Erenlai - 按日期過濾項目: 週三, 29 八月 2007
週四, 30 八月 2007 00:39

"Agugai"!

Many people who were in the Fisherman’s Wharf in Tamshui near Taipei on July 29th will recognize the word meaning “hello” in the dialect spoken in Orchid Island. Aborigines on the shore were proclaiming the approach of the Orchid Island rowers in their last leg of their ascent up the North coast of Taiwan, reaching for their final destination after one month of sailing.

At one o’clock in the afternoon, many Taiwanese out for a Sunday walk at the harbour saw a small wooden boat with a distinctive shape on the horizon. With a closer look, they could distinguish 13 rowers in armors, wearing wooden hats. The red, white and black patterns painted on the boat clearly identified the aborigines of Orchid Island, a minority tribe living on a small island in the Pacific, South East to Taiwan.
It was a kind of boat built to catch the silvery flying fish around the island, and one that many Taiwanese had never seen for real before.

The same morning, the boat launched at Shaluen beach 沙崙, 30 kilometers away. As the rowers were getting ready, I was overwhelmed by everyone being in a state of great excitement. Surrounding the boat, after the ritual prayer and an impressive war cry, they suddenly, in a joint effort, pushed the boat into the sea and jumped in. Very soon, we could barely see its silhouette from the shore.
Near by, many kids were playing on the beach, not aware of the historic importance of this event in the lives and the culture of Orchid Island’s people.

I heard of the boat expedition for the first time when I went to Orchid Island with a good friend in April this year. Many locals told us about the preparations of a big event planned for the summer.
Sixteen years ago, Aborigines started to build the biggest traditional boat made on the island over a hundred years. During its construction, people came up with the idea of giving it a strong symbolic value: the boat will sail beyond the flying fishes areas, aborigines will row all the way up to Taipei and spread the culture of the small island.

The challenge was big; there were 600 kilometers of rowing ahead, enough to discourage most people. But the Orchid islanders have been sailors for generations and they were eager to participate in the expedition. The four main villages on the island set up four teams of rowers which took turn one after the other. They built their strength through unity.

Orchid Island since 1980 was often a news headline for the nuclear waste dump in the Southern part of the Island. The locals saw in this trip an opportunity to give a more positive image of the island.

While economic growth, in the last decades, has changed the face of Taiwan, people of Orchid Island seem to have slipped through the net, and their lives did not change. While I was there with my friend, we enjoyed sleeping on a house’s roof and reaching the sea for a morning bath before eating tasty sweet potatoes our neighbor offered us.

However, economic needs catch them up. Shilan, a 26 years-old-guy we met, explained us that most young people like him, are extremely attached to this island, but do not find more than a seasonal activity in Orchid Island. They need to go to Taiwan to find some work for the rest of the year.

He further said the boat trip was also a chance to bring back all generations of Orchid Island people to their roots and work together on a common project: introducing a way of living in real harmony with nature to the Taiwanese.
The stopovers of the boat along the East Coast of Taiwan were many opportunities to do so.

When the rowers finally reached Tamshui harbour, their dark faces, burn by the sun for rowing many days under the heat were lightened up by their families on the shore.
It is with great emotion that everybody acclaimed them.

Dancers from the aboriginal tribes of Hualien celebrated their success with traditional festivities. The last powerful scene of the day happened when the boat was taken out of the water to be brought by the rowers to the front stage.
With the final family picture shot, the aborigines turned a page of history of the Orchid Island people. The sunset marked the end of a long voyage.
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