Ahronglong Sakinu, who is also a forest ranger, has for many years now been active in cultural circles in his status as an indigenous author. (photo by Chuang Kung-ju)
Looking more closely, there are three wooden structures standing next to Sakinu’s home. It turns out that these are the shared spaces for the newly founded “Tepes” clan, which is led by Sakinu. It includes the “Primitive House,” used for clan gatherings and open activities; the “Hunters’ Lodge,” used for men’s training sessions and gatherings; and the “Women’s Workshop,” which can only be entered by women and is attached to the offices of the Hunter School. Tomorrow will be an important day on which will be held a ritual to mark the founding of the new clan, and a ceremony marking the completion of the buildings’ construction.
What’s surprising is that membership of Sakinu’s clan is not limited by blood ties. Members come from all over: besides people of the Paiwan tribe, they also include Puyuma, Amis, and Truku people, as well as a number of Han Chinese, and even an Australian who has become part of the clan through marriage. Altogether the clan comprises seven households and five unmarried persons.
“A few days ago,” Sakinu recounts to his family, “I was sitting in the meeting place, looking at the sculptures in the room. It was dark all around, though there happened to be light from the doorway. Suddenly tears began to flow down my face, and I felt filled with a sense of the sacred. I kept on giggling like a fool and telling myself, ‘You’ve done it! Although no one understands you, it’s enough if you understand yourself.’”
The words “it’s enough if you understand yourself” seem like a fitting summary of Sakinu’s course over the last 20-plus years.
Although most people recognize Sakinu for his status as an indigenous author, besides writing, in his mind he has always embraced an even more ambitious utopian vision, and aspired to put it into practice.
This aspiration originated in the unique background of his childhood years. Lalaulan, where he grew up, was a mixed village of both Amis and Paiwan people, due to compulsory relocation and combination during the era of Japanese rule. The Paiwan were in the minority, and this, along with their intermingling with other tribes, led to a rapid loss of Paiwan culture. Although elders could speak Paiwan, they wore Amis clothing, and celebrated traditional Amis festivals with the Amis. In fact, quite a few tribe members didn’t even know they were Paiwan.
In the 1990s, when the indigenous movement surged, Sakinu, who had just graduated from the police academy and was working in Taipei, got caught up in the trend of that time and grew curious about his own identity. Besides self-study, he also relied on oral statements from his father and tribal elders. He made personal investigations and pro-actively consulted indigenous cultural workers. Drawing on a variety of sources, bit by bit he was able to reconstruct the life histories of tribe members.
Core values for Taiwan
As he did so, Sakinu quickly realized that the essence of traditional Aboriginal culture lies in such things as humility and respect toward all living things, modes of interaction and communication rooted in indigenous people’s being at one with nature, and the body language exhibited during the hunt. These are precious universal values that are strikingly absent from modern society.
“What are Taiwan’s core values?” Sakinu loves to ask people this question. And he has already received an answer from his mother culture.
“First, you must be good to others.” He says that kindness and goodwill are at the root of everything. That’s why he treats people as he would want to be treated by others, and his home is always open to others.
“Secondly, you must have a sense of aesthetics.” What Sakinu means by “aesthetics” is not a reference to any specific artwork, but rather is a characteristic dignity of the human spirit that is displayed in every action. It is something akin to the chivalry of medieval European knights or the Bushido code of Japan.
“Finally, you have to have an understanding of the land and the environment.” Although Taiwanese enjoy mountain hiking, in their attitudes they are not really attached to the mountains, and have little interaction with nature. But Sakinu says that their attitude toward nature is crucial to the “style, sense, and class” of the Taiwanese people.
These insights have not only become sustenance for Sakinu’s spirit, through their practice in daily life they have accumulated into cultural substance. Ultimately, he hopes that he can contribute this heritage to the entire world.
From a book to a school
Therefore, besides setting an example for others, Sakinu has also contributed his personal effort and dedicated himself unwaveringly to cultural work.
In 2002 Sakinu’s second book, Wind Walker, was published. It describes how he once again followed in his father’s footsteps to go and hunt in the mountain forests. This book not only later came to be seen as his most representative work, it also became the starting point for his founding the Hunter School.
So what is actually taught at the Hunter School? Sakinu and his students are unwilling to reveal too much. All we are allowed to know is that there is a four-stage curriculum going from easy to difficult, with each session lasting three to five days, and that each winter, the mountain forests of all Hualien and Taitung become their classroom.
In terms of pedagogy, the Hunter School departs from the mainstream approach of spoon-feeding knowledge into children. Instead it focuses mainly on spiritual training. For example, in first-level classes Sakinu has the students learn to walk in the dark, to overcome their fears and awaken their suppressed inner potential. As for skills like identifying wild plants and outdoor survival techniques, which are the first things most people ask about, these are learned naturally through action.
A community within a community
Over the last decade and more, school staff estimate that more than 100 people have come here to take classes, though only a dozen or so have completed all four stages. But there are quite a few people who, because they identify with Sakinu’s ideals, remain at his side and develop long-term, close relations. They call Sakinu “elder brother” and he calls them “younger brother” or “younger sister,” and they see each other as family.
Moreover, after long years of training these students not only gradually advance to become core members of the Hunter School, but because they are kindred spirits they stay in close contact with each other under Sakinu’s leadership.
Although from an outsider’s perspective the Hunter School may seem to be nothing more than just another organization, because the members share common spiritual goals, their emotional connections are closer than with their own blood relations, making them seem like a newly born tribe within the indigenous community.
Last year, Sakinu resolutely decided to donate family land and called on these younger brothers and sisters to help him build a real and substantial space for his clan. Clan members located all over Taiwan—who have long since ceased to be mere students—responded en masse, contributing money or labor according to their circumstances.
A modern indigenous path
Many people mistakenly assume that Sakinu’s actions are all based on reconstructing tradition, but this is not the case. For example, his clan is tied together by a shared spirit and ideals, and is not defined by blood ties. Also, the three wooden buildings mentioned earlier are not traditional Paiwan flagstone structures, but combine Japanese and Filipino styles, while also striving for both functionality and aesthetics. And when he led the way in proposing the Hunter School ten-plus years ago, he not only emphasized the training of young women, but when devising the students’ uniforms he also adapted the complex, heavy attire of traditional Paiwan costume into simple, lightweight garments. The road that Sakinu is walking is a new one that his forebears dared not consider and dared not embark on.
On May 26, Sakinu’s Tepes clan was formally established. The name “Tepes” was chosen for the clan by Sakinu’s father. In Paiwan, it means “a place with lush plants and trees, twisted, intertwined roots, and fertile soil, that all people want to claim for their own.” But Sakinu by no means aims to keep this abundant and prosperous new land to himself. He says: “I am only an insignificant writer and police officer. If the things you do are great, you will see that the sustenance you give to others can be transformed into a great deal of energy, and this is an important gift that you can give to Taiwan.”