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In the land of the Seediq

Seediq woman playing bamboo mouth harp

Over the weekend I joined a trip organised by the Research Centre for Austronesian Peoples at Providence University to Ren’ai Township in Nantou County (南投縣仁愛鄉). We visited several villages in the area to learn more about Seediq (賽德克族) culture. The main purpose of the trip was as an orientation for professors from several universities who are working on a project to improve science and maths education for indigenous children. They plan to include various elements of local culture and knowledge into the curriculum to make it more relevant and improve learning outcomes.

Presbyterian Church in Sadu

The first place was visited was Sadu (靜觀), which was at the end of the road at an altitude of 1,500 metres. In the church Pastor Kumu Tapas gave us a talk about various aspects of the local culture and history. Actually the people in this village identify as Toda, a sub-group of the Seediq. The other two sub-groups of the Seediq are the Tkdaya and Truku. The Seediq groups were classified as Atayal until the Truku gained official recognition 2004. Then the Seediq (Tkdaya) were officially recognised in 2008. However, the Toda haven’t gained recognition as a separate group.

Granary in Seediq village

On the way down from Sadu we stopped at a small village. This village contained a number of wooden buildings which date back to the Japanese era. Some of the scenes of the forthcoming movie Seediq Bale were shot here. This is the area where many of the historical events surrounding the Wushe Incident that the movie is based on took place. Following the Wushe Incident in 1930 the people from these villages were forced to move down by the Japanese.

Lushan Hot Springs village

Although we didn’t go Lushan (廬山) we stopped on the road to view it from above. Lushan was in the news when Typhoon Sinlaku hit in 2008. A hotel that toppled in the river and was captured on video attracted a lot of media attention. It might be a little difficult to make out in the photo above (click through to view the large size) but some of the buildings in the centre were partially buried and what you can see is actually just the second or third floor of the original building, now at ground level. This event cannot be described as a “natural disaster” though. The buildings are actually occupying the channel of the river. The “disaster” was man-made and an inevitable consequence of inappropriate development.

Seediq women sets up threads for weaving loom

Later in the afternoon we reached Snuwil (春陽). On the road we met Labai, an elderly woman. She took us up to some fields where she cut some ramie (苧麻) which is the plant used to get the fibre for weaving. Then we got down to the church where she demonstrated much of the process involved in preparing the fibres and then weaving them. The first step is stripping the fibres from the raw plant. The next step was spinning the fibres. The steps of washing and dying weren’t shown, but once the fibres had been prepared Labai then showed how the threads are set up for the loom. This is shown in the picture above. After this the threads are transferred to the loom so the weaving work can begin.

Seediq weaving products

Seeing the amount of work and knowledge that went into creating the final product gives one a new level of appreciation for this craft. After showing us the weaving Labai played the bamboo mouth harp for us. This is shown in the picture at the top of the post.

Seediq man displays trap in forest

On Sunday morning Seling led us on a walk to the top of a nearby hill. Along the way he stopped to point out various plants in the forest and to talk about various aspects of hunting. He also showed us how he sets up several kinds of traps.

trap set in forest

The photo above shows one of the traps in closer detail. On a hunting trip he would set dozens of traps like this. It is a good reason to be cautious about wandering off established trails in mountain areas! Seling also explained how hunters will tie the grass or make marks on the trees as a signal to others that they are in the area. There are also rules about the ownership of hunting grounds which reduce the risk of hunters “catching” each other.

Later on Sunday morning we joined the church service in Snuwil. The community is quite large with over 1,000 people so there was a sizable congregation. There were also a lot of young people who played an active role in the service. The service was conducted in both Seediq and Mandarin. It was great to experience this as it is a very important part of the community life.

*More photos in the Seediq culture in Nantou set at flickr.


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Comment from Alton
Time 23 June 2010 at 7:39 am

A vicarious travel experience, enjoyable and informative. Thanks, David.

I’m looking forward to seeing the film you mention, ‘Seediq Bale’.