I attended the 2008 World Summit of Indigenous Cultures (全球原住民文化會議) in Taipei over the weekend. The conference included speeches, musical performances and an open space forum. Indigenous people from The Philippines, Canada and the USA attended as well as many indigenous people from Taiwan and academics and researchers.
On Saturday night there was a welcome banquet at the Grand Hotel. It was a chance to meet some of the participants and also enjoy some wonderful music and dancing performances. The picture above shows a Taroko man playing the mouth harp. It is an instrument carved from bamboo.
On Sunday the conference moved to the Taipei County Government building in Banqiao where the papers were presented. The talks were based on three themes: Indigenous belief systems today, Developing indigenous enterprise and indigenous wisdom and protection of the environment.
The keynote speech was given by indigenous legislator Kung Wen-chi (孔文吉). He spoke about sustainable management of resources. He noted that indigenous people are often blamed for environmental problems on their lands, but it is usually a result of the government or people outside exploiting their resources. He gave the example of the flying fish season on Orchid Island (蘭嶼). Flying fish numbers only started declining after commercial fishing boats from Pingdong came to fish the area. Now the government has put a policy in place to stop commercial fishing boats using the area in the flying fish season to avoid conflict with the local people.
Mark Cherrington the editor of Cultural Survival Quarterly spoke about his work empowering indigenous people. The next issue of Cultural Survival will be about indigenous people and climate change. Cherrington noted that indigenous people have contributed the least to climate change, but are most affected by it.
Dr David Blundell spoke about the definition of tribe. A tribe is a political grouping with a chief and it is often used incorrectly in reference to indigenous people. He also noted that in South Asia there are no people officially considered indigenous even though they have “scheduled tribes”. Some of the other interesting topics were permaculture in indigenous communities in Taiwan, indigenous enterprise including internet marketing of indigenous crafts and Islam in Taiwan.
On Sunday evening there was a concert held in the auditorium of the Taipei County Hall. It featured song and dance performances by a number of Taiwanese groups. Two of the dances were based on courting rituals of the Atayal and Amis peoples. The Atayal lock feet and pull on their ears to express their interest in someone. For the Amis the courting ritual is based on taking the bag of the preferred partner.
On Monday there was an open space forum. This was a chance for everyone to discuss any issues on their mind. In the group I joined discussion focused on what indigenous means and the importance of indigenous knowledge. Another issue that was discussed was whether indigenous people should rely on the government for help or whether they should rely on their own resources.
I was glad to meet two people from Smangus there, Lahuy and Amin. I learnt some more about their work. They talked about their plans to create an Atayal school in the village and promoting education about their culture in their own language.
The conference program was very full and I learnt a lot during the few days. Taiwan’s indigenous people were actively involved in the program and the international participants gave the event many interesting perspectives.
*more photos in the World Summit of Indigenous Cultures set at flickr. There were two articles published in the Taipei Times about the conference: Summit focuses on resources and The best of all worlds. Also see the Taiwan Journal article Summit promotes tribal life as solution to earth’s woes.