Yu-ping Peng, Ph. D. student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
“Mother’s Millet Field” is an early work of prose by noted author Badai, a Puyuma writer. Written in a sincere and simple style, the story addresses the issue of tribal land resources and a disappearing millet culture by exploring the relation of elderly aborigine woman to her field of millet.
The millet field at the center of the story contrasts the present to the rice paddies the author knew as a child. These two different crops each hold a historical significance: rice began replacing millet, the traditional staple of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples, as the local cash crop when the author was still a boy, bringing about societal changes such as the decline of the millet-based annual harvest festival.
As a child Badai and his playmates would frolic around the borders of his mother’s rice paddies. But after a typhoon damaged the irrigation system, the paddies were planted with crops that did not require much water or changed ownership. Badai’s mother had not had a chance to cultivate millet for sixty or seventy years, and she was overjoyed at having temporary use of a field in which to plant the traditional crop. The millet field looked the same as the rice paddies of Badai’s youth – his mother had strung campaign banners with bells and placed them on an embankment in middle of the field to frighten sparrows away. Although ownership of the field would revert to the landlord after the harvest, Badai’s mother would find other fields to plant – just as the winds would continue to blow and the sparrows would never be absent, the wild, tenacious millet shoots would always find a new lifeline.
Planting and harvesting millet represents the mother’s deep feeling for her native culture. Although she cultivates the small field only by consent of a Taipei landlord, it reflects a harsh reality: Much tribal land has been sold to outsiders and is no longer in the hands of its original inhabitants.
Millet is sacred in indigenous culture. From planting to harvest, it is inherently linked to the lives and spirituality of the people who till it. Yet the mother of the story tills a field that is only temporarily hers, raising questions of how to preserve and continue the emotional connection to the crop that was such an important part of her early life.
Like the indigenous farmers who practiced crop rotation to maintain soil fertility, the mother of the story also works her field in turns. But instead of being a symbol of living in harmony with nature as it was with her ancestors, the mother’s sharing of a field illustrates the loss of traditional territory and a grim struggle with modernity.
Badai invokes a passage from American conservationist Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac. Like Leopold before him, Badai reflects on the idea of a land ethic, but his focus is more on the emotional connection between people and their land. Using his tribe’s native language to transcribe an old millet song for his mother, Badai reflects the intimate relationship between his people, nature, and the universe.
“Mother’s Millet Field” provides an insight into the issues facing indigenous Taiwanese as they seek to maintain their traditions in a society where their lives, culture, and ways of thought are constantly under the pressure of change. The only thing that remains constant is the mother’s innocent search for a millet field of her own, accompanied by the ancient tune.
1Tamapima, Topas, “The Last Hunter.” Trans. John Balcom. Indigenous Writers of Taiwan: An Anthology of Stories, Essays, & Poems. New York: Columbia University Press. 2005, p. 16. Print
Chung Chihwei, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Puyuma writer Badai (b. 1962; Chinese name Lin Erlang) was born in the village of Damalakau in Taitung County’s Peinan Township. Badai is his tribal name. He is a graduate of National Tainan University’s Graduate Institute of Taiwan Culture. Before turning to writing, Badai was a professional soldier. An award-winning author, his “Mountain Village” (2002) and other works have won a series of literary prizes. When his Sorceress Diguwan: The Damalakau Tribe in the Taisho Era (2007) was awarded the National Museum of Taiwan Literature’s “Taiwan Literature Award,” Badai became Taiwan’s most celebrated aboriginal writer so far this century.
Most of Badai’s works speak of the people and stories of his home: the Damalakau Tribe in Peinan Township, Taitung County. He cites historical documents extensively to give detailed accounts of local life, but then uses the fictional plots and form to tell his stories. Multiple viewpoints, spanning different ethnicities, languages and economic statuses introduce an interplay of differences. In this way, he brings into high relief the historical changes that aboriginal people went through in the war and its wake.
Badai’s most ambitious work to date is the full-length novel Passing By: The Story of a Taiwanese Aboriginal Veteran (2010), for which he received a grant from the National Culture and Arts Foundation. The story is told in the first-person by Kashayi, a Damalakau tribesman who is conscripted to fight in China during the period of Japanese rule in Taiwan. Caught up in the Chinese Civil War, Kashayi ends up being stranded in China, almost half a century passing before he can return to his homeland. Passing By is a milestone for Badai, in terms of its breadth in space and time and its formal presentation and content.
In May of 2014, the Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature at National Chung Cheng University held a conference entitled “The Chants of the Seqalu—the Sixth International Academic Forum on Badai and Aboriginal Culture.” The most important academic event on Badai to date, the conference is an illustration of the significance of Badai in contemporary Taiwanese literature. Other recent works by Badai include Mazizir (2010) and White Deer of Love (2012).
|Work(English)：||Mother’s Millet Field|
|Anthology：||Songs of the Earth: Literature from Taiwan’s Mountains and Forests|
|Publisher：||National Museum of Taiwan Literature Translation Grant Program|
|ISBN：||Not yet published|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://tivb.pixnet.net/blog|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Taiwan Indigenous Voice Biography Magazine|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.nmtl.gov.tw/en/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||National Museum of Taiwan Literature|