Sunshine Siaolin: Where Taivoan Culture Sparkles
【◎Written & translated by Hou Ya-ting】
In 2009, Typhoon Morakot obliterated Kaohisung's Siaolin Village, where the majority of residents were members of the Taivoan ethnic group, one of Taiwan's Pingpu (lowland indigenous) peoples. Afterward, some of the survivors relocated to Sunshine Siaolin Community in Kaohsiung's Shanlin District.
“As long as Siaolin villagers are alive, the spirit and culture of Siaolin Village shall be preserved,” say residents of Sunshine Siaolin. This determination has led residents to revive Taivoan culture, which has existed since the 17th century. Visitors to Sunshine Siaolin will see Taivoan culture flourishing, bringing vitality and comfort to residents.
Typhoon Morakot caused torrential rains and catastrophic landslides which utterly destroyed Siaolin Village in Jiasian District. Surviving villagers were forced to relocate to either Wulipu Siaolin 1st Village in Jiasian, Siaoai Siaolin in Shanlin District, or Sunshine Siaolin Community. Sunshine Siaolin got its name after the residents received a gift of sunflowers from Japanese visitors, who offered encouragement by urging the survivors to be as persistent as sunflowers, which always faces the sun.
※Taivoan Dance Theatre
Siaolin survivors settled into Sunshine Siaolin in December 2011. At the same time, they formed Taivoan Dance Theatre. The troupe's members, who range in age from seven to seventy-four, perform ancient Taivoan songs and dances.
Mr. Wang Ming-liang, executive secretary of Sunshine Siaolin, says Taivoan seniors teach ancient songs by orally transmitting them to the younger generation. The troupe obtained recordings of old Taivoan ballads made back in the 1895-1945 period of Japanese colonial rule, and listening to these recordings has helped members of the troupe learn the songs. The daily habits and ritual movements of elderly Taivoan people are precious elements of living Taivoan culture. From them, Taivoan Dance Theatre has developed its choreography.
To show their gratitude for the support the community received following its losses during Typhoon Morakot, Taivoan Dance Theatre has performed at home and abroad. In 2014, the troupe headed to tsunami-hit Iwate Prefecture in Japan for a charity show. Mr. Syu Ming-jyun, a performing member of Taivoan Dance Theatre, says that after the performance, performers and members of the audience hugged each other. The exchange of concern and encouragement moved many to tears.
Mr. Wang says he went to Japan simply to join the performance, yet afterward he felt he was the one who was healed. A man aged about 80 approached them, speaking Japanese, which none of them could understand. A little later, the elderly man returned and handed them some not-yet-dried calligraphy. The just-written work included the kanji script for deep friendship. The troupe members were profoundly touched by the man's actions.
On September 20, 2020, Taivoan Dance Theatre performed at National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts (Weiwuying), a world-class performance venue in Kaohsiung. Fifty Taivoan people contributed Taivoan ancient songs, dances, and drum performances.
※Restore Plants Growing around Siaolin Village
Taivoan Dance Theatre is giving new life to Taivoan ancient songs, but to properly preserve Taivoan culture, it is essential to document it in written form. Mr. Syu Ming-jyun, a resident of Sunshine Siaolin who served as the community's development agent from 2015 to 2018, has conducted interviews with elderly Taivoan, collecting detailed information about their culture.
His solid field research led him to realize there is a strong connection between native plants and Taivoan culture. Since then, Mr. Syu has been endeavoring to restore plant species from the ethnic groups's Siaolin homeland. He has accompanied elderly Taivon villagers on trips back to the site of Siaolin to search for plants. So far, they have transplanted 50 plants to Sunshine Siaolin.
Mr. Syu laments the distance between Sunshine Siaolin and the original site of Siaolin Village. The round trip takes two hours by car. Mr. Syu figures that, if they see familiar plants around their new home, people who grew up in Siaolin are less likely to feel alienated from Taivoan culture. The tight connection between plants and traditional Taivoan lifestyles extends to diet, crafts, architecture, and culture. For instance, sorghum is used to produce liquor. China grass is used to make reticule-type bags. Giant thorn bamboo is used to build the shrines in which Taivoan people worship their ancestors.
Using giant thorn bamboo and yellow rotang palm, villagers can make fish traps. The rhizome of a native thistle is stewed in soups. A bowl of chicken stew with thistles is a hometown taste for Taivoan people. Due to a lack of gardening space available at Sunshine Siaolin, Mr. Syu and other residents hope to develop a large garden filled with native plants elsewhere.
Efforts to pass on Taivoan cultural heritage still have a long way to go. According to Mr. Wang, many of the elderly Taivoan folks who used to hold the annual Night Sacrifice passed away during Typhoon Morakot. Since then, villagers organizing the Night Sacrifice have depended on the guidance of the same elderly people who have virtuoso skills such as weaving reticules, doing embroidery, and crafting farming and hunting implements out of bamboo. Those with such skills offer training classes for villagers eager to pick up traditional crafts.
Outsiders curious about Taivoan culture are welcome to participate in the Sunshine Siaolin one-day tour.
Sunshine Siaolin Community Development Association
No. 1, Jhongyi Rd., Shanlin Dist., Kaohsiung City