It’s been almost a month since I left Texas for Taiwan and started working with the Siraya people to help them in their mission of achieving national recognition. However, one question kept bugging me: Why is the Taiwanese government so resistant to the idea of recognizing the Siraya or Pingpu people? It means a big deal to the tribe, but why does the government have to lose? They recognize certain other tribes, so why pick and choose?
Because of the language barrier, it took awhile before I got a clear answer to this question. I eventually spoke to Edgar, a local Sirayan activist, who helped shed some light on the situation.
The reason the government has given for not recognizing the Sirayan people is that the Sirayans do not speak their own language anymore and that they are no longer ‘pure’ Sirayans because of intermarriages. However, Edgar points out that both the Hakka and Amis (among other officially recognized tribes) face similar issues with language and intermarriages. Furthermore, the government has ignored the Sirayan’s efforts and successes in language and cultural revitalization and preservation. So what other motivations does the government have for not investigating the Sirayan’s claims further?
The Sirayans think the situation is a bit more complex; however, it comes down to two main components: money and politics (tell me something new).
Some of the other officially recognized tribes in Taiwan do not wish for the Sirayans to gain recognition. Edgar points to the Amis, who hold many government positions and have strong political power. The Sirayan and other Pingpu groups are big tribes. (In the Tainan area alone over 15,000 people registered as Siraya). And why does this matter? Bigger tribes get more money. The government currently has a budget for indigenous people, and Siraya recognition threatens the percentage of funding other groups receive.
Furthermore, a big tribe could potentially help strengthen Taiwanese identity: an issue for the current political party, the Kuo Ming Tang (KMT) which leans more towards China. According to Dr. Sim Kiantek, about 95% of Taiwanese carry Aboriginal blood, threatening China’s claim that most Taiwanese are Han.
Either way, the Sirayan people are working hard to prove that they are indigenous and maintain their culture and language. Currently, some of the local Siraya volunteers have created a YouTube video with footage of the tribe and an original song to encourage people to sign the petition we’ve created.