[Truly Hakka] Hakka impressions

By Lin Yuting, The China Post

Over the past few years, an impressive collection of old photos related to Hakka lives has been curated. As Hakka scholar Chiu Yen-kuei (邱彥貴) recalls, the push to officially archive such photos first started in 2006. A catalogue was published that year titled “Peach Blossoms, Yellow Daisies: A Century of Impressions from the Hakka in Taiwan” (桃花開來, 菊花那裡黃: 台灣客家世紀影像展), to give an overview of the modern history of Hakka people in Taiwan. In subsequent years, more photos were curated and organized into themed exhibitions. Works by 17 photographers and submissions from the public were shown in 2007 under the theme “cross-generational dialogue,” and further categorized as “portraits,” “farm work,” “changing landscape” and “festivities.” Many of them show how the Hakka people staunchly innovated and adapted to survive harsh conditions, while others show the colorful rites and pious sentiments of Hakka festivals. Works curated for 2008 were organized into two themes. One is childhood, as depicted by the traditional saying “愛噭愛笑, 鴨嬤打孔翹,” meaning “Now you cry and now you laugh; now you waddle like a duck.” The other focuses on Hakka people leaving small towns and trying to make it in metropolitan Taipei. Their spirit can be described as “好子毋須爺田地,好女毋須爺嫁衣,” meaning that “an able son doesn’t count on his parents’ land; an able daughter doesn’t count on her parents’ wedding dress.” Some Hakka newcomers to Taipei brought only the transportation fare; some brought only a relative’s address; others brought only bedding and an admission letter. They flourished on account of their own competence. That year, 19 professional and more than 20 amateur photographers contributed. The theme for 2009, “Home is where the Hakkas are,” encapsulated the sentiment of Hakkas settling in eastern Taiwan. The images show how they introduced to the eastern coast logging and the cultivation of crops like Camphorwood, sugarcane, tobacco, and tea, spurring the development of infrastructure there. As Hakkas moved, foreign lands became homelands (處處為客處處家, 日久他鄉是故鄉). Though the previous years’ “Hakka impressions” were very well received, each exhibition had a finite duration, and the images could not be kept permanently for further use. “The photos need to be better kept,” remarked Chiu Yen-kuei. Because the Hakka people integrate with different cultures as they migrate; the line between Hakka and non-Hakka is sometimes difficult to draw. Yet if we consider Hakka as one piece within the Taiwanese cultural mosaic, it is indeed worthwhile to rescue Hakka-related snapshots of Taiwan before they are lost in time. Reviving Hakka Memories In 2008, the Preparatory Office of the Taiwan Hakka Cultural Center (臺灣客家文化中心籌備處) answered the call and started creating a digital archive of Hakka photographers and their work prior to 1975 – most of which are gradually perishing because of their materiality.

Until October this year, the archive has acquired works by 31 Hakka photographers and studios active in Hakka settlements, totaling at about 45,000 prints. Soon, with the launch of the Hakka Cultural Park in Miaoli (苗栗) next spring — following this fall’s launch of the Liudui (六堆) park — the digital photo-archive will be open to the public. Works will be indexed by year, author, and locale for example; they will be accessible and searchable through the Preparatory Office’s website. Copyright rules for fair use are also being devised. The few photos shown here, selected from the official archive, depict lives in different eras and circumstances; yet they collectively show the Hakka people’s unconditional passion for life — in prosperity and adversity, at work and at play. ■