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April 26, 2018

Latest Update from Elsaesser Fellowship Winner

Michael Jacobson, W-72

SEA Semester

Above: Collection of wood house carvings from the Rukai and Paiwan in the National Taiwan University Museum of Anthropology. Below: Me on my last day in Wutai, my homestay family asked me to wear one of their traditional headdresses. Bottom: Chieftain's slate houses of Lao Qijia.

SEA Semester alumnus Michael Jacobson (W-72), the recipient of the 2018 Armin E. Elsaesser III Fellowship award, recently traveled to southern Taiwan to document the indigenous Tao people’s traditional boat building and fishing culture.  This is his third update.

I am already on my way home from Taiwan.

After witnessing the Paiwan shaman, I got a chance to go to an old Paiwan village with slate houses called Lao Qijia. The tribe moved due to landslides from typhoons and I got to meet their chief who talked about the challenges faced by her people.

I then went to an area with a closely allied tribe, the Rukai. They too are known for their slate houses and elaborate wood carvings. I was able to live in a guest house with amazing carvings, all done by the owner.

After that, I decompressed for a few days in Taidong, a huge city on the west coast. Just like coming off of a ship after being at sea, the city is both liberating and bewildering in its humanity and complexity compared to the small tribal villages I have been staying in.

I had hoped to go visit the Tsou tribe near one of Taiwan's most beautiful mountains, Alishan. But life intervened: it was a 5-day holiday and there were no places to stay! So I altered my plans and went to Hualiennon the east coast, hopefully, to see the Amis tribe. The Amis are the largest tribe by population and populate much of the eastern coast.

I also visited the Atayal Tribe, who live in the mountains just south of Taipei. Historically, they had very elaborate facial tattoos for the women and men, symbolizing their faithfulness infollowing the tribe's rules. These days, very few people have these tattoos but they remain a cultural touchstone. While in this area I also met a famous actor from the movie called the "Warriors of the Rainbow," which is about tribal opposition to Japanese rule in the early 1900s.

I have spent the last week in Taipei seeing museums with significant indigenous collections. While Taipei is famous for the National Palace Museum filled with the art collection of past Chinese emperors I found more out of the way museums with equally interesting histories and collections. Many of these museums are finding ways to engage with contemporary tribal members to highlight their culture as well as the items in the museum.

I have been describing what I have been doing but it's hard to describe the personal journey that I have been on and how I have connected with so many people who have generously shared their lives and unique culture with me. I look forward to returning to Seattle and plan to share my experiences with the broader community to highlight the richness and wonderful culture of Taiwan's indigenous people.

Categories: News, • Topics: elsaesser  culture  w72  featured • (0) Comments


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