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Compass Magazine, March 2003

Ken Chih-yu brings Taiwan's Aboriginal villages to TV audiences


By Cheryl Robbins

       Ken Chih-yiu (根誌優) is a Taiwan success story. He came from a poor family, but has been able to build a career for himself as a tour operator, head of a publishing company, and TV producer and host.

       It is for "In Search of Taiwan's Aboriginal Villages" (台灣部落尋奇) that Ken is best known. Each week, the show highlights different aboriginal villages, explaining their history, current cultural makeup, tourist attractions, residents and ecological features. Ken is working not only to increase awareness of Taiwan's Aborigines, but also to complete Taiwan's most exhaustive survey on the history and culture of the island's indigenous people.

       Ken, a member of the Saisiyat tribe (賽夏族) from Nanjhuang Township in Miaoli (苗栗南庄), recalls: "As a child, my grandfather took me hunting and to work in the fields. He also taught me how to weave baskets and told me stories of the history of the Saisiyat."

       Due to his family's tight financial situation, Ken was forced to leave Nanjhuang at the age of 16 to find work. On visits back to Nanjhuang, he started asking the elderly people what they knew of its history. "I realized that, if I didn't start recording their knowledge, Saisiyat culture might well disappear," he explains.

      He has applied that same logic to Taiwan's other tribes to create his popular show. Over the past seven years, Ken and his crew have visited more than 300 of the island's 500-plus aboriginal villages. His work has caught the attention of Discovery and National Geographic.

       "We check French, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese histories. But, we don't rely on these records. We go to the villages and talk with the people there to check, double check and triple check every piece of information before anything is put on the air," says Ken.

       He is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in Taiwan about the migrations of the various tribes, saying this knowledge has been gained by going into villages and asking elderly people about their settlement’s history: "I gain bits and pieces of information from each person I talk to, then I put these pieces together."

       Ken says that, when he first began producing his show, he was not always welcomed in the villages, despite being an Aborigine himself. "Some of the people in the villages were afraid that I would sell them or their culture out. They didn't trust me. But, once the show had been on for a year or so, people understood that my goal is to provide the most genuine portrayal of Aboriginal life in Taiwan," he recalls.

      To build trust, Ken says he completely respects the way of life in every village. "I sleep where there is a space, sometimes on the floor or in a church. I eat what the people in the village eat. And, in that way, I really learn about each village." In addition, getting to some of the remote villages sometimes requires hiking deep into thick forest, or along narrow mountain precipices.

       Ken is willing to put himself at risk to produce his show because he understands its importance: "If Aborigines do not use the media to allow the public to understand them, the public will never have an accurate impression of Aborigines or understand the importance of preserving their culture." For such reasons, Ken is planning to continue his quest to record an essential facet of Taiwan's culture.

       "In Search of Taiwan's Aboriginal Villages" airs on ETTV's variety channel (東森綜合台) on Saturdays from 6-7pm.

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