Sunday, October 23, 2011

Books: Song of Orchid Island

Like the author's Chingchuan Story, Song of Orchid Island is an engaging first-person account of life and missionary work alongside indigenous people. Not published in English until 2006 (two decades after the Chinese-language version was a local bestseller), it was in fact written back in the early 1970s, just after Martinson had spent a year on Orchid Island (also known as Lanyu, 蘭嶼).

The island has changed a great deal since then. Martinson describes serious poverty and widespread, though never fatal, malnutrition. Age-old traditions were still observed, for example the requirement that fathers change their names to match their eldest sons':

"The man's name was Jayud. The son's name was also Jayud. The reason their names were the same was not because the boy had been named after his father, but because the father had been named after his son. Jayud explained that when a couple had their first child, the father changed his name to that given the child."

In one memorable episode, Martinson leads his students on a walk to another village many of them had never visited.

"At least two dozen of the mothers and fathers were going with us. The men wore armor and carried spears to protect their children from the spirits."

The book's 55 black-and-white photos, all taken by Martinson, are excellent. To buy this book, directly contact the publisher, Tau Books, or visit the specialist website

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