Taiwan-Aotearoa Connection: Austronesian Education Project is one-of-a-kind for its content, namely the exchange of Aboriginal-related research and activities between Taiwan and New Zealand by means of academic exchange, official visit to institutions and communities, student internship, and so forth. It shows great potential for sustainability, providing the groves of academe in Taiwan and New Zealand with the opportunity for reciprocal cooperation.
In late October 2017, Bavaragh Dagalomai (Jolan Hsieh), a professor in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures who doubles as the Director of Center for International Indigenous Affairs, National Dong Hwa University (NDHU), led the students from NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies to pay an educational visit to New Zealand for its Māori education.
Almost all the students were first-time visitors to New Zealand. No sooner did they arrive at the airport, than they saw the term “Aotearoa” instead of “New Zealand” as the country name on the map. Leaving the airport, signboards and banners with juxtaposition of English and Māori were seen everywhere. This is a result of “total-immersion,” the most successful learning method of Māori education in New Zealand. The students from NDHU were very impressed with the scene there.
Total-immersion as a learning method found perfect expression in the welcome reception of the university. The whole event proceeded in Māori without English translation, but the attendees could understand thoroughly. The students from Taiwan were so deeply touched by the scene that they shed tears: “It is unthinkable that the Aborigines can use their own language with no need of English. We don’t have such experience in Taiwan.”
This Māori education visit gave the NDHU visitors a real shock, which prompted them to keep thinking: “How can we reconstruct the subjectivity of the indigenous people under the current circumstances in Taiwan?”
As a matter of fact, these responses to the Māori education visit in New Zealand have undergone a gestation period of years.
NDHU promotes its internationalization by highlighting the indigenous people.
According to government statistics in 2018, the indigenous people amount to 16.6% of the population in Hualien County. Located in the Huadong Valley, NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies logically becomes an iconic institute. Han-Chieh Chao, the President of NDHU, stated confidently that “NDHU is located in a melting pot of different ethnic groups. Humanism is our distinguishing feature.”
Based on the humanistic solicitude, the NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies has collaborated and exchanged with Australia and New Zealand on Austronesian studies long before the central government proposed its New Southbound Policy. “Indigenous studies is the highlight of our promotion of internationalization, which makes us stand out from other universities,” the NDHU’s Vice President Chin-Peng Chu said proudly. A nascent university founded 20 years ago notwithstanding, NDHU had planned to establish the College of Indigenous Studies since its founding, expecting to apply the idea of local governance and integrate the characteristics of local communities.
The promotion of internationalization requires not only a gestation period but also active engagement. Yuan-Ron Ma, the Dean of International Affairs, NDHU, stated that the success of NDHU’s indigenous studies would be impossible without the constant effort of the faculty members, although indigenous studies has been included as one of key features of NDHU at the very beginning.
The practice of Māori education expanded the horizons of the visitors from NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies.
The NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies visited Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in New Zealand in 2015. Previously a craft training center, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa is now the second largest educational institution in New Zealand, and the largest among the three Māori universities.
Having devoted to promoting the bilateral exchange between NDHU and Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, Bavaragh Dagalomai stated that the exchange was limited to faculty members owing to meager resources before receiving the subsidy from the Taiwan Connection Project from the Ministry of Education, Taiwan in 2017. The subsidy “not only enabled the active exchange and continuous interaction between Taiwan and New Zealand, but also broadened the indigenous students’ horizons!”
In a sincere and earnest manner, Bavaragh Dagalomai told us that many indigenous students tend to chicken out on the grounds of poor English or lack of money, and choose to engage in exchange with their counterparts in China. In fact, they do not speak poor English but lack encouragement. Since opening up new horizons has become part of the mainstream of higher education, “we tell our indigenous students bluntly that New Zealand and Australia are the ideal destinations if they want to go on any exchange.”
Why are New Zealand and Australia the ideal destinations for exchange? Pasuya Poiconx, the Dean of College of Indigenous Studies and a professor in the Department of Indigenous Affairs and Development, NDHU, held that the Māori people have a strong presence in global indigenous issues. Both the indigenous people in Taiwan and the Māori people use Austronesian languages and share similar cultures. “The indigenous people in Taiwan, regardless of their respective ethnic groups, use some shared basic vocabulary such as eyes, head, pig, chicken, and numbers. Such a similarity is not so much mythology as an incontrovertible fact. In addition, the indigenous people in New Zealand, Australia and Taiwan share a similar colonized past. Their practice of reconstructing subjectivity is well worth learning, which is useful for us to shake off the shackles of colonial thinking.”
Having wide administrative experiences and good connections around the world, Pasuya Poiconx masterminded the chapter of “Cooperation on Indigenous Issues” in the Agreement between New Zealand and the Separate Customs Territory of Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu on Economic Cooperation that built a bridge of interaction between the indigenous people in Taiwan and the Māori people in New Zealand. Besides, he had also vigorously established the Austronesian Forum till 2017 when he left his post in the Examination Yuan and returned to the academia. His experiences clearly informed him of the orientation of the NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies.
The students felt “deeply shocked” by their personal visit to New Zealand.
The Māori people in New Zealand have campaigned for their subjectivity since the 1980s, including the construction of Te Kōhanga Reo, followed by the Māori language revitalization. “As early as that time the Māori people have been aware of the crisis that the mainstream Western education might lead to the extinction of their language, and ergo started to fight against the mainstream education system,” so explained Sifo Lakaw, an Amis PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, NDHU. “The Māori people took their kids back to their own preschools, asking their tribal elders to teach them.”
After the first shot was fired, many people responded by devoting efforts to reviving their own cultures and languages. Within one year, they built more than 100 Te Kōhanga Reo, which is not based on school-like space but comprised of several families or clans.
Witnessing to the encouraging results of the Māori language revitalization over the past three decades, Sifo Lakaw was profoundly influenced and came to a decision with his Amis spouse on creating a mother-tongue immersive environment on the eve of his first daughter’s birth. Admitting frankly that he used to be a member of the National Languages Promotion Committee when he was an elementary school student, and he attains only a preschool level of mother-tongue proficiency. “I encountered considerable difficulties at the beginning, because I don’t have a large vocabulary.”
Nevertheless, Sifo Lakaw remains unbowed. His unconquerable soul galvanizes him to motivate teachers in Huanlien and Taitung to found their own Amis education institution.
He elaborated, if we keep staying in the mainstream education system, it would be impossible for us to design a proper curriculum according to the indigenous people’s subjectivity. “We think that the Māori education has been successful. Yet they still have to continue lobbying and strengthening their own value nowadays, just because the mainstream value is extremely powerful!” Sifo Lakaw said candidly that we are fighting a prolonged war and its outcome is far from certain. Even though we may not win immediately, we are destined to lose if we stop fighting.
Pisuy Bawnay, currently a project assistant on the Subcommittee on Reconciliation, Presidential Office Indigenous Historical Justice and Transitional Justice Committee, is an Atayal, who radically modified her study plan after the visit to New Zealand for the Māori education. Originally planning to study abroad in Australia or the United Kingdom, she reordered her priority by having the intention to thoroughly research into the Māori education in New Zealand. In addition, the competent faculty in New Zealand will provide rigorous research methods for her to ponder on the indigenous people’s education as a whole.
Pasuya e Yasiungu, a PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, is a Cou from Alishan. He was not prohibited from speaking his mother tongue. However, his proficiency in it has gradually decreased, because he has left the tribe for a long period on the one hand, and the Cou has a small population on the other. He recalled, what the Māori education impressed him most is that their teaching material varies with local conditions. The content of their courses tallies with students’ real-life experiences, which is fundamentally different from the situation in Taiwan. “One size fits all. The content I learned in Alishan is similar to that taught in the cities, in which some cases are beyond my life experience, let alone comprehension.” Back to Taiwan, Pasuya e Yasiungu has been thinking seriously about how to make the College of Indigenous Studies a space radiating an indigenous aura. “It’s not just about the installation. More importantly, it is about the people there. The question is how we present our subjectivity.”
Indigenous people and the land, Taiwan and the world
The NDHU’s engagement in international exchange not only deepened its students’ understanding of subjectivity, but also established a closer connection between Taiwan and the international society.
Bavaragh Dagalomai and Tanivu Tapari (Yu-Hsin Wang), an associate professor in the Department of Arts and Creative Industries have just attended the 2018 annual general meeting of World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium in Norway. “Taiwan will play host to the 2019 annual general meeting!” They shared the news with us excitedly: “Not only the indigenous people in New Zealand and Australia, but also those in Canada, Sami, Hawaii, and Alaska will attend the meeting next year to show their support for Taiwan.”
The faculty members and students in the NDHU’s College of Indigenous Studies widened their horizons and gained great experience through the academic exchange and reciprocal visits.
Bavaragh Dagalomai expected that Taiwan’s indigenous people can reconstruct their subjectivity rather than serving as a foil to pluralistic culture. The indigenous cultures not only increase Taiwan’s cultural diversity, but also raise Taiwan’s international visibility, just like a winning base hit from the Huadong Valley to the world stage.
Immersing students in the educational environment by using the traditional language and culture of the Māori people as the basis for interaction and daily practice, thereby enabling students to express themselves confidently in Māori and develop a strong sense of belonging, so that they will feel proud of themselves as Māori.
Te Kohanga Reo
“Reo” in “Te Kohanga Reo” refers to a nest. This term implies raising a young fledge in a nest monolingually.