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May 26, 2017

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We must give stronger support to indigenous culture renaissance

Baseball drama "Kano" has already hit it out of the park at the box office, picking up NT$150 million in ticket sales to top the Taipei charts since it opened on Feb. 27. Named after the Japanese-language abbreviation for the Chiayi Agriculture and Forestry Public School, Taiwanese director Umin Boya's "Kano" depicts the exploits of the school's baseball team over 1931, when Taiwan was still occupied by Japan.

The film has reportedly been well-received around the nation. Countrywide figures cited by most media outlets and movie distributors are double the Taipei numbers, demonstrating with flair the population's growing interest in the country's native people as well as their unique languages and cultures.

Statistics show that there are around 530,000 indigenous people in Taiwan, and nearly half of them live in cities instead of rural areas. Still, the annual festivals and celebrations featuring indigenous musicians, singers and artists are more and more popular among local and foreign camera-wielding tourists who want to find out more about local indigenous languages, cuisines, handicrafts, arts and more importantly, way of life.

Thanks to efforts by indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures, a renewed interest in local cultures and the government's growing recognition of Taiwan's cultural diversity, Taiwan has already seen a revival of indigenous cultures in recent decades. Such cultures are no longer seen as mere niche cultures but have been imprinted into the country's collective consciousness.

A good example of this trend is the huge popularity of A-mei (阿妹), also called Chang Hui-mei (張惠妹), and her indigenous name Gulilai Amit, whose songs have been involved in every listener's life for the past 15 years. Born into the Puyuma tribe and a family with nine siblings in a remote village in Southern Taiwan, her hard work and magnetic personality have allowed her to rise above these humble beginnings and to the top of the Mando-pop charts since 1996. Despite this celebrity status, A-mei has never been ashamed of her roots or her upbringing, appearing on numerous TV programs showing her return to her native village and the life of Taiwan's indigenous peoples.

Also, the O-Kai Singers (歐開合唱團), an a capella group formed by mostly indigenous members, has enjoyed growing popularity in Taiwan. Instead of traditional folk music, they not only twist the conservative view of indigenous music but have turned a whole new page in the music tradition. Starting with several youngsters fond of singing back in 2004, they are the first group to infuse jazz into indigenous music, and they try to maintain a balance between the old and the new.

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