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Real-life encounters with Rukai and Paiwan aboriginal culture in Pingtung

Text and photos by Cheryl Robbins

One of the extraordinary aspects of Taiwan's Aborigine cultures is the sheer diversity to be found among the various tribes on this small island. A key place to appreciate this is southern Taiwan, where Pingtung County's Wutai and Sandimen townships are home to the Rukai and Paiwan aboriginal tribes. These townships provide plenty of chances for visitors to enjoy an authentic encounter with these fascinating cultures.

Sandi Village
Sandi Village, in Sandimen Township, possesses more than 10 workshops creating traditional handicrafts of the Paiwan tribe, including pottery, sculpture, embroidered clothing and glazed bead jewelry. A handicrafts path travels from beside the Ching Ting (Dragonfly) Glazed Beads Workshop and Restaurant [(08) 7992856] on Jhongjheng Road , and extends about half a kilometer, passing Shadao Glazed Beads Workshop [(08) 7991753], Dakivali Restaurant, which serves traditional aboriginal cuisine, and Erge Pottery Workshop [(08) 7994801].

Upper Wutai
Stone Slab Lane winds its way up the hillside above Wutai Elementary School. It is flanked on both sides by carvings depicting traditional activities such as hunting and ceremonies. Worth visiting are the traditional stone-slab houses, guesthouses that feature a mix of modern and traditional decor, and Du Ba-nan's home. Du is considered a national treasure for his artwork, particularly his wood and stone sculptures. He is also a Rukai treasure because he is responsible for passing on the legends of the tribe. The Rukai Cultural Artifacts Exhibit Hall [(08) 7902234], next to the front entrance of Wutai Elementary School, also houses historical items of the tribe.

Getting There
Take National Highway 3 to the Jiouru exit in Pingtung and drive toward Yianpu. Connect to Provincial Highway 24 to reach Sandimen and Wutai. A mountain permit is required to enter Wutai. For foreigners accompanied by a Taiwanese citizen, the permit can be obtained at the Sandimen entrance to Wutai. Or they may obtain a mountain permit from a police station with a Foreign Affairs Section before heading to Wutai. For more information, call the Wutai Township administrative office at (08) 790-2234 or the Sandimen Township administrative office at (08) 799-1104.

New Haocha Village
Rukai tribal legend says that long ago two brothers set out with their cloud leopard, which led them to an area with natural surroundings which was very favorable for a settlement. They called this Kochapongane, now known as Old Haocha.
Old Haocha is mostly deserted these days. Its traditional stone slab homes now registered historical sites and the village is very remote, requiring hours of hiking in mountainous terrain to reach. The inconveniences that came with its location forced the village residents to relocate to New Haocha. However, even that move has not stemmed the flow of job-hunting young people to the cities. Thus, Sasare and fellow villagers set up the Rukai Development Association. Among their many projects are a computer classroom, library and 3-D map of the movements of the Rukai tribe, as told by village elders. This association also hopes to create a handicrafts center to attract tourists and allow villagers to earn a living creating traditional handicrafts. Unfortunately, much of their dream to revitalize the village hinges on money, which is in short supply.

Sasare believes that his village is worth all of his efforts. He says that its attractions are a crystal-clear river and homes decorated with designs unique to its occupants, such as a stone carving of Jesus the shepherd on the front of the pastor's house, carvings of swift runners on the front of an Olympic medalist's home, and traditional motifs that define social class.

To find out more about Old Haocha, New Haocha or the Rukai Development Association, contact Sasare at (0913) 514-337 or the Association of Pingtung Indigenous Culture and Education at (08) 799-1234.

Getting There
The only way to reach New Haocha is to drive yourself. Take National Highway 3, get off at the Jiouru exit and connect to Provincial Highway 24. At Shueimen, follow the signs to the Indigenous Peoples Culture Park in Majia Township. You will have to drive through the park to reach New Haocha, and may be required to pay the entrance fee of NT$120 per person to do so. A mountain permit is also required to enter New Haocha, and must be obtained in advance as--unlike Wutai--no on-site registration is allowed.

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