Going about in Taiwan, like other countries with an abundance of bamboo, it is inspiring to be amongst bamboo creations from the mundane to the extraordinary. This post is about a once-ordinary, now less common bamboo construction being used to promote autonomous rule for the Amis village of Farangaw, Taitung County.
In the south of Taiwan, a bamboo boat is under construction employing techniques unused since the Japanese occupation 100 years ago. The traditional techniques are recalled only in oral history by five Amis elders in their 70s and 80s. The maiden voyage of the bamboo vessel will be an inspection to lay claim to the village’s traditional maritime territories, as well as rally support more generally for Aboriginal autonomy in Taiwan.
The Amis are the largest ethnic group among Aboriginal Taiwanese. Traditionally, Amis villages are in close proximity to the sea. As well close ties to the ocean, bamboo features in Amis material and spiritual culture. One Amis spiritual practice is performed by bamboo divinators. The cikawasay (like priests) predict fortunes by standing on the middle of a slim bamboo branch and lifting both ends of it. The fortune is foretold according to the shape of the cracking gap in the bamboo.
There is something of a resurgence in traditions and cultural identity for Taiwan’s Aboriginal population, though perhaps not bamboo divination. An increasing number of Amis are replacing their Chinese names with Amis names. Aboriginal political and social movements are swelling. Drafts of legislation for Aboriginal autonomy, already drawn out for years, are always strongly criticised by Aboriginal activist groups and academics. But what a behemoth they face in China.
In the course of researching this post I came across a boat in Taiwan based on the traditional design of a bamboo raft such as the one pictured above. Instead of using bamboo, huge PVC pipes were incorporated into the design. The pipes were bent the same way as bamboo – with heat. The vessels take only about six days to build. The story and more images here. Perhaps the Farangaw villagers should have considered PVC instead of bamboo: some were accused by local authorities of stealing bamboo to make the raft.
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