007
- Z?ngt?ng g?lì yuánzhùmín xi?ng-zhèn huífù chuánt?ng míngch?ng (???????????????), CNA, August 1, 2007
- President encourages indigenous townships to restore names, CNA via Taiwan Headlines, August 2, 2007
further reading: Pinyin News on aborigine names