Liberty Times: Maoris seek roots in Taiwan

A member of a Maori group. Photo by: Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

A group of young Maoris from the Ngati Manu tribe in New Zealand’s Karetu region is visiting Taiwan through Sept. 1 on a tour aimed at seeking their cultural roots.

The Maoris acknowledge that their ancestors departed from Taiwan several thousand years ago aboard canoes and ended up in New Zealand.

For them, Taiwan is the origin of their tribe. The current tour is coded Hawaiki Nui, a Maori term that means “the origin of our ancestors.”

Taiwan is of great historical and cultural significance to the Maoris. The group’s leader, Arapeta Hamilton who is the hereditary leader of the Ngati Manu tribe, said he cried when he saw the sun rise over Taiwan’s mountaintops for the first time.

“I was moved to tears by our common ancestry,” he told his Taiwanese friends.

The Maori group has been sharing traditional performances such as the Kapa Haka (war dance) with Taiwan’s indigenous people and engaging in language, cultural and ritual exchanges to learn more about the hunting traditions, ecological education, marine science, knitting skills, music and dance of their “fellow tribesmen” here.

There is rich scientific evidence to prove genetic and historical links between the Maoris and Taiwan’s indigenous people. Linguistic, anthropological and genetic studies indicate that Taiwan is the origin or “ancestral home” of all Austronesian peoples.

The current Austronesian population of 400 million, with 1,200 languages, spreads from New Zealand, the southernmost migration route of their ancestors; to Easter Island the easternmost migration point; and Madagascar, the westernmost point.

In Taiwan, more than 30 Austronesian languages have been well preserved.

Two years ago, a multinational team of academics, headed by Australians and including American, German and Irish members, completed an interdisciplinary study that concluded Taiwan was most likely the origin of all Austronesian peoples in the Southern Hemisphere.

According to the scholars’ research, Taiwan’s early indigenous peoples can be traced back 8,000 years to the Chia’nan Plain in the south of the island. They developed seafaring skills about 5,500 years ago and some of them reached what is now New Zealand about 700 years ago, the scholars said.

The north-south connections between Taiwan and New Zealand are very obvious. The Maoris’ visit to Taiwan, therefore, demonstrates Taiwan’s status as a center rather than an outpost of cultural development.

Australian anthropologist Matthew Spriggs painted a picture of how Austronesians emigrated from Taiwan, first to the northern Philippines and eastern Indonesia, then spreading out across the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, the Fiji Islands, East Tonga, Samoa, Hawaii, Easter Island and New Zealand, forming the Lapita culture.

However, this important chapter of human migration has not gotten much attention at its very source, in Taiwan, probably because the colonizers saw the island as an outpost and looked down on its indigenous people. In fact, the Han Chinese, the ancestors of the bulk of Taiwan’s

population today, arrived no more than 400 years ago, a blink compared to the long history of the indigenous people. Over the past 400 years, the cultures of the Han Chinese, Dutch,  Spanish, Japanese, and western peoples (American in particular) have all blended with that of the earliest inhabitants of Taiwan to form a unique Taiwanese culture.

If more resources and manpower can be allocated to research on the origins of Austronesian culture, the results will give democratic Taiwan a soft power it can be proud of.

Even as the Maori youths are visiting, Taiwan educators are debating whether to put Taiwanese history into the larger context of regional and global human migrations and to highlight the indigenous people’s contributions to Taiwan’s cultural development.

The Maoris’ efforts to seek their cultural roots coincidentally underscore Taiwan’s efforts to seek a progressive and pragmatic view of history with a global vision. We warmly welcome the Maoris’ visit. (Editorial abstract — Aug. 28, 2018)