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G2S2 Lecture – Dr. Bien Chiang : Taiwan’s Austronesian Indigenous Population-Their Connections with Insular Southeast Asia and the Pacific

By 07/25/2019No Comments

07/17/2019??Asian Politics, History, Society and Culture

Lecture Topic:?Taiwan’s Austronesian Indigenous Population-Their Connections with Insular Southeast Asia and the Pacific

Class taken by?Dr. Bien Chiang

Dr. Bien Chiang provides an overview of indigenous populations in Taiwan and their links with the Austronesian communities in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Dr. Chiang is the Director of the Center of Austronesian Culture at the National Taitung University and Associate Researcher at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Ethnology.

He explains that the Austronesian people reached Taiwan around 4000 BC, and from Taiwan this group of people, characterized by their Malayo-Polynesian language, migrated south toward insular Southeast Asia and onward to other destinations as far as Madagascar in the Indian Ocean and Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean. Canoe-building, which enabled the Austronesians to sail across the ocean, is only one of the several widely accepted hypotheses on the expansion and transformation of the Austronesians. It is also believed that the transportability of agriculture, the predilection for rapid coastal movement, and the strong desire to find new settlements by those who want to be revered in the genealogies of future generations prompted the Austronesians to discover new lands.

Historical developments in Taiwan led to changes which had implications to this day. Immigrants from Southern China, mainly from the Hokkien and Hakka sub-ethnic groups, settled in Taiwan from 1,400 AD. Political refugees from all over mainland China started pouring in since 1949. Despite being the first settlers in Taiwan, indigenous groups are now a minority. They are also facing social issues related to the domination of the mainstream ethnic Chinese culture and their underprivileged socio-economic status.

To increase the understanding of indigenous groups in Taiwan, Dr. Chiang recommends further research to establish the linkage between the archaeological findings and the living Austronesian cultures in Taiwan to address gaps in knowledge. He also notes that indigenous groups in Taiwan had been out of reach of Hindu and Islamic cultural influences, and they were only briefly colonized by the Europeans. Thus, the experiences of these groups in Taiwan provide a contrast, which may prove informative, in the study of Austronesian communities.

Questions from participants revolve around the public perception of indigenous peoples. Dr. Chiang clarifies that policies are in place to promote the rights of indigenous peoples in Taiwan; however, he states that more needs to be done on the matter.