Seediq, an Endangered Aboriginal Tribe and Language in Taiwan

Seediq, an Endangered Aboriginal Tribe and Language in Taiwan
Photo Credit:Corbis / TPG Images
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Only 25,000 people still speak the endangered Seediq language.

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By Abhinash Das

Human history is full of examples of the struggles between indigenous peoples and colonial powers.

The Seediq tribe (賽德克族), one of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan, has a similar history of fighting for their rights against the Japanese colonial power that occupied the island from 1895 to 1945.

Today the Seediq tribe only has a population of 8,994 and its language is classified as a critically endangered language.

The term “Seediq” refers to both the people and their language. The Seediq language is a part of the Austronesian language family and it is made up of three major dialects: Truku, Toda, and Tgdaya. The Truku dialect is also shared by the Truku (or Taroko) tribes.

Before the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1895, the Seediq people lived in the mountains of Wushe (霧社) where they lived a life of independence and isolation from the outside world. The Seediq people were known for their unique facial tattoos and features.

中和區長端節前夕探視國寶級文面阿嬤(1)
Photo Credit: CNA
Ipay Sayung, a famous Seediq facial tattoo artist.

The tribe maintained autonomous and self-governed lives without any outsider’s interruption; however, this was disrupted when the Japanese invaded Taiwan. The relationship between the Japanese colonizers and the indigenous peoples of Taiwan was marked by conflict as many tribal communities resisted the island's occupation.

One of the more significant confrontations is known as the Wushe incident (or Musha incident).

In 1930, the Seediq people, led by Mona Rudao, decided to attack the Japanese during a sports event being held by the Japanese in the village of Wushe. On that day, the revolters broke into an unguarded weapon storage area and killed 134 people, including women and children. The response from the Japanese troops was fierce as they sent in troops to quell the uprising. The Seediq fought, and ultimately lost, the battle against the Japanese in December 1930; however, the resistance became a symbol of the fight for indigenous people's rights.

In an interview on YouTube, Takun Walis, a descendant of Seediq tribe, explains how his people took a stand in history.

The Wushe incident has also been immortalized in film. The film Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Seediq Bale means “real Seediq or a real person”) directed by Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖), is based on the Wushe Incident. What makes this film especially unique is that the actors speak the Seediq language. The film gained popularity in the Seediq community and was eventually nominated for a Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival in 2011.

In the last seven decades, ever since the Kuomintang arrived in Taiwan in the late 1940s, the Seediq tribe people were classified wrongly as a subgroup of the Atayal people to make it easier to administer them. In April 2008, the Seediq tribe finally received official recognition as Taiwan’s 14th indigenous group.

賽德克巴萊 Seediq Bale 霧社事件
Photo Credit: 賽德克巴萊 Seediq Bale
Film still from Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

In the last few years, the Seediq tribe has been making a comeback as members of the community have been attempting to revitalize ancestral customs and bring Seediq art to the wider public.

However, the Seediq people and their language still face challenges as many Taiwanese indigenous people are forced to learn Mandarin and English for better socio-economic and educational opportunities.

Digital documentation of the Seediq language, including audio and visual resources, is needed to keep it alive for the next generation. One notable work about the Seediq tribe includes Apay Ai Yu Tang’s research paper, which suggests ways to conserve and sustain the language. Some other existing documentation includes Turku Hymnbook (1994), Chang (2000), Turku Concise Dictionary (2006), etc. The University of Hawaii's linguistics department and the linguistic society at the university's Language Documentation Training Center have made some efforts to the documentation process of the language.

But to truly preserve the Seediq language, much more needs to be done.


The News Lens has been authorized to publish this article from Global Voices, a border-less, largely volunteer community of more than 1400 writers, analysts, online media experts, and translators.

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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