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Ethnographic Collections of the Taiwanese Indigenous People:

The Division of Ethnology's academic and practical concerns are mainly focused on the collection, management and interpretation of ethnographic collections of different social and cultural systems. The purpose is to enhance cultural understanding and social development. The overall development strategy of the Division includes
1. stress interdisciplinary research in cultural forms and social relationships and
2. engage in the establishment of a natural history and socio-cultural history which lean towards humanities and social sciences research. The Division also aims to explore the relationship between man and nature, man and other men, and man and self across time and culture. The most important tasks of the Division are to assume the regional integrity and systematic research and collection as its responsibility; capture the knowledge trends in contemporary cultural research and its achievements; present the diversity of socio-cultural systems and the interaction in between; pass on the ways in which every ecology adjusts itself; protect endangered social heritage; and promote the creation of an advanced environment which preserves culture.

From the end of the 19th century onwards, since human history entered the state, society and market economy of modern times, tribal traditions, community wisdom, material culture, and artistic accomplishments have vanished speedily. Not only were the existing tribal/community culture and traditional wisdom robbed and stolen, the self-structured social system has also been deconstructed. The result is countless marginal souls who have lost their cultural roots and wandered between tribal communities and the world outside. The surge of the local culture movement during the 1980s brought a wave of cultural construction in Han communities. In contrast, there exists an universal shortage of homeland education and social educational resources in the aboriginal communities. Furthermore, they lack necessary basic cultural institutions. They are disconnected to knowledge of life and tribal/community wisdom. They also do not fit in with the requirements of the greater society. Understanding between other cultures is almost embarrassingly non-existent or meager.

The current task of the Division of Ethnology not only focuses on ethnographic collections from Taiwan alone, but is also gradually expanding to collecting specimens from mainland China and other countries around the world. In fact, the traditional role the Division of Ethnology plays at the National Museum is changing. The basic functions and social responsibilities of the Division are awaiting further expansion and deepening. The Division¡¦s job has transformed from static to dynamic, from a single discipline to one who seeks interdisciplinary cooperation in the collection of and research in indigenous culture in Taiwan. We are starting to pay more attention to the active roles aboriginal/civil communities¡¦ knowledge and opinions should play in the research and interpretation of social culture.

Based on the aforementioned historical and cultural background, we have made the National Museum our base in the attempt to construct a Division of Ethnology that crosses the boundary between sciences and culture, accommodates a multitude of cultural and natural history, and seeks to interpret the abundance of rich but obscure academic research results on the indigenous people in Taiwan. This division will also stress the social side of the collected specimens, open up the basic characteristics of traditional Han social culture and indigenous culture. Furthermore, the new course for museum ethnology will combine the current needs for both future and current developments of aboriginal tribes and the Han society.

Museum ethnology in Taiwan also needs to be capable of representing the distant past and the wide-ranging world culture to the local indigenous people. In terms of conceptual structure, museum ethnology stresses a complete and comparative interdisciplinary collection and research within a specific area. Also as it is deeply aware of the dialectic relationship between subjectivity and the contextuality of events, museum ethnology requires that original material and specimens be acquired through long-term, in-depth, and intensive field studies. It also attempts to explore the unique features of objects and society. The reason for including a system of objects into the collection and the documentation of museum ethnology is often not because that it fits in with practical everyday usage, but because it reminds us of the past and satisfies our desire for the authenticity and continuity of the nature of the natural world, society, and man.

Research of the Division of Ethnology currently focuses on East Asia, Mainland China and coastal Southeast Asia. The major tasks include:

  1. projects of the Regional Ethnography and the Interdisciplinary Collection, Research, Education and Exhibition of aboriginal societies and cultures in Taiwan;
  2. collection of and research on artifacts by the Han people in Taiwan;
  3. ethnographic collections from southwest China;
  4. establishment of a database system for ethnographic collections from the Taiwanese Austronesian tribes and peoples of coastal Southeast Asia;
  5. anthropological research by the Museum,
  6. development of a sound collection management system. Currently, Anthropology Group focuses primarily on collections of and researches on local Taiwanese cultures.

At present, the ethnographic collections in the Division are categorized under two titles: 1) ethnographic collections from Austronesians (including those in Taiwan and New Guinea) and ethnic minorities in southwest China, and 2) architectural elements, religious artifacts, manuscripts, drawings, tapes, videos of religious ceremonies and other objects of the Han people in Taiwan and Fujian and Guangdong provinces in mainland China.

There are more than 8,000 pieces of collections in the Division and the number is still going up. The staff of the Division include one full-time associate researcher, one full-time assistant researcher and one technician. The Division has devoted itself to the study of aborigines and Hans in Taiwan for three years and published several research papers, including "Objects, Social Life and People-A Case Study on The Material Culture of the Taiyal Tribe" in 1999, "Literature and Art Resources of Aborigines-A Case Study on the Taiyal Tribe in Taichung County" in 2000, "The Yami Language: A Corpus of Aboriginal Language Data and Phrases" in 2000, "Reconstruction of Traditional Housing Culture and Heritage and Collective Memories-The Post-921 Quake Recovery of the Jiang-liao-Hsiang Community of Dong-Shih Town and the Shihgang Community" in 2001. Other highlights include two annual special exhibitions: "Museum Collections: An Exploration into Order and Changes" from July 28, 2000 to June 3, 2001 and "Homeland of the Austronesians" from August 3, 2001 to January 3, 2002. The Division is also undertaking a three-year guide training program in collaboration with the Science Education Group and has produced documentaries and teaching videos entitled "Plants and Culture of the Tsou Tribe in Ali Mountain," "Plants and Culture of the Yami Tribe," and "Flying Fish Season." The construction project of the "Bio/Cultural Diversity Digital Museum" is also in smooth process.

With a focus on people and culture, the Division intends to tell the public that the science education program of "Tribe/Community Participation," exhibitions and performances are not designed merely to show the care for the development of cultural and ethnic identity in a society. They are of much higher value; that is, to present the societal functions and significance of multilingualism and multi-culturalism and to stress the importance of experience exchange with other cultures. No matter directly or indirectly, people and citizens constitute an inevitable and natural part of both collection management and cultural interpretation, which, in turn, have the mandate to introduce the concept of multicultural citizenship into modern Taiwanese society. With the aboriginal/Han people and their respective tribal/community cultures as subjects, the Division exhibits relative objects and symbols, inspect the interrelations between people, nature, culture and history, and study and record cultures. In the process, the aborigines can better interpret and uphold their right to their own culture while the Han people are provided an opportunity to understand other cultures from an appropriate perspective. This also offers us an opportunity to reflect upon the crisis that the essence and strength of local cultures may someday be engulfed in capitalism and westernization.

Through collection management, research, exhibitions, performances, education programs and other culture interpretation activities, the Division of Ethnology will continue to explore the dominance relations concealed under the forms of cultures and to find out the uniqueness of collections in different settings. By so doing, the Division hopes to promote multicultural social education and encourage active cultural mobilization in tribes and communities.

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