October 12th, 2012
05:44 AM GMT
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(CNN) Laua Oyu looks younger than her 88 years as she sings and claps with her sister Yungeh. She smiles as she recalls the words of indigenous songs of her tribe and as her two year old great grand-niece looks up at her with wide eyes.
Dressed in the traditional clothes of Taiwan’s Atayal tribe, Oyu is determined to pass on the culture and language of her ancestors to the young of the village of Kayu, an hour outside of Taipei.
“The spirit of our ancestors is not passing onto the next generation,” she says. “Our young people are facing a dilemma between adapting to modern society and retaining traditional values, I’m really worried.”
Oyu has good reason to worry. Many young people have moved away from Kayu to the city to live and work and few know much about their indigenous roots.
The Atayal tribe moved to this mountainous area hundreds of years ago. A lack of written records before that make it hard to know just how old the tribe is.
But it has suffered along with other aboriginal groups at the hands of colonizing powers. During the 20th century, traditions and languages were banned and only in 1996 did the Taiwanese government start to make a concerted effort to protect some of this history.
The Taiwanese government has officially recognized fourteen tribes around the country in recent years. Other aboriginal groups are lobbying for acknowledgment in the hope that financial help will keep their history alive. Until then tribes like the Atayal have been turning to tourism as a means of support.
Deep in the mountains of Wulai district outside Taipei, for around $20 tourists can learn the culture and the songs of the Atayal tribe as well as dressing up in traditional clothes. They can even make rice the traditional way, beating ingredients in a wooden bucket with a long, heavy stick.
Ganyu Luo, visiting from Taipei, is supportive of the tribe’s attempts to pass on its culture and heritage.
“It is very important to learn (the Atayal) culture and to preserve it,” he says. “This is a great opportunity to do that.”
Also of the Atayal tribe, Biling Yugan teaches traditional weaving but only learnt the skill at the age of 45. She says her ancestors would have learnt the skill by the age of ten.
While she is happy to host tourists and teach weaving she still believes more is needed to keep her culture alive.
“The government subsidies are not enough, they’re not enough to make a living, but we have to keep going,” she says.
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