Wang Huiting, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The indigenous peoples of Taiwan did not develop written scripts but instead passed down their history, culture, and knowledge word of mouth. This kind of oral production and dissemination is known as “oral literature.” From ancient times, stories of indigenous people’s migrations, their victories and defeats, their forebears’ hopes and aspirations, and their accumulated knowledge have all been transmitted orally. Traditionally, tribal elders used these stories to instruct younger generations, passing on their ancestors’ feelings, ideas, and fantasies about the world in which they lived. With the rapid loss of aboriginal languages, indigenous oral literature is at now risk of extinction. Currently, efforts are being made to record orally transmitted literature in written form, so that later generations can learn about their ancestral culture through the written word. “Pali’s Red Eyes,” by Ahronglong Sakinu, is the written record of an oral work that recounts the traditional myths and legends handed down by the Paiwan people.
In the past, the Paiwan people invariably grew areca palms on their tribal lands. Betel nuts – the fruit of the areca - are an indispensable gift item in daily life, a key component of wedding invitations and religious rites. Why is the betel nut so important and where did the areca trees come from? “Pali’s Red Eyes” recounts the origin of the areca palm and its place in Paiwan culture.
The legend is highly symbolic. Young Pali is cast out and lives a solitary life because of his deadly red eyes. The coming of the child Baolang enables Pali to enjoy good relations with the tribespeople for a short time. But then tragedy strikes. When a bumblebee removes the tissue-like bamboo membrane covering Pali’s eyes, his deadly vision inadvertently causes him to slay several children. The tribespeople hate and fear him, and once more he leaves to go and live in seclusion deep in the mountains. In the end, his enemies cut off his head, but Pali does not blame the tribespeople. After his death, he is transformed into an areca tree and stands guard over the tribe, as he did in life.
The story illustrates how the Paiwan people regard moral character and virtue, and their subtle understanding of how the world works. Pali is both a staunch protector and extremely forgiving; Baolang has a pure heart and is kind to his friends; Baolang’s grandmother speaks with wisdom; the tribe’s adults are mistrustful of Pali and estranged from him. This story, passed down by the Paiwan people for generations, shows how they imagine the origin of the indispensable and sacred crop, the betel nut tree. Even today, tribal elders still point to the distant areca trees and tell their young people, “Those are Pali’s eyes, protecting the tribe, watching over our people.”
Ahronglong Sakinu (b. 1972) was born in Lalaulan Village in Taimali, Taitung County. Ahronglong Sakinu is his Paiwan name; his Chinese name is Dai Zhiqiang. In 2000 he won the Wu Yongfu Literature Award and was selected as one of ten great writers by the R.O.C. Executive Yuan Council for Cultural Affairs. In his hometown, Sakinu is known as “the Dream Maker.”
Sakinu worked on the South-link rail line and subsequently entered the police academy. His first work, The Sage Hunter (1998), a down-to-earth description of tribal life and memory, received the Wu Yongfu Literature Award in 2000. On working as an urban police officer, Sakinu has said, “I like police work. It’s like I’m ‘hunting,’ week after week, to support my family. A hunter has to love his job. I like writing, too, but it’s not my end goal. My goal is to share the values of my tribe.” Sakinu is now stationed in Taidong.
Until the age of eighteen, Sakinu could not speak his tribe’s language, but he was subtly influenced by his father’s Paiwan knowledge and way of thinking. “My father always told me that my genes came from Nature, that we are ‘Nature’s mouthpieces,’ that the boundaries of my life are this mountain or those mountains. It’s not like Taipei people—clocking in, clocking out.” Sakinu’s father had a profound influence on him. This is indicated more clearly still in the subtitle to Windwalker, published in 2002: “My father, the Hunter.”
Just as the Paiwan tribe’s best hunters are known as “windwalkers” (i.e. those who “open up a path for the wind”), so Sakinu’s works can be said to have opened up a new road for the traditional life values of his tribe. Recent works of his include Pali’s Red Eyes (2003) and Grandfather’s Sea (2011).
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=7600
|Work(English)：||Pali’s Red Eyes|
|Anthology：||Pali’s Red Eyes|
|Language：||Bilingual (Traditional Chinese – English)|
|Translator：||Third Nature Publishing Co. Ltd|
|Literary Genre：||Myth and Legend|
|Publisher：||Third Nature Publishing Co. Ltd|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010214466|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010214466|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|