Yuyupas, a Tsou tribe cultural park, attracts a lot of visitors to explore the beauty of Alishan Mt. and the culture of the aboriginals. Picture: A young girl from the Tsou ethnic group introduces the new park and traditional cuisine. (File Photo/Chen Jun-wei)
"The high mountains are green, the gully waters are blue, the girls of Alishan are beautiful as the streams, the boys are as strong as the mountains..."
Many Chinese, enchanted by this Taiwanese indigenous folk song, used to visit mountainous Alishan in southern Taiwan hoping to glimpse the girls of Alishan, not realizing that most of the region's young had left for better jobs and moved to cities in search of a more exciting life.
Kuatu Akuyaana, 25, from the Taiwan's aboriginal Tsou ethnic group, returned to her hometown last year after completing her college education at central Taichung City's Taiwan College of Physical Education. She now works in a beverage store in Alishan.
Numbering barely 5,000, the Tsou, who inhabit Alishan, is one of the ethnic groups native to Taiwan.
"Like many other Tsou girls and boys, I used to be obsessed with urban life, but now I've come back," said Kuatu, while giving a tea art performance for visitors of Yuyupas, a Tsou cultural tribe park, in Leye Village in Alishan Township, Chiayi County.
"Finding jobs has become pretty difficult in the cities, but Yuyupas provides us a platform to showcase our traditional culture, find our identity, and most important of all, a stable salary," she said.
Established in June 2010 and covering an area of about two hectares, Yuyupas is located at about 1,200 meters above sea level in the mountainous Alishan area and is surrounded by extensive tea gardens.
Originating from the Tsou language, Yuyupas means "very rich." Together with Kuatu in the park are more than 60 Tsou young people. "My older and younger sisters also work here," Kuatu said.
Yapsuyongu Tiakiana, head of Yuyupas, said to attract youngsters to return to their hometown, the Tsou set up a cultural innovation industry association four years ago which then established the park.
"In the past, many aboriginal people migrated to the cities. Now, tourism and related businesses have helped reverse this tide. Being tribal is once again a matter of pride for the young," he said.
"The park creates a new model for developing tribal tourism. It's just like a thread. It links and revitalizes almost every aspect of the Tsou lifestyle, including agricultural production, tea tree plantation, leather crafts, traditional singing and dancing," he said.
He explained that the park's restaurant offers Tsou food which brings vegetables grown by the Tsou to the visitor's dinner table, and several small stores sell local tea and coffee products, as well as leather crafts produced by a total of six Tsou tribes. "The park is the Tsou people's craft studio and farm, and a base for their cultural innovation."
Earlier this month, an original two-hour outdoor performance by Tsou youngsters debuted in the park. The production was inspired by "Impression Liu Sanjie," a large-scale outdoor performance masterminded by the famous mainland director Zhang Yimou. The production had revived traditional Tsou nose flute playing, and ritual dancing, previously barely seen by non-Tsou people.
Kuatu said each member in the park has three specialities on average. "For example, I can give tea art performance, do some gardening work, and at the same time sing during our performance."
However, Tsou tribes were hit hard by the devastating Typhoon Morakot on Aug. 8 last year. Yapsuyongu Tiakiana said "The people are in dire need of a peaceful and stable life with houses to live in and good income to pay for their children's education fees. But apart from ensuring survival and economic development, we also aim to pass on and revive our endangered culture."
Presently many Tsou young do not know much about their tribal heritage and cannot speak the Tsou language, although some, like Kuatu, can understand it. "I'm trying hard to learn my language. It has become a must for me now," she said.
Although much of their traditional culture and heritage already lost, Tsou people who wish to to cherish and preserve their priceless cultural knowledge as well as their natural treasures are essential for the future of their people and livelihoods.
Tsou ethnic group 鄒族
Yuyupas Tsou cultural tribe park 優遊吧斯鄒族文化部落
Impression Liu Sanjie 印象劉三姐
Zhang Yimou 張藝謀
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