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ANZTEC agreement between Taiwan and New Zealand opens new possibilities for the future

Taipei, Taiwan and Auckland, New Zealand

Taipei and Auckland, two of the most vibrant cities in the Pacific, will likely see increased cooperation and activities because of the ANZTEC.

World Indigenous Day on August 9, 2013 was celebrated throughout the world, as countries recognized the importance their indigenous people and cultures. This day provides annual recognition for the treaties signed by indigenous tribes, and promotes the building of alliances between indigenous peoples around the world. World Indigenous Day celebrations on the island of Taiwan are typically muted, however the Summer of 2013 provided Taiwan’s indigenous peoples something significant to celebrate.

New Zealand is an island nation over 8,000 kilometers from Taiwan, but the economic cooperation agreement known as the Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen and Matsu (ANZTEC) 「臺澎金馬個別關稅領域與紐西蘭經濟合作協定(ANZTEC)」promises to make them closer culturally and economically. Signed in Wellington, New Zealand on July 10, 2013 by Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Wellington Representative Elliot Charng (常以立) and New Zealand Commerce and Industry Office Director Stephen Payton, this is Taiwan’s first trade deal with a country considered a “developed” nation. The significance of this development was touted by both governments as well as news outlets around the world.

It is not surprising that New Zealand pursued this relationship with Taiwan. New Zealand has been actively pursuing stronger ties with Asian nations, with trade agreements with Thailand, Singapore and Brunei (2005), China (2008), Malaysia (2009), and Hong Kong (2010). However, there may be another factor influencing New Zealand’s choice to forge a relationship with Taiwan. Their cultural connection does play a role in the agreement, as part of ANZTEC mandates the development of cooperative ties between New Zealand’s indigenous peoples known as the Maori, and the indigenous tribes of Taiwan. The indigenous people of both areas belong to a language family known as the Austronesian (南島語族) family. Scholars and scientists have presented considerable evidence in the past 10 year that the Maori settlement of New Zealand 700 years ago was part of a wave of Austronesian migration throughout the Pacific that began over two thousand years ago in Taiwan. Even today, the similarities between the distant cousins can be seen in the culture and language.

What does ANZTEC mean to the future of Taiwan? Although bilateral trade is relatively small, economic analysts and government officials have predicted millions of dollars in increase in trade, and thousands of new jobs. New Zealand should be able to increase its seafood, agriculture, dairy and meat exports, while Taiwan should be able to increase its exports of electronic components, chemicals, and agricultural products. While the most obvious benefit of the agreement is increased direct trade, there are other potential benefits that may have more long-term impact on the future of Taiwan.

Indigenous Taiwanese and New Zealand Maori carvings

Indigenous carvings from Taiwan and New Zealand.

The section of ANZTEC regarding cooperation of the indigenous peoples can produce unexpected benefits for the relationship between the citizens of both sides. With initiatives for cultural collaboration and media cooperation, people will be able to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their shared ancestry and culture. The sharing of a common culture could be a more effective means of strengthening the bonds of the bilateral relationship than the economic benefits. Learning how much the peoples have in common with each other can shorten the perceived distance between them.

An increased awareness of the cultural similarities has the potential to lead to increased cultural tourism. With the New Zealanders more interested in the rich diversity of Austronesian culture throughout Taiwan, indigenous communities on our island could see the most benefit from increased tourism. Indigenous tourism is good for Taiwan, making low environmental impact, and more importantly, giving Taiwan’s indigenous peoples financial incentive to teach their traditional culture to their children. Giving a boost to the sales of indigenous products can provide sustainability to a culture long-suffering from a low level of interest and appreciation. Increased cultural pride and self-reliance will make it easier for indigenous communities to preserve their languages and culture and reduce their tax burden on society. Increased activity between the Maori and indigenous Taiwanese can be a catalyst for increased cooperation with other non-indigenous groups in Taiwan.

Taiwan and New Zealand are two of the most important Austronesian territories. It is possible that other Austronesian nations may want to join Taiwan and New Zealand in an economic partnership that is inspired by their shared cultural ties. There are 400 million people living in 38 Austronesian nations, including Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei, Fiji and Madagascar. Individually, they may not be wealthy nations, but together, they offer an abundance and diversity of resources, including oil and technology. With Taiwan’s ECFA agreement with China, these countries may eye the island as a doorway into the Chinese marketplace. Taiwanese people should recognize that their ancient Austronesian heritage can offer something to the world that China cannot duplicate of replace, and can inspire international cooperation. If Austronesian nations increased their economic activities with Taiwan, its value would increase as a trading partner to China, and give Taiwan a better position for future negotiations. Who in Taiwan would not want a stronger economy? The key to a brighter future in Taiwan may be found by looking to the past.

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Bunun Ear-Shooting Festival (Mala-Ta-Ngia)

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A Bunun tribal elder showing golden millet grain, their staple food.

A tribal event showcasing physical strength and strengthening family bonds

After getting lost in the mountain roads of Yanping District, in Taitung County, Taiwan, I had almost lost hope that I would find the Bunun Ear Shooting Festival in the village of Yongkang. This two-day festival at the beginning of May had a reputation of being the biggest Bunun festival in the Taitung area, and I didn’t want to miss it. The  GPS wasn’t working well in the mountains, and I couldn’t find the flags indicating the location of the event. With persistence, I finally located the festival by catching the steady chorus of the Bunun voices singing their world-famous “Pasibutbut” songs. These songs, which resemble loud, clear chanting, are prayers to the gods and ancestors for a bountiful millet harvest. I am thankful the voices were so clear and loud, as they led me over a great distance to the festival.

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Visitors are encouraged to try the Bunun traditional customs, like archery.

The annual festival is named after one of its important competitions. The archery contest sharpens the hunting skills of the warriors and teaches the young boys. The traditional target was once the ears of the pigs or deer. Now, they are animal-shaped targets drawn on cardboard. I tried my hand at shooting the bow and arrow after waiting in line with the other tourists. I wasn’t as good as the Bunun warriors, but I think I could shoot a large cow if it was not too far from me.

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Most of the tribal participants and spectators wore the colorful traditional Bunun costumes of their village.

There were many Bunun from several villages around the district, as well as tourists from all over Taiwan. The two-day event brings people together in the spirit of friendly competition and strengthens family bonds. It is an important time for the adults to teach the younger generation survival skills. Like the other tourists, I relished the opportunity to learn the special characteristics of the 4th largest tribe in Taiwan. These included their special singing style, which could be heard for miles around in the mountains. Another notable item in Bunun culture is their thousand-year-old written calendar. It is the closest thing to a written language that existed in Prehistoric Taiwan.

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The millet grinding competition uses a traditional mortar and pestle, and requires synchronized teamwork.

For the Bunun, there is nothing more important than feats of strength and endurance. The men and women traditionally lived a hard life in the rugged mountains, and needed these qualities to survive. The competitive activities that I witnessed centered around their hunting and millet cultivation activities. The performance groups sang for divine blessing, before the contestants showed their skills at millet planting, weeding, harvesting, and grinding. The teamwork displayed with the pounding of the grain with mortar and pestle was impressive, while the women threshed the millet. Only the men were allowed to compete in the archery contest. They showed their strength in the wood-carrying, pig-catching, and wrestling contests. The wrestling matches made the crowds go wild, as short, heavy men with large bellies tried to pull each other to the ground.  I heard that the Bunun women consider the portly physique of their men to be sexy. “The larger the belly, the better,” I was told with a wink.

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Wrestling is a popular competitive event at this festival.

I looked down at my growing stomach, which was quite large after stuffing myself with millet and smoked muntjac meat, which was from a small species of deer. I thought, perhaps this was the one place on earth where soemone with my physique would fit in very well. Especially after the hosts shared their millet wine and offered so much cultural enlightenment and hospitality to all of their visitors, I felt quite at home.

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The Bunun elders made me feel like part of their family.