Taiwan Aboriginal: The Story Behind Taiwanese Aborigines

Taiwan Aboriginal: The Story Behind Taiwanese Aborigines

taiwan aboriginal

So what is the truth about Taiwan Aboriginals?

Taiwan, previously referred to as Isla Formosa, has a deep and rich history of thousands of years, dating back to the days of Taiwan aboriginal inhabitants.

Recent research suggests that they have inhabited the island for over 5,500 years.

Today, Taiwanese aborigines make up 2% of the population.

They are the indigenous inhabitants of Taiwan, years before the Han Chinese arrived in the 17th century.

Taiwan Aboriginal: Taiwanese Aborigines

Taiwanese aborigines (原住民) are Austronesian people.

Because so, their language is similar to that of the people of the Philippines, as well as other Polynesian ethnic groups. Their genetic ties also match these patterns.

Taiwanese aborigines: 
原住民 – yuan zhu min
Formosan people
Austronesian Taiwanese
Gaoshan people

Where Is Taiwan On A World Map?

Where Is Taiwan On A World Map?

Taiwan’s history is a turbulent one, and therefore similarly so have the lives of the Taiwan aboriginals been. Taiwan is located in a very favourable spot in the world, perfect for trade. It has therefore been fought over for many years and is currently recognised as a part of mainland China (People’s Republic of China).

DID YOU KNOW – The Dutch originally colonised Taiwan.

When the Dutch arrived, the only inhabitants on the island were Taiwanese aborigines.

Before the Dutch came, they had been living on the island undiscovered and undisturbed for thousands of years.

Unfortunately, just like many indigenous populations around the world, the Taiwanese aboriginal population is slowly dying out, with today’s figures showing that the Taiwanese aboriginal population makes up only 2% of the total Taiwan population.

Various tribes, as well as their individual cultures and languages, are slowly being lost. Out of the original 26 Formosan (Taiwanese aboriginal) languages, only a few remain. These few are slowly being replaced by Mandarin Chinese.

So, if there is any time to go to Taiwan to experience these unique cultures, now is the time!

Taiwan Aboriginal: Taiwan Today

The Taiwanese government currently recognises 16 Taiwan aboriginal tribes.

  • Amis
  • Atayal
  • Bunun
  • Hla’alua
  • Kanakanavu
  • Kavalan
  • Paiwan
  • Puyuma
  • Rukai
  • Saisiat
  • Sakizaya
  • Seediq
  • Thao
  • Truku
  • Tsou
  • Yami

Where can you find Taiwanese aborigines today?

Today, Taiwanese aborigines are scattered all over Taiwan.

Most Taiwanese aborigines live in mountainous regions along the east coast. These areas are close to Hualian and Taitung.

However, in recent times many Taiwanese aborigines have migrated to the cities in search of better jobs. Many of these now work in construction.

The struggles of the Taiwanese Aborigines

Taiwan Aborigines - Their Story

Taiwan Aborigines – Their Story

Years of conflict and a series of colonisation has resulted in a large decline in the Taiwan aboriginal population.

With the decline in population also comes the decline in Taiwanese aboriginal culture. This includes music, clothing, social practices, and language. With the rise of Chinese and Taiwanese culture in Taiwan, cultural assimilation has taken place meaning many traditional aspects of Taiwan aboriginal culture has been lost completely or is in the process of dying out. 

One example of this is the language. Out of the 26 recorded Taiwan aboriginal languages there could have been many more preserved. 10 are already classified as ‘extinct languages‘, and the rest are in the process of dying out or classed as ‘endangered‘.

Taiwan aboriginals are not part of the ethnic Han Chinese group. Consequently, many face difficult social and economic barriers in Taiwan. One of which includes substandard education, stemming from language barriers. This then results in social and economic deficiencies such as high unemployment rates and low living standard.

Taiwanese Aborigine Developments

Music brings the world together!

Music - Bringing the world together!

Music – Bringing the world together!

In recent developments, there has been a rise in Taiwan aboriginal culture. We can see this in achievements in the music and sporting world.

Regarding sports, some Taiwan aboriginal athletes have taken part in the Olympics. 

Music also plays a big part in these developments. There are even some who have made it to stardom in the Mandarin-pop world! This includes

  • A-mei (張惠妹, Chang Hui-mei)
  • Chang Chen-yue (張震嶽)
  • A-Lin
  • Liang Wen-yin (梁文音).

Give them a listen on the great Chinese music app QQ Music and improve your Chinese through music!

I’m currently giving Taiwan aboriginal music a go whilst writing this – not bad! 

Taiwan Aboriginal: Taiwanese aborigines making news

In very recent news there have been big developments concerning Taiwan aborigines.

The Taiwanese president made history.

For the first time, a Taiwanese president offered an apology. The leader said she offered her “fullest apology” on behalf of the government and country for the treatment Taiwanese aborigines have endured over the years.

“If we wish to declare ourselves as a country of one people, we need to face these historical facts. We have to face the truth.”

Interestingly enough, President Tsai is the first leader of Taiwan with indigenous heritage background. Her grandmother was apparently a Taiwanese aborigine from the Paiwan indigenous tribe.

Whether you’re planning to visit Taiwan as a tourist, or coming to live, work, or study, don’t forget to head back to its roots and include checking out the Taiwan aboriginal culture during your exploration of this beautiful island.

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