Indigenous elder to be honored for decades of trail building

Courtesy of the Community Forestry Laboratory of National Pingtung University of Science & Technology

PINGTUNG (CNA) — An 80-year-old elder from the Rukai tribe in Pingtung County has won the 2020 Best Trail Builder/Repairer Award from the Taiwan Thousand Miles Trail Association (TMI Trail), for seven decades of work and sharing his experience with the next generation.

Ripunu Abalriini was nominated for the award by Community Forestry Laboratory of National Pingtung University of Science & Technology (NPUST).

Abalriini, who lives in Adiri Village, Wutai Township, started to learn masonry from his father at the age of 10.

“The trails needed to be repaired once a year, by removing grass and other work and I always accompanied experienced craftsmen and learned the skills from them,” Abalriini said during an interview with TMI Trail.

It is not easy to acquire slate and shale because they are found next to rivers in the southern part of the Central Mountains Range, the laboratory said.

Abalriini and other tribe members usually extract the materials with hoes and crowbars, break them into the size they need, and carry about 20kg of slate back to the village per person, the laboratory added.

Courtesy of the Community Forestry Laboratory of National Pingtung University of Science & Technology

According to NPUST professor Chen Mei-hui (陳美惠), Abalriini is one of the few Rukai tribal elders who learned traditional masonry skills and he teaches the next generation a range of cultural skills, such as hunting, how to build stone slab houses and trails.

Masonry is an essential skill for indigenous peoples because their houses and trails are made from stone slabs, Wutai Township Mayor Tu Cheng-chi (杜正吉) said.

However, nowadays, a blend of traditional masonry skills and modern architectural techniques are used to construct indigenous buildings, with faux shale and granite widely used, Tu said.

TMI Trail, a non-profit organization established on April 23, 2011, aims to preserve natural beauty and create an eco-friendly environment in Taiwan by building and maintaining a network of hiking trails around the island.

The 2020 Best Trail Builder/Repairer Award ceremony will be held on Aug. 9 at the Taipei Mayor’s Residence Art Salon, the association said.