Archives for category: Amis Tribe of Taiwan

Many Amis people have moved to the mega-cities of Taiwan in pursuit of a better life. In the concrete and pavement jungles, some Amis people are creating small urban gardens to grow fresh, inexpensive, easy-to-cultivate produce. The flavors of home include some weedy wild plants, like this one below. The main thing: make sure no fertilizers or other chemicals are in the soil.

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, Amis and other indigenous Taiwanese consider edible weeds as a daily health supplement that is also delicious. They stir fry them, or seethe them with cured meat in savory soups.

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Inspired by the Amis idea of easy fresh urban-foraged produce, I’ve planted two service berry trees in my yard. Now it’s mid-June and the berries are at their ripest. If you live in an area with service berry trees (they are native to most Western states and like creek banks but also do well in office landscaping) go pick some!

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Service berries are important to Native American diets, and can be used to make pemmican. They’re a little less flavorful than blueberries but delicious and FREE. Rinse, dry, and put ’em in pancakes, muffins, or over ice cream. Or, freeze on a cookie sheet and store for winter snacking.

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A beautiful wooden singer near the College of Indigenous Studies at National Dong Hwa University. Behind him, shrouded in clouds, are the green Coastal Mountains of Taiwan whose forests hold precious cultural knowledge and spiritual values.

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The lands near here are traditionally associated with Amis or Pangcah people. I hope this song is a joyful one, to celebrate young indigenous scholars of Taiwan!

 

Have you ever heard that dandelion greens are edible? Amis tribal gardeners of Taiwan who make ‘wild’ greens an everyday part of their menu. These little volunteers were growing in my Boise, Idaho backyard.

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Common dandelions (Taraxacum spp.) were introduced to North America from Europe and are become a familiar sight in yards, parks, and lots. After briskly invading, they are now ‘naturalized’ — in a state of balance. Neither wild, nor tame.

The leaves can be harvested before blooming, and ideally before the buds form. But you have to keep an eye out, because dandelions are very speedy bloomers. It’s very important to harvest from areas that are chemical-free!

 

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I soaked my dandelion leaves in water with a little salt, then rinsed and blanched them (pop quickly into boiling water and remove). They can be chopped lightly and sauteed in sesame oil with minced garlic and ginger and a touch of rice wine vinegar and soy sauce. Dandelion greens have a pleasantly bitter ‘zing’ that pairs well with fatty meats or cheesy dishes. Most Amis gardeners sautee them like I did or put in soups with salty pork bits, rather like Southern collard greens.

 

The wonderful people at Fulbright Taiwan have just posted a video interview about my research on indigenous farming. I hope you enjoy!

 

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Amis entrepreneur Cheng Zhong and myself at his family’s ancestral fields near Donghe on the east coast.

Six months in Taiwan changed me in ways I’m just beginning to appreciate! Different cultures, food, plants, animals, friends, and family all glow a little brighter, the colors richer, the flavors, tastier!

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View north from the sea-cliffs near Donghe.

Fulbright Taiwan has just published an article about how much Taiwan and her people mean to me, and the kindness and generosity of my father, family, colleagues, and friends in welcoming me there and helping to explore indigenous farming and cultural values.

I would be so happy if you can visit the online journal Research and Reflections to read it, at http://journal.fulbright.org.tw/index.php/browse-topics/new-cultural-insights/item/361-wild,-tame,-and-in-between-traditional-agricultural-knowledge-of-taiwan-indigenous-people.

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“Guma” or ‘father’s elder sister’, a Paiwan elder of noble lineage, at 87 remembers Japanese rule and traditional millet cultivation. “I never knew envy”, she says.

Part of being an anthropologist who studies ‘the long view’ is interviewing people — most of them older than oneself. I am no longer a young woman, but feel humble and deferential in front of these folks.

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The Paiwan elder lady to the right chews betel nut, a mild stimulant with more than 3,500 years of history on Taiwan. Her niece to the left in profile looks Polynesian to me: and we know Polynesians are linked linguistically and genetically to Taiwan’s tribal people.

From Amis, Atayal, and Paiwan tribal communities, my indigenous interviewees range in age from 50 to 87 years old.

Most of them have lived through famine, wars, and the loss of their culture and language. One Amis lady, Zhong Mama, told us sadly that her two sons and daughter are already dead. And yet they share their knowledge with me, smile, offer me food and rice wine, dress me in their ritual clothes, even scratch my back when I can’t reach a mosquito bite.

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An Amis elder with the skull of a large Formosan boar that her husband caught with a snare.

When Dad is with me (he is 81), the old folks relax visibly. The grannies flirt a little, try to get him to speak Japanese with them (you have to be at least 80 now to have been in school during the Japanese colonial period, which ended with WWII in 1945).

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Dad asking an Amis elder about cultivating ferns in the forest.

My goal: to get old enough to share knowledge and show kindness to a young and curious person!

 

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A big bunch of djulis, ready for harvest.

Thousands of years ago during the Neolithic period, the ancestors of today’s Taiwanese tribes tinkered with a common weed to create a protein-rich super food. It’s related to quinoa, but much more beautiful.

The Paiwan call it djulis (‘JOOlis’), the Amis call it kowal (goWALL). It’s scientific handle is Chenopodium formosanum (as in, Formosa, the old name for Taiwan).  Together with millet and dry-cultivated rice, this mysterious scarlet crop was a key food for most of Taiwan’s tribes, and even their domestic animals, for many generations.

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Just outside Taitung, a field of scarlet djulis in front of a Taoist temple.

Under Japanese and Chinese governance, this crop has slowly declined and now very few people know how to cultivate it. I’ve been lucky to learn more from Paiwan and Amis elders. Due to its beauty and alleged high nutritional value, djulis has recently gotten some serious attention from scientists and agronomists. A key characteristic: it likes to be dry. This could be a benefit in Taiwan’s increasingly frequent droughts…

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A Paiwan couple create a lovely wreath out of djulis from their field.

The recommended cooking method is sprinkling in a handful with rice for flavor and color. But djulis is pretty good in cookies too! If you are in Taipei, come visit the nice djulis garden on the National Taiwan University campus, just to the left of the Anthropology Museum.

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I am crowned with the wreath!

 

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Paiwan village of Cacevakan. We were lucky to arrive after caretakers removed some vegetation.

Two days ago, after a very sweaty steep hike my two colleagues and I reached an amazing stone village sitting quietly in the deep forest of Taiwan’s southernmost mountains. Two eagles soared above us, monkeys clucked their warning calls, and a tiny fanged deer barked in the shadows.

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A female Formosan macaque is keeping me in sight while her youngster escapes into the canopy.

This village was last lived in maybe 500 years ago by the ancestors of the Paiwan people, a mountain tribe with great expertise in ancient traditional cultivation of seed crops. Unlike my Amis friends in the east, the stone villages of Paiwan ancestors were so high in the mountains they rarely saw the sea. Paiwan society is made up of commoners and noble families, who ruled by the favor of the gods and were responsible for caring for the least fortunate in their villages. Americans could learn from them.

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To orient you: this map shows Amis territory, light green in the lower right, and Paiwan territory, pinkish purple in the south. The map is in the National Taiwan University Anthropology Museum in Taipei.

My anthropology colleagues are amazing scholars who have generously shared their time and expertise about Taiwanese cultures ancient and modern. I am so lucky to know them! In the next installment: tribal super food.

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My two colleagues from National Taiwan University: Dr. Sumei Lo, left, is a cultural anthropologist who works with the Amis people and is learning more about the Paiwan people. Dr. Maaling Chen, right, is an archaeologist who studies ancient stone house settlements. Maaling is carrying a stick for the ‘hundred pacer’ snakes in the area, allegedly so poisonous you die after taking 100 steps! They are sacred to the Paiwan people, luckily we didn’t encounter any.

 

Have you ever eaten a fern? The young uncurling leaves, called fiddleheads in the US, can be amazingly tender and delicious. The Amis people love ferns, called ‘lokutl’ in their language, and gather them wild or cultivate them in gardens and forest plots.

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Mr. and Mrs. Wang’s fern garden. Can you see where the leaves have been harvested?

Our Amis friend Mr. Wang showed us a beautiful mountain spot, in his family for many generations, where he and his wife carefully grow the ferns for the local market.

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The stuff in the middle is damp, partly rotten, and smells like the soul of the forest.

The mulch that collects in each fern is collected as clean organic mulch for their gardens in town. Sadly, all of their children are working in modern jobs in remote cities with little interest in this Amis style of cultivating wild vegetables.

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A muntjac, or barking deer, spotted in the central mountains. They adore ferns, as Mr. Wang complains…

You might remember that Mr. Wang sold us fern leaves last month and the local restaurant covered them in a light batter, flash fried them, and provided a dipping mixture of salt and Taiwan white pepper (a more fragrant and complex cousin to the familiar black pepper in your shaker. To die for!! The tiny barking deer agree, and raid his garden regularly…

 

 

Dad is now officially an anthropologist!

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Would Margaret Mead’s own dad have gone this far?

We’ve been staying in a tiny indigenous lodging house (owned by Zhong Mama, in my last blog post). She and her 84-year old husband showed up last night with traditional Amis costumes. After a few seconds’ hesitation, Dad let himself be dressed in full male regalia.

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The women’s head-dress contains a mixture of traditional materials (fur, leather, feathers), and modern (bright silk thread, rhinestones). It’s tight behind the ears, but very lightweight.

We were instructed not to giggle, a typical nervous reaction to being honored. But when Zhong Mama and Baba showed us our image in a mirror and then took our pictures, their wrinkled faces were wreathed in smiles!