Taiwanese Aborigines Taiwanese Aborigines

Taiwanese aborigines are the original inhabitants of Taiwan. They number
up to 510, 000 people. Taiwanese Aborigines are divided into several
ethnic groups, but they are commonly categorized as Han Taiwanese. The
Aborigines occupied Taiwan for many years before the arrival of the
Chinese. The origins of the Taiwanese Aboriginals are not clear.
However, they are thought to be related to Australian Aboriginals, which
ties them to Malays and Philippines. Majority of the Taiwanese
Aborigines live in the mountains to date. The arrival of the Chinese in
Taiwan pushed the Aboriginals to their present areas, and this set them
on a path of social, economic and political discrimination. Taiwanese
Aboriginals have faced many years of unfair policies aimed at
assimilating them to the Chinese Han. Taiwan is currently under the rule
of China through the KMT regime. This denies the Taiwanese Aborigines
self- determination.
The Taiwanese Aboriginals were the original occupants of Taiwan and were
the only occupants of Taiwan until 1620, when the Dutch and the
Spaniards first colonized Taiwan. Their identity has progressively been
lost over the years through assimilation, exploitation, intermarriages
and trade. The original Aboriginal languages were approximately twenty
six, but about ten are extinct are completely lost while five are known
by only a small clique of people. The language loss is also related to
discrimination which forced a majority of the Aborigines to denounce
their culture in a quest for improved social, political and economic
opportunities (Ching, 2001). Modern Aboriginals are striving to keep
their culture alive by pushing for fair treatment. This has been boosted
by the United Nation’s push for equal opportunities for the indigenous
people and culture in their respective countries.
Taiwanese Aborigines were originally referred to as Dong Fan. This name
was given to them by a Han sailor, meaning Eastern savage. The Dutch
referred to them as Indians. However, Dong Fan is the name that is
usually used to describe the Aborigines. The history of Taiwan is marked
by four groups of colonizers, all of whom have greatly affected the
identity of the Taiwanese Aborigines. The Dutch and Spaniards ruled
Taiwan between 1624 and 1661. The Dutch and the Spaniards sought to
influence the indigenous people of Taiwan through military power and
religious influence (Ching, 2001). However, they never managed to
control the whole of Taiwan and only influenced the Pinpu people while
the rest of Taiwan remained uninfluenced.
During the Dutch colonization, they were faced by a war waged by Cheng
Chen- Kung who ruled colonized Taiwan between 1661 and 1895. He
successfully waged a war against the Dutch firmly put him on the
colonizers seat. Cheng managed to occupy the Western parts of Taiwan as
well, as a small part of the mountainous regions. During this period,
the indigenous people were waging a war against the Han who were a
minority tribe in China and were trying to occupy Taiwan and to
assimilate them (Brown, 2004). However, in 1885, the Han- Manchu managed
to invade Taiwan and colonize the indigenous people. Thus, between 1661
and 1895, the Taiwanese Aborigines were under the colonial rule of Cheng
and Han- Manchu.
The Manchu regime was at war with the Japanese and they lost in 1895,
and this saw the regime sign the Shimonoseki Treaty that forced them to
give up Taiwan to Japan. This gave the Japanese government control over
Japan between 1895 and 1945. The Japanese government embarked on
economic exploitation of the indigenous people of Taiwan through
capitalism, and this undermined the lifestyle of the indigenous people.
The Japanese were interested in the mineral resources and forests of
Taiwan. They thus systematically pushed the indigenous people into the
mountain reservations. The indigenous people were only allowed to
utilize these reservations but could not claim ownership. The Japanese
subdued the indigenous people through massacres and assimilation. During
their rule, the Japanese encouraged people to speak Japanese and use
Japanese names. This is what led to a collapse and systematic
disappearance of the social, cultural, political and economic aspects of
the Aborigines.
After the end of the Japanese rule, the Chinese Nationalist HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang” o “Kuomintang” Kuomintang
(KMT) regime took over in 1945 to date. The Japanese lost control over
Taiwan after the end of the Second World War when the country signed the
San Francisco Treaty. In the treaty, Japan agreed to give up Formosa and
the Pescadores. Meanwhile, the Chinese Nationalist HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang” o “Kuomintang” Kuomintang
regime lost control of China and fled to Taiwan in 1949. KMT took
control of Taiwan by massacring the Minan and Hakka people, especially
the intellectuals. KMT further imposed its rule by enforcing the martial
law which was not lifted until 1987. KMT thus took control of Taiwan
from Japan by claiming total control of Taiwan which it claimed to have
inherited from Japan (Brown, 2004).
The successive colonizers of Taiwan used various names and words to
depict the controlled regions and those that resisted control. This led
to a division of the Taiwanese society into groupings. The naming and
division began with the Qing rule over Taiwan. During the rule of the
Qing, the society was divided into the Pingpu (Plains people) and
Gaoshan (High mountains people). This division was used to denote the
fact that the plains people had been conquered while the mountains
people put up resistance. The names were interchanged with the terms
“raw and cooked”. The term “raw” denoted the Pingpu while
“cooked” denoted the Gaoshan. This labeling of the society led to
discrimination because the tags described what the aboriginals were to
the Qing which influenced how the regime treated them (Alliance of
Taiwan Aborigines, 1993).
Once the Japanese took over from the Qing regime, they maintained this
division of the society. The Japanese further created recognized tribes
and unrecognized tribes. The “cooked people” were the plains people,
and they were the recognized tribes. The mountains people were the
unrecognized people. Their alienation was triggered by an uprising led
by Mona Rudao, and this uprising earned them the term takasago-zoku. The
mountains people were thus alienated from the social, cultural,
political and economic aspects of the Taiwanese society. This labeling
of the society divided the society into two, and the plains people were
assimilated into the Japanese culture which led to a major loss of their
social and cultural identity.
The Chinese Nationalist HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuomintang” o “Kuomintang” Kuomintang
(KMT) regime rule maintained most of the Japanese terms to depict the
Taiwanese society. When KMT took over, it used the terms Shandi Tongbao
and Pingdi Tongbao to mean plains people and mountains people
respectively. The change of names was meant to erase the Japanese
influence over the Taiwanese society. The Han were trying to assimilate
all aspects of the Taiwanese society into their culture. KMT still uses
the terms Gaoshan, and Pingpu to denote the recognized and the
unrecognized people of the indigenous people. This is meant to maintain
alienation and is used to oppress the indigenous people. The recognized
tribes by the KMT government are fourteen. The earliest recorded history
of the Aborigines indicates that the Taiwanese society was divided into
twenty villages. These villages traded, intermarried and depended on
each other. They are the ones who formed the original kingdom.
The Taiwanese Aborigines progressively lost their social and cultural
identities following assimilation and acculturation of the successive
colonizers. The colonizers used assimilation and acculturation as a
means of subduing the Aborigines. Currently, they are considered Han and
are commonly referred as the Gaoshan by the People’s Republic of
China. They recognized tribes, or the Gaoshan, are considered one group
by the People’s Republic of China. The recognized tribes are
HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thao_people” o “Thao people”
Thao , HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ami_people” o “Ami
people” Ami , HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bunun_people”
o “Bunun people” Bunun , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavalan_people” o “Kavalan people”
Kavalan , HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakizaya_people” o
“Sakizaya people” Sakizaya , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paiwan_people” o “Paiwan people” Paiwan
, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puyuma_people” o “Puyuma
people” Puyuma , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Truku_people” o “Truku people” Truku ,
HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rukai_people” o “Rukai people”
Rukai , HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yami_people” o “Yami
people” Tao , HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsou_people” o
“Tsou people” Tsou , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atayal_people” o “Atayal people” Atayal
, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saisiyat_people” o
“Saisiyat people” Saisiyat , and HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sediq_people” o “Sediq people” Sediq .
The unrecognized tribes are HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taokas_people” o “Taokas people” Taokas
, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babuza_people” o “Babuza
people” Babuza , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siraya_people” o “Siraya people” Siraya
, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoanya_people” o “Hoanya
people” Hoanya , HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketagalan_people” o “Ketagalan people”
Ketagalan , Luilang, HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papora_people” o “Papora people” Papora
, Makatao, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pazeh_people” o
“Pazeh people” Pazeh / HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaxabu_people” o “Kaxabu people” Kaxabu
, HYPERLINK “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qauqaut” o “Qauqaut”
Qauqaut , Trobiawan, HYPERLINK
“http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basay_people” o “Basay people” Basay
(Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines, 1993).
Current Challenges in Taiwan
The Taiwanese society is under the rule of KMT and thus, under the
People’s Republic of China. The society faces several challenges, the
biggest being economic and political alienation. The division of the
society into Gaoshan and Pingpu is what informs this alienation. The
Gaoshan are the recognized tribes, in order for a tribe to be
recognized, the tribe has to petition the government for recognition.
This recognition is usually tied to the level of assimilation to the Han
Taiwanese culture. Once recognized, the tribe is incorporated into the
economic advantages of the rest of society (Alliance of Taiwan
Aborigines, 1993). This means that the people who are not recognized
live under permanent economic oppression leading to poverty.
The Taiwanese people also lack the basic human right of land ownership.
This deprives them of the ability to use land as a means of production.
The KMT government attaches assimilation to cultural recognition. Those
tribes that are recognized are awarded social and economic benefits that
allow them to participate in gainful economic activities. The
unrecognized tribes are, however, denied social and economic rights,
which put them under a constant cycle of poverty. One of the main
problems facing the indigenous people is poverty. This is because they
have no right over land and can thus, not put land under gainful
economic activities. This leads to a cycle of poverty which is
perpetuated by the lack of recognition (CROP, 2005).
The Aborigines are also alienated from such rights as education and
civilization. The people live in remote areas and are denied education
and other technological advantages that can place them on the global
village. This means that they have no access to the ‘outside’ world,
and thus, they are very rural and remote. They are, therefore, unable to
take advantage of technological and ideological changes that would be
helpful in changing their economic and social circumstances (Alliance of
Taiwan Aborigines, 1993). The education accessible to the Aborigines is
aimed at assimilating them and thus, it leads to a mentality that, for
change to occur, the Aborigines have to adopt the Han identity.
Additionally, much of Taiwan is owned by the government. The government
has designated most of the land as forests of national parks. These are
closely protected by the military which ensures that the protected areas
are not encroached on by the Aborigines. Thus, the Aborigines have been
pushed to a very small area of the Taiwanese island. Areas, which are
rich in minerals, are also under the government’s control, and the
Aborigines cannot lay claim to such areas (CROP, 2005). Once the lands
are taken up by the national government, the indigenous people are
forcibly relocated by the government to remote areas. During the
formulation of these policies, the indigenous people are not consulted
and thus, have no say over their land. The people are thus, pushed away
from the productive areas of Taiwan, and this deprives them of
productive land. They cannot, therefore, use land as a factor of
The fact that the Aborigines are pushed into unproductive areas of the
island mean that they are economically alienated from land as a factor
of production. The productive areas are placed under the government, and
the indigenous people do not benefit from the returns because they are
not recognized by the government. Meanwhile, the unproductive areas
cannot be used for economic gains and this perpetuates discrimination
which leads to poverty. The only hope for prosperity is for the
Aborigines to move to urban areas where they work in the industries.
This leads to an indirect cultural assimilation and thus, loss of
identity (Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines, 1993). Additionally, those who
move to the urban areas are not literate and can only work as casual
laborers and are underpaid. Thus, they remain poor and risk losing their
jobs any time.
The Aborigines lack legal recognition. Taiwan has majorly been under
colonial rule since 1661. The colonial governments have always
formulated laws under the pretext of protecting the indigenous people.
However, these laws only benefit the colonial governments and alienate
the Aborigines. The current government used the martial law until 1987
to alienate the mountains people. After the abolition of the martial
law, the government put in place the National Security law which is
mainly applied to the mountains people. These are the people who have
resisted assimilation. The martial law is, however, still applicable to
the indigenous people. The laws of the land are a reflection of the Han
culture and completely ignore the indigenous cultures. This leads to a
legal alienation of the Aborigines, and they thus, cannot legally press
for their rights (Brown, 2004).
The alienation of the Aborigines is also integrated into the
educational and cultural aspects of society. The indigenous people are
forbidden from using their indigenous names. They are required to take
up Han names and for a very long time, being identified as an Aborigine
in Taiwan carried social stigma. Thus, most people were forced to hide
their identities (Brown, 2004). Children were forbidden to speak their
indigenous languages especially in school, and the curriculum has no
trace of the indigenous culture. The government controls school
curriculum to ensure that all aspects of the indigenous society are
completely removed from the educational system (CROP, 2005). In addition
to this, a majority of the Aborigines are illiterate which makes them
unable to tell their story. It also ensures that they are not involved
in any gainful employment, and a majority of them remain in the rural
areas or work as casual laborers in urban areas.
Socially, the government has always used deception in order to avoid
resistance of implementation of unfair policies on the Taiwan people.
The people of Taiwan are usually deceived with economic gains so as to
allow the government to put up oppressive facilities on their land. For
example, the government uses Taiwan as a nuclear dumping site which puts
people at risk of a nuclear disaster (Brown, 2004). This is equal to
racial discrimination because the government only puts up such sites in
Taiwan through deception. For example, the government put up a nuclear
dumping site of land belonging to the Yami. The government deceived the
Yami that it was putting up a military facility so as to encourage them
to offer their labor, only for the facility to turn out to be a nuclear
dumping site.
Additionally, indigenous women and girls are denied of empowerment and
social rights by being turned into prostitutes. The girls and women are
bought as child prostitutes and forced to serve the huge Taiwan sexual
market by the Han. The women are illiterate and have no means of
fighting for their rights. This puts a whole society under exploitation
in which their women serve as sex commodities. The girls are usually
enticed with promises of jobs and education only to be turned into sex
slaves. These women are underpaid and once they grow old, they are let
to wallow in poverty (Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines, 1993).
United Nations Declaration
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
(United Nations, 2008) is a declaration the United Nations of the rights
of indigenous people which seeks to protect the rights of the Aborigines
across the world. The declaration recognizes that the indigenous people
have a right to recognition and should be accorded full social,
political, and economic rights that are accorded to humankind. The
declaration also recognizes that there is no superior culture or
tradition which gives it a right to override the rights of the
indigenous people. The aim of the declaration is to press governments to
recognize and protect the rights of the aborigine people and accord them
full citizenry rights.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’
mission is to seek protection of indigenous people and force governments
to recognize their citizenship (United Nations, 2008). One of the United
Nation’s millennium development goals is to eradicate poverty.
Alienation of indigenous peoples has been proven to perpetuate poverty
through systematic social, economic and political alienation or
oppression. Thus, the mission of the United Nations is to eliminate this
alienation and oppression of the indigenous people so as to enable them
gain economic prosperity and thus, eliminate poverty. The mission also
includes protection of indigenous culture because they provide an
identity and thus, a basis for environmental management. The culture of
a society informs what is important to the society and thus, influences
the society’s actions towards the environment.
The indigenous people of most parts of the world face similar problems
to those of the Aborigines of Taiwan. They face alienation from social,
economic, political, and cultural aspects of society. This exposes them
to perpetual poverty. The most notable oppressed indigenous people are
found in Nepal, Bangladesh, Peru, Indonesia, New Zealand and Russia. The
indigenous people can trace their oppression to successive colonial
governments which constantly pushed them out of social, economic and
political aspects of society. They face cultural oppression where they
are supposed to denounce their cultures and adopt those of colonizers.
Those who adopt colonial cultures are awarded through economic and
social gains while those who do not, are denied these rights. This leads
to poverty because the people lack contact with the rest of the world.
In conclusion, the Taiwanese Aborigines can trace their alienation to
their history. The Aborigines have been under constant colonial rule
since 1661. The colonizers sought to assimilate the aborigines, and this
has led to a systematic loss of identity of culture. The colonial rule
also led to division of the society into those who complied and those
who resisted. Those who resisted were placed on economic and social
alienation which persists to this day. Taiwanese aborigines face
exploitation and alienation from the KMT government which has divided
the society into recognized and unrecognized groups. The United Nations
has, however, tried to protect the rights of the indigenous people
through the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous
Peoples (United Nations, 2008).
Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines. (July, 1993). Report of the Alliance of
Taiwan Aborigines to the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous
Populations. Taipei: Alliance of Taiwan Aborigines.
Brown, M, J (2004). Is Taiwan Chinese? : The Impact of Culture, Power
and Migration on Changing Identities. Berkeley: University of California
Ching, L, T, S. (2001). Becoming “Japanese” Colonial Taiwan and The
Politics of Identity Formation. Berkeley: University of California
Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP. (2005). Indigenous
Peoples & Poverty. New York: Zed Books.
United Nations. (March, 2008). United Nations Declaration on the Rights
of Indigenous People. New York: The United Nations.