Monday, May 14, 2012

Xiaolin Pingpu Culture Museum

A few days ago, we visited the recently opened Xiaolin Pingpu Culture Museum (小林平埔族群文物館). It's a replacement for a small museum maintained inside Xiaolin Elementary School until landslides triggered by 2009's Typhoon Morakot obliterated the school and almost the entire village of Xiaolin. The original museum was the first devoted to Taiwan's lowland aborigines, Xiaolin being an outpost of the Siraya people. This ethnic group isn't recognized by Taiwan's government, but thanks to Xiaolin's remote location, tribe members there were able to preserve much of the culture.

The new two-floor museum (main hall pictured above) displays a great many traditional tools and implements, most of which are made of bamboo. There's almost no English. Those who can't read Chinese will be able to recognize the tiny banjos and equipment used for making mud bricks (pictured left), but they're unlikely to know which of the other items is in fact a mousetrap, and which was used for carrying water.

One display notes that in 1945, just before the end of Japanese colonial rule, 91 lowland aboriginal families were living here; 34 of them were headed by men surnamed Pan (潘), 30 by men surnamed Liu (劉) and seven by men called Xu (徐). Domination of a village by one or two surnames isn't unique to lowland aboriginal villages; it's also common in Han Chinese areas. There are also many poignant photos of old Xiaolin (such as the one on the right). You can't help but wonder how many of the people pictured are still alive.

The museum's address is 50 Wuli Road, Jiasian District, Kaohsiung City (甲仙區五里路50號), but an easy way to find it is to follow Highway 21 northwards from Jiaxian, and look for kilometer marker 223. The museum, plus several homes built to house survivors of Typhoon Morakot, are beside the road, on the right-hand side. The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to midday and 1pm to 5pm.

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