The Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan is famed for its ethereal lake, pristine forests and world renown cycling path. It is one of the more touristy site in Taiwan, with busloads of Chinese tourists descending upon this lake everyday.
Beyond its natural beauty, this is also where the Thao people live, the smallest of all of the recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan (numbered only 281 people in 2000). In spite of their small number and being assimilated in the mainstream Taiwanese culture, Thao people have retained their customs, traditional beliefs and language.
Ita Thao (Thao village) today is a vibrant small town with hordes of tourists-centered businesses; restaurants, hotels, boat rides, etc. But wandering away from the lake, I came upon an old village with traditional houses. The place looked deserted, only a few dogs and cats wandered the dirt roads that connected the houses. Walking further into the village, I saw a woman sweeping the front law of her house, and an old couple sitting on rocking chairs calming their dog, who was barking at me. The few people I came upon were friendly and I could wander around freely.
There were some beautiful painting depicting the Thao people and their way of life hanging all over the village. Unfortunately I didn’t meet anyone who could tell me why all these paintings were hung outside the houses; almost like open-air gallery.
In a world where mainstream identity is constantly encroaching on the minority cultures, I wonder how it must feel to be a Thao with less than 300 people to keep the identity going or passing their traditions to future generations.
Wish you were here,