onsdag 9. juni 2021

Healing words: Taiwan’s tribes fight to save their disappearing languages

In a modest conference room near the edge of Taiwan’s Sun Moon Lake, Panu Kapamumu holds up an unwieldy A3 booklet. The home-printed document contains every known word of Thao, the language of his Indigenous tribe. Kapamumu runs his finger down the list, reading out a selection of Thao words, meanings and translations. He reads slowly and purposefully, a man in his sixties but still just a student of his mother tongue.

“Pastay piakolingkin piakaimahan. Ito Thao Panu Kapamumu,” he says. It translates in English to: “Everyone is safe and doing well. I am of the Thao people, Panu Kapamumu.” Normally, Kapamumu speaks in a mix of the two languages he knows better than his own – Chinese and English. “We believe in our ancestors’ spirits, so we treasure our own language and see it as more important than our own lives ... We have a right to survive,” he says.

Indigenous tribes of Taiwan are in a race against time to save their languages before they are lost forever. An estimated 35% of the 400,000 Indigenous people in Taiwan speak their native tongue fluently, but in some communities it’s far less.