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Discover Taiwanese indigenous tribes through their music

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The east coast of Taiwan is a location for great historical and cultural exploration. The Taitung City and County in particular is recognised as a hub of Taiwan’s indigenous culture throughout the island. Out of the Taiwanese population only 2% are aboriginal, but a whole 15% of the Taitung area is made up of people pertaining to such indigenous tribes, representing a span of up to half of the nation’s tribes. 

Aboriginal tribes in Taiwan, like those across the world, face very uncomfortable socio-economic barriers due to lack of access to education and restricted employment possibilities. Since there's a constant struggle for self-determination and development on a political and economical level, there's a strong emerging sense of ethnic pride bubbling through to the surface - in Taitung specifically, as it's even hosting the Austronesian Cultural Festinal by which tribe members promote aboriginal culture.

These indigenous groups are very well known for their strong artistic drive and being highly dedicated to making music; they introduce elements of their tribal spirits into pop culture through tunes and tracks of popular appreciation.  Since music is the main channel for promotion of aboriginal practices, Taitung has set up a space for such tribes to showcase their talents and reach out to visitors from afar, working to uphold the tradition as much as possible to them.

Taitung’s Tiehau Village provides indigenous musicians with a stage to perform and interact with a wider audience, hosting live music from Wednesdays to Sundays, as well as a local food and handicrafts market on weekends, finally constructing the home for a small, distinct community to counteract the lack of live-music venues in the county. 

The initiative started roughly seven years ago, in 2010, springing from the bare remains of an old railway workers’ dormitories adjacent to the central station. 

It’s a breath of fresh air on so many levels. A bell jar of summer in the middle of a city, the area is an exemplification of warm evenings under the stars. Strolling down the market like in a bohemian movie, dancing under small colorful lanterns and to the tempo of the crackle of bright bonfires, passersby are enveloped in a soft coastal vibe as the pacific breeze sweeps away the sense of cramming between 24-hour convenience stores and overrated coffee chains. Aboriginal bands play soft and relaxing tunes, sculptors and artists can showcase and exhibit their work, craftsmen sell intricately designed tote-bags and handmade jewels. 

On our visit, the band playing was Lan-Sin, a local band bringing together members of various different vibes. They lulled the crowd through the evening with tunes in memory of victims of typhoons as well as more upbeat, clapping along tunes with stealthy guitar strums and belching vocals. For our second night on the island, it felt like we'd never known anything but that - really managing to connect with the indigenous feel and truthful pith of the culture we were experiencing.

“For a lot of musicians, the fact that this place has a lot of indigenous color is very reassuring – it allows indigenous musicians to feel like they’re performing at home, and not feel so ill at ease,” says a core member of a popular local indigenous band, when talking to journalist Owain Mckimm. “If you were to ask us to perform this music somewhere else, I think we’d feel very different.”  

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Sofia travelled to Taitung with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau on a ten-day trip cycling around the island.

In this series she'll explore lifestyle, culture, religion, food, nature and sporting opportunities that are available in Taiwan.

Visit the Taiwan Tourism Bureau on Facebook for insight on holidays in Taiwan and check out the events coming to the nation in the next few months.

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