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Taiwanese have indigenous roots

Premier Frank Hsieh recently announced his great grandmother was one of the island’s indigenous people.

Now he’s saying nearly everyone in Taiwan is in his situation: that is, eight in ten Taiwanese have an indigenous relative or ancestor.

The premier, decked out in a gray and white weave sleeveless jacket from the Yami Tribe, joined indigenous groups yesterday to celebrate the 11th anniversary of constitutional reforms protecting indigenous rights.

The theme of the celebrations sponsored by indigenous law maker Chen Hsiu-hui, was: “We are all aboriginal people”.

The theme was derived from recent scientific research claiming DNA studies of Taiwan’s people revealed around 88 percent of the population has aboriginal blood.

This research was mainly conducted by Chen Shun-sheng of the Kaohsiung Hospital’s psychiatric department.

Chen Shun-sheng’s medical research found that Taiwan’s Hoklo-speaking and Hakka-speaking groups who lived in Taiwan before the arrival of the mainland immigrants with the Kuomintang genetically were not purely Han Chinese.

“Studies of Taiwan’s history, language, culture and customs confirm the majority of residents in Taiwan’s regions have blood relationships with its aborigines,” he wrote in a paper.

“...They have the cultural status of Han Chinese with the Austronesian love of the sea and the Austronesian fearless spirit of exploring and settling in new places,” he wrote.

Chen Shun-sheng argues as Ching Dynasty regulations prohibited early settlers taking their families with them, Chinese migrants to Taiwan around 400 years ago intermarried with indigenous peoples.

Taiwan’s legal system currently recognizes 11 major indigenous tribes. Hsieh, whose great-grandmother hailed from the Pingpu Tribe, an aboriginal group which is not yet legally recognized, urged the public to try to understand different cultures.

He said in the past society discriminated against indigenous peoples.

“But now you shouldn’t say: ‘you are aboriginal, I am not,’”Hsieh said. “Everyone is aboriginal.”

“We should coexist and cooperate,” he said.

The premier announced that he had taken an aboriginal name from the Tsou tribe of scenic Mt Ali — “Voyu”, meaning strong.

He also met with indigenous representatives sitting around a round table — a traditional aboriginal practice symbolizing equality between its members.

Hsieh chatted with a young boy in fifth grade from Nanchuang region in Miaoli county. A member of the Atayal group, the boy was the only indigenous child in the nation to share the premier’s Chinese name “Hsieh Chang-ting.”

Organizers cited the work of Australian National University academic Peter Bellwood, who theorizes that Austronesian-speaking peoples across the Asia-Pacific region originated from Taiwan.

They also cited New Zealand academic Geoffrey Chambers who argues that the Maori and other Polynesian peoples “island-hopped” from Taiwan to the islands of East Polynesia and New Zealand via the Philippines and Indonesia.

These academic arguments add weight to pro-independence politicians’ calls to have Taiwan culturally separate from China as they also stress Tauiwan’s cultural ties to south Pacific nations.

“Strictly speaking, the blood ties of today’s Taiwan people long ago were already different from the Han tribes originating from the Yellow River valley,” a statement from law maker Chen Hsiu-hui’s office said.

“Taiwan’s 23 million people share a common fate... we are all one family,” Chen Hsiu-hui said.

The anniversary marked a day eleven years ago when Taiwan’s constitution was amended to remove discriminatory wording describing indigenous people such as “barbarian” or “mountain people” , replacing it with the word “aborigine”.

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