Chen chihfan, Assistant Professor, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
“Atayal” was originally published in The China Times in September 1992 and later appeared in a collection of Walis Norgan’s poetry. “Atayal” has two meanings – it is both the name of the Atayal ethnic group and the word in the people’s language for “human being.” Thus, the term is a reminder to the people to become good human beings and proud members of the Atayal ethnic group, a hope that Walis Norgan conveys in the poem.
In the two-part poem – “A Prayer at Birth” and “I Give You a Name” – the poet addresses his newborn son, blessing the child and exhorting him to grow up to be a true Atayal.
In “Prayer at Birth” natural imagery – river water, fireflies, wind, and floating clouds – conveys the vitality of the new life in the mother’s womb. The child’s grandparents prepare traditional gifts for their unborn grandson – a machete from the grandfather and a hand-woven outfit from the grandmother – Atayal elders’ traditional expressions of love for their descendants. Here the poet deftly employs both meanings of “Atayal.” The lines “Perfect infant/Come from the depth of your mother’s body and soul/To become a human being (Atayal)” can be read as “every newborn comes from the depths of its mother’s body and soul/Becoming an Atayal (human being).” Thus, every Atayal child comes from the depths of the Atayal cultural soul to become a genuine human being (Atayal).
In part two of the poem, the line “Child, I give you a name” is chanted over and over, an earnest exhortation. A child is not only a part of the mother’s flesh; according to the Atayal patronymic system, a male child appends his father’s given name to his own, a symbol of the continuity of the bloodline. But the poet has an even greater expectation: that his newborn son will inherit his ancestors’ courage and pride. And so he repeatedly admonishes the newborn never to forget his elders’ valor, and to humbly pray to his ancestors that he too might become the pride of his people. Hence, each new life is a blossoming forth and perpetuation of Atayal culture.
The poem celebrates the awakening of the poet’s ethnic consciousness. Full of the promise of new life, the work is both a confirmation of the Atayal people’s proper name and the embodiment of Walis Norgan’s pride in his ethnic heritage.
Walis Norgan / Wei Yijun
Walis Norgan (b. 1961) is Taiwan’s leading aboriginal writer in Chinese. A member of the Pai-Peinox branch of the Atayal ethnic group, Norgan was born in Mihu Village, Heping Township of Taichung County. Walis Norgan is his tribal name; his Chinese name is Wu Junjie, He also writes under the pen name Walis Yogan and Liu Ao. He graduated from Taichung Normal School (now the National Taichung University of Education), specializing in modern poetry, prose, raportage, and cultural discourse.
In 1985 he started publishing a series of prose works and discourses on issues relating to aborigines in Taiwan, including Tribal Chronicles and Tribal Recorder. Next, he published the prose collection Eternal Tribe (1990) and a collection of essays on society and culture entitled Unsheathing the Aboriginal Blade (1992). In 1990 Walis Norgan and Liglav A-wu founded the aboriginal culture movement magazine Hunter Culture, followed by the Research Center for Aboriginal Humanities in 1992. He also worked as editor and writer for the aboriginal magazines Aboriginal Post, Austronesian Times, and Taiwan Indigenous Voice Bimonthly. During this time he carried out frequent investigative reports on various tribes and encouraged a new generation of aborigines to get involved in looking into the culture and history of their people.
In July 1994 he returned to the Mihu village to settle down and began teaching at Ziyou Elementary School, his alma mater. From that time on, his works put greater emphasis on giving a voice to aboriginal tribes, especially looking into the political persecution and horrific experiences suffered by aborigines during the White Terror of the 1950s and 1960s, unearthing unexpected connections between aboriginal tribes and modern Taiwanese history.
In the 1990s Norgan’s received numerous awards for his work, including China Times Literature Awards; the Unitas Literary Award, the Ministry of Education’s Literary Creativity Award, and the Taipei Literature Award Prize. His works include The Call of the Wild (1992), Longing for My Tribe (1994), The Mountain is a School (1994), Ino Investigates Again (1999), and Two Lines I Leave to the World (2011).
In 2000 he started to teach in university departments of Chinese and Taiwanese literature, running courses on critical reading of Taiwanese aboriginal literature. In recent years, he has focused on the genre known as “two-line poetry.” He is also intensely interested in early childhood education and constantly travels to cities and rural areas throughout Taiwan.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=4520
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊 》）|
|Translator：||Robert Backus（拔苦子）、杜國清（K. C. Tu）|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://star.morningstar.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Morning Star Publishing Inc.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|