The Siraya 西拉雅族 are one of many “Pingpu” 平埔族 or Plains Aborigine peoples in Taiwan. Living on the West Coast, they were among the first to be subject to colonization (under the Dutch) and with large scale Chinese immigration in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they were mostly assimilated into mainstream society. As a result, their history is very different from the “Mountain” Aborigines (a category which includes those living in the Eastern Plains) whose territory was not conquered until the twentieth century. One of my new colleagues, Jolan Hsieh, a Siraya herself, has a forthcoming book from Routledge about the efforts of contemporary Pingpu Aborigines to assert their identity.

The PingPu Status Recognition Movement is the result of a decade of activism by impassioned people seeking the right to self-determination, autonomy, and tribal legitimacy from the Han-Chinese-controlled Taiwanese government.

I look forward to reading the book, as up till know I have mostly known about the Siraya from historical materials, most notably John Shepherd’s amazingly detailed account: Statecraft and Political Economy on the Taiwan Frontier, 1600- 1800. One tidbit I learned from that book has recently been written up in the China Post, namely, the long lasting effects of literacy learned from the Dutch in the seventeenth century:

The initial Sinkang Manuscripts contain bilingual deeds and contracts between the Siraya and Dutch with some written solely in Siraya. But, the existence of documents from as late as 1813 shows that the Siraya people used the script for 150 years after Dutch were gone. Many of the later manuscripts contain records of business dealings they had with Chinese and are written bilingually in Siraya and Chinese.

Via Language Hat and Pinyin News I’ve now learned that some of these documents are available online! The same site also has a wealth of information about Taiwan’s Pingpu Aborigines (in Chinese).

Stuff like this gets me excited about being where I am. I just wish I wasn’t so busy, so I could spend more time learning!

UPDATE: Edited for clarity.