Pingpu Names.

Via Kerim Friedman’s Facebook post comes Han Cheung’s very interesting Taipei Times piece on indigenous naming systems, among other things:

Bukin Syu has only been using his current name for two years, adopting it after he began studying the lost tongue of his Taivoan ancestors. The Taiovan are one of the Pingpu, or plains indigenous groups who are not recognized by the government, and they have been using Chinese names for so long that Bukin isn’t sure how their original naming system worked.

“Bukin means mountain, and my father’s Chinese name includes the character for mountain,” he writes in a display at the O ngangan no niyah (自己的名字, “our own names”) exhibition on indigenous names. His parents’ village, Siaolin (小林), was wiped out by a landslide caused by Typhoon Morakot, and the name further honors his destroyed homeland.

The exhibition, which opened in January at the National Central Library but is currently on view at Ketagalan Culture Center (凱達格蘭文化館) in Taipei’s Beitou District, details the varying naming customs of the 16 official indigenous groups, how they were forced to adopt Japanese and Chinese names and their struggle during the 1980s and 1990s to revert to their “true names.” […] As the Ketagalan Culture Center is named after the local Pingpu people, it makes sense that a new section on Pingpu names has been added here. […]

Indeed, there’s enough confusion in mainstream society about how existing indigenous naming systems work, but there’s even less discussion about the experience of modern Pingpu, who have suffered much greater loss of language and culture compared to the 16 groups. Aidu Timor of the Papora community can trace his family tree back to when they still used indigenous names, but he cannot work out a clear pattern in the naming system. His eighth-generation ancestor used both Chinese and Papora names, but several generations later only Chinese names were recorded. […]

The information is detailed and nuanced and easy to understand, and should clear up much of the confusion or misgivings that people may have toward indigenous names. The last part demonstrates how different each group’s naming systems are, and one of the displayed picture books, What’s Your Last Name? (請問貴姓), explains to Han Taiwanese that not every indigenous person has a surname, and it is definitely not the first character of their indigenous name.

Visit the link for more, including photos of the exhibition. I note with interest that the Wikipedia article on Taivoan (linked above) says:

Many scholars propose that the name of the island Taiwan actually came from the indigenous people’s name, as the pronunciation of Taivoan is similar to Tayovan, the people that the Dutch met around the coast of Anping or the bay around Anping, which later became the name Taiwan.

When I listened to the audio file, that possibility definitely occurred to me.


  1. Many scholars propose that the name of the island Taiwan actually came from the indigenous people’s name, …

    Victor Mair has talked about the name of Taiwan many times. The only thing that’s sure is it _doesn’t_ mean ‘terrace bay’ — that’s a Sinofication (臺灣/台灣) of the sound of the name.

    After whatever native name had passed through Dutch transcription, Portuguese (various spellings), various Chinese languages and their sound changes, I fear there’s little hope of recovering its origin.

    At the arrival of the Europeans, bringing in indentured labour from the mainland, then Chinese imperial control, all the indigenous peoples were shunted off the productive land areas — such as Anping/modern Tainan — and retreated into the mountains (where Siaolin is), or round to the rugged East Coast.

    ” … my father’s Chinese name includes the character for mountain,”

    There just aren’t any mountains around Anping: it’s alluvial silt. The muddy estuaries are great for rice paddies and fish farming; but the Dutch had to do their canal thing to make a decent port.

    The indigenous peoples went on hunting trips into the mountains, but when they got shunted out of the plains, they had to change their whole diet and way of life. Fortunately there was taro … There’s a mountain resort near Siaolin that specialises in taro delicacies. Full marks for inventiveness but … is taro [to be said in a Stephen Colbert mock-Russian accent].

  2. I wonder if the Kavalan distillery supports the eponymous community in any way. The site seems to be silent on it.

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