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Austronesia people and cultures

The Austronesian Peoples and their Cultures

    The Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan are speakers of Austronesian languages. The five hundred and fifty thousand plus population consists of about 2% of the total population of Taiwan. Nowadays there are 16 officially recognized Indigenous ethnic groups. Though currently a demographic minority, Taiwan Indigenous Peoples present a wide spectrum of traditional cultures, which, after experiencing severe sinicization in the mid-twentieth century, are on the way of revitalization since the 1990s.

    According to archaeological and historical linguistic findings, Taiwan is most plausibly the place where the entire Austronesian language family is originated. Presently, the Austronesian language family comprises peoples of Insular Southeast Asia, Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, with Taiwan, Madagascar, New Zealand and Easter Island as the four extremes of its distribution. Archaeological traces of Austronesian peoples’ cultural activities are found in Taiwan that dates as early as 6,000 BP.

    Ethnographically, basing on a general subsistent economic pattern that consists of slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting, fresh water and off-shore fishing, the Austronesian Indigenes of Taiwan nevertheless demonstrate a wide range of traditional social organization: from patrilineal, matrilineal, cognatic to house type societies, and from egalitarian to formally hierarchical structural principles. Historically speaking, the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan diverged from other parts of the Austronesian world in the sense that, (1) before the early 20th Century they had not come into contact in large number with the systematic religions (Islam and Christianity) from outside and (2) aside from brief and highly localized encounters with the Dutch and the Spaniard in the 17th Century, their major colonial experiences were under the imperial Chinese, Japanese and the Nationalist Chinese authorities. Since the late 1990s, Taiwan Indigenous Peoples as a whole has gone through a series of civil and community empowerment movements striving for the reclaiming of land right, strengthening of identities and a broader ethnic and cultural visibility. The ethnographical, historical and socio-political commonalities as well as divergences between the Austronesian communities in Taiwan and other countries provide ample possibilities and a fruitful ground for both academic-focused and practice-oriented researches.