By Chiou Charng-Ting
Translated by Anna Brachtendorf
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  • Bearing the Burdens of History (II)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=125

    Under the vicissitudes of colonization and cultural assimilation, Salizan’s Bunun ancestors, proud hunters and stewards of the forest, so well-versed in the wisdom of the head strap, became laborers serving at the whims of others, and the head strap became the tool that sped the demise of their culture. For, after subduing the Bunun people, the Japanese colonial regime relocated them out of the mountain highlands and forced them to work as coolies, a move that cut off the tribe from their ancestral lands. Mr. Lin Yuan-Yuan, a Bunun elder, told Salizan a grisly tale on one of their expeditions into the mountains: “There was an Isbukun Bunun named Vilan who was also (forced into) carrying Chinese juniper wood. His family was from Mashisan. He borrowed a rifle from the Japanese to go hunting. He took it to the old family home and shot himself because he wanted to die in the same house as his parents.”

    Salizan Takisvilainan

    In “Monuments of Sorrow” Salizan tells how the way of life of the tribes people was transformed by the roads, residences, and schools built by the Japanese as they pushed their way into the mountain highlands, with all the force of empire behind them. As their territory shrank, the Bunun people were forced into labor, exploited. In battle after battle, conflict after conflict, the blood of the Bunun people was spilled, soaking the earth, but the memorials that were built invariably celebrated the Japanese invaders. The only legacies left to the natives who died defending their land were criminal records. In “Trail of Tears” readers are guided through the reconstruction of a stone house. Through the careful stacking of the stone flags, a process requiring almost reverential patience, the ruins of an old home are gradually restored, along with the vanishing construction techniques of the Bunun people.


    According to Salizan, his direct ancestors were relocated from the mountain highlands at 2000 meters down to a new settlement at 300 meters. He has already gathered a mountain of documentary evidence and oral accounts of this event. In time he will collate and organize these materials, and write the story of his own family’s upheaval from their ancestral lands.


    I stand atop the summit;

    From my tribal culture, I face these ranges.

    Let me and the land of my ancestors once more produce new meaning.

    - Salizan Takisvilainan “Homeland, Village, Person”

  • Bearing the Burdens of History (I)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Chen Yen-Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    We are told that during the Age of Discovery, as the Portuguese explorers sailed past Taiwan for the first time, they cried out in astonishment, “Ilha formosa!” (“Beautiful island!”). Indeed, Taiwan is a rich and fertile land, blessed with an abundance of flora and fauna. Its geography is diverse, its landscape both pleasing and well-suited for human inhabitation. Although research now suggests that first people to call this island Formosa were likely Spanish colonists, the story of the Portuguese explorers has long since become a touchstone of pride for all Taiwanese, and a powerful echo of the reverence that binds its aboriginal people to the island, their spiritual mother.


    Taiwan and much of Latin America occupy parallel histories: colonization by the Spanish; periods of dictatorial rule followed by struggles for independence. Over the course of history, control of Taiwan has successively passed from the aboriginal inhabitants to the Dutch, to the Spaniards, to the Tungning Kingdom (the Ming successor state established by Koxinga), to the Qing Dynasty, to Imperial Japan, to the Kuomintang, before finally flowering under modern democracy. Alongside this intermingling of cultures and bloodlines, Taiwan’s literature has developed into the variegated display of forms we see today. Yet, because they originally had no written language to record their stories, the literature of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples has only gradually, through the tireless labor of dedicated individuals, gained belated recognition.


    For Salizan Takisvilainan, a young poet of the Bunun people who left his tribal lands to pursue an education but eventually returned, drawn by the deep love of his native culture, the barriers to cultural preservation presented by the lack of a written language are all too real. To better grapple with these challenges, he established Millet String Publishing House, an independent publisher based in Nakahila Village, Jhuosi Township, Hualien County. A laborer of language, a bearer of words, Salizan uses the Latin alphabet to phonetically record the stories of village elders, and prepares them for native-language publication. So far, he has produced A Simple Dictionary of the Takbanuaz Dialect of the Bunun Language, An Oral Account of the Kasibanan Incident, and Mipakaliva: Age of Legend – Myths of the Bunun People of Jhuosi Township. Concurrent with his publishing work, Salizan has worked as a mountain guide and porter, and undertook the writing of Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters.


    After completing his obligatory military service, Salizan began following tribal elders into the mountains, where, over the next ten-plus years, he gathered materials for the Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters, three pieces of reportage comprising his personal experiences supplemented by a plethora of practical field studies. The eponymous first essay deals with heads straps, the indispensable tools of transport of his ancestors – woven headbands from which a large basket was suspended, allowing one to bear weight with the head and neck, while the basket rests against the back. In earlier times, head straps allowed Bunun tribesman to carry quarry home after a hunt, or to transport the large stone flags needed to build stone houses.

    Moving Mountains: A Tale of Rangers and Porters


    Read On: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=126

  • Chopsticks, Batons, and Authorial Acrobatics: A Collaboration Between Editor and Writers (II)
    Apr 12, 2021 / By Kaiting Chan (Editor of Chopsticks) ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=123

    We hoped readers would sense subtle connections linking the three stories based on the prompts alone, and then the last two stories could surprise readers by creating a more coherent whole. The idea of “passing the baton” to the next writer became another critical step in the book’s development. Although the collaborative framework of the book would be laid out there on the book jacket, we hoped the experience of reading the linked stories would far surpass the mere explication. For Xiao Xiang Shen, the author of “The Dream of the Crocodile”, this wasn’t his first time receiving the baton from another writer. He had already proved himself writing in the relay race format, which is why we assigned him the fourth story. The first three stories were a superstitious tale of horror, a suspense story laced with romance, and a mystery fusing a tale of detection with elements of social realism. With the fourth story, Xiao Xiang Shen expanded the blueprint of the book by writing from an almost sociological perspective, addressing the culture of chopsticks, and the difficulties faced by young women in contemporary Asian society. While surprising, “The Dream of the Crocodile” provided a satisfying conclusion, which only increased the difficulty of the challenge faced by the fifth writer. Now that the string of chopsticks-related incidents had reached a perfect conclusion, what was Chan Ho-Kei to write about?

    Xiao Xiang Shen

    I consider this the final miracle of the book, a miracle woven by five writers. This isn’t just a collaboration between writers. It is an acrobatic competition with five performers on the same stage, all attempting to outdo each other. In addition to addressing the themes assigned by the editorial team, each is throwing down the gauntlet to the writers that follow. “What materials are you going to harvest from my story? Are you going to tie up the loose ends?” Or perhaps, “Will you notice the little mysteries I left unsolved?” The last two writers are the wide receivers, catching the compositional elements and foreshadowing thrown to them by the first three, possibly even picking up a fumble or two. They are expanding the scope of the book, while, at the same time, stitching its pieces together and cleaning up loose threads. Even more astounding is the fact that none of the writers were acquainted with each other before beginning the book. All they had in common was that they were all mystery writers. The synchronicities that emerge between the writers’ stories is a product of their passion, spirit, and professionalism.

    Chan Ho-Kei

    I’m not confident we could actually pull off another miracle like this one. Just getting authors interested in this kind of collaboration is rare and wonderful enough, like spotting a shooting star at night. After coming up with the basic themes, Xerses, JeTauZi, and I invited Chan Ho-Kei to join us. He immediately began advocating that “good stories know no borders”, which set us on the path of inviting a Japanese writer to join the project, giving form to our transnational concept. Mitsuda Shinzo, a talented writer of supernatural stories, is held in high regard by Taiwanese readers. When it came time to write the final story, Chan Ho-Kei was assisted by a timeline of the events of the previous four stories drawn up by Xiao Xiang Shen, which helped him to locate points where he could weave the threads of the stories together. Nearly every stage of this book would have proved impossible but for the experience and quality of the other writers on the team. Everything about this rare and unique process of creation exceeded our imagining, except, perhaps, for the cliché that once good writers get started, they can’t put down their pens—every story ended up running over our assigned word counts!


    Chopsticks is an unexpected success of a book, with its imagination-defying plot and rarely-seen literary pyrotechnics. Combining horror, mystery, fantasy, romance, and science fiction, all built on a foundation of chopstick lore, the book illustrates the cultural commonalities and differences between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan. Simultaneously, the interactions between these five masters of fiction reveals the unique literary characteristics of each region. One book, five stories, rife with ingenious plotting, stunning authorial acrobatics, and a thick atmosphere of mystery and horror distilled from one of the most familiar objects in East Asian culture. We simply cannot wait for these literary pleasures to be enjoyed by book lovers from around the world.