回家的感覺,真好!

:::

1995 / 4月

文‧陳月桂 圖‧陳月桂


兩年多以前,本刊曾以「重回舊好茶」為題,報導好茶村的魯凱族人如何為重回舊部落而努力。

兩年後的今天,以作家歐威尼.卡露斯(邱金士)為首的幾位村民,已完成山上房舍的整修,並做久居的打算。這項「重回舊好茶」計畫的影響所及是:連頭目都已出資準備重修石板屋。「重回舊好茶」的理想,從此不再僅是紙上談兵而已。


「小時候就住在這裡,兄弟姊妹都睡在母親親手編織的搖籃裡。如今我已安頓好這個家,把靈魂掛在這裡,就可以安心寫作。」

三月五日,歐威尼.卡露斯在面向北大武山的舊好茶祖屋前,把最後一塊石板砌好,家的修護終告完竣。歐威尼祭告祖先,稍加佈置,即將開始一連串的寫作計畫。舊好茶家屋間斷了十五年之久的炊煙,再度飛揚於井布山下,翱翔在山裡的飛禽和活躍於森林裡的動物,也相互走告。

這石板屋的空間雖小,但每天清晨陽光從窗戶照入屋內,空氣中充滿溫暖和愉悅對歐威尼的影響卻很大,因為這裡不再是廢墟,而已經有了家的感覺。

重建石板家屋

歐威尼重回故居,和阿伊、獵人、小虎共四人,合力花了十五天把家修好。他們想工作就工作,想休息就停下來,不會勉強自己。他們利用鐵鎚、量尺、圓鍬、切刀等工具,先將橫樑固定,再將石板切割成合適的尺寸,利用傳統的方法一塊塊疊成厚石牆,屋頂則用石板一片片拼上去,石板屋即告完成。為了住起來更舒適,他還將屋內四周立面舖上石板;並在屋外建造一座傳統的廁所。

石板和橫樑是石板屋最主要的建材。以前蓋房子是部落大事,需要大家一起幫忙採石板。例如在紅棒木區上方的採石區,顏色較淺、質地較堅硬的石板,用來當成屋頂、房屋正面和地板。往台東山路上的另一個採石區,石板顏色較深,則是用來疊成石牆,「一片重達數百公斤的石板,往往需要幾個身強力壯的年輕人,花上大半天的時間才能搬到部落」,歐威尼說。

歐威尼目前所蓋的房子,因為人手不夠,只能利用棄置原址的石板為材料。由於石材能長久保存,舊料依然合用,不必費工夫再去採集。

橫樑也是就地取材,但卻先向原屋主打過招呼,也付了一些權利金。

一般橫樑在屋子裡可以保存得很久,由於屋內經常燒火取暖或煮食,燻煙使蛀蟲無法生存。也因為地心引力的關係,橫樑久了之後會慢慢下垂。雖然下垂的幅度很小,但人們就會用兩年一次整修的機會,將橫樑翻轉過來以抗地心引力,如此即可週而復始地利用。

約兩年之後,由於地震、颱風等影響,石板會有些滑動,有時也會漏雨,於是得定時將屋頂石板翻掀整修。這種整間不用任何釘子的石板建築,整修起來卻很方便。

房子要有精神

魯凱族人房屋後高前矮的設計,具有防禦敵人的功能。

以前屋子的窗戶很小,僅容頭可伸出。從防禦的觀點來看,由於男性多出外工作打獵,家中多為婦孺,若有不懷好意的陌生人進來,婦女在這種建築裡較易防禦入侵者,「或許這也就是為什麼魯凱族的人數這麼少,卻能在強鄰環伺的環境中生存下來」,歐威尼說。

魯凱的家屋都有一個家名,代表一個家氏,作為屋內成員象徵的姓氏,也代表其在部落裡身分和地位。家名選用的規則是繼承制,家屋和家名是一起的,每一家氏原則上是長子繼承。

歐威尼的家名叫做卡里斯曼,在魯凱語是中樞之意,「不只是具象的中心,也是抽象的中央之意」,歐威尼解釋,以前祖先勤奮善獵,經常有多餘食物提供給部落族人食用,不論是吃的、獵的,都來家裡拿。

中柱是家中最神聖的地方,也是家中的守護神。頭目家中柱會雕上家氏來源的故事,神聖的區域從中柱一直延伸到後室牆側的神龕上(擺設家中神聖的陶壺),歐威尼的祖先屬於二等貴族,後來因與平民姑娘結婚,輩分逐漸低落,所以家中並沒有雕刻。

每一棟家屋又分主屋、附屬屋、前庭三個單元,前二者為內部、後者為外部空間。主屋是最重要的空間,右邊是好的方位,左邊是壞的方位,全家人舖「月桃席」而睡。

魯凱和排灣族一樣都是行室內葬,顧名思義就是把死人埋在石板屋底下,他們傳統的觀念認為,「自己的祖先又不是動物,為什麼要葬在野外,任其受風霜之苦」,歐威尼解釋。

祖先就在石板下

埋葬的方式是把死人彎成躬坐姿勢,用布包好,但讓其右手掌伸出在外,表示「請用右手賜福你的家族」之意。再由長子或最親近之人將屍體放入墓穴,面朝日落處,因為魯凱族人相信,人的死亡有如太陽西下。墳墓就在石板底下,儘量挖深以免臭氣外洩而致家人對死者的不滿。

下葬後,把泥土、石板復原,石板空隙用火爐中的碳灰填緊,然後舖上草席,由安葬的親人睡在上面二十天。

歐威尼表示,死者各有不同的埋葬位置。自然死亡的男性埋於中心柱前、女性葬於寢台下。意外死亡的只能埋在中心柱右後方堆放柴火之處,自殺的人則葬於中心柱左後方,他們都沒資格和正常死亡者葬在一起,目的是要避免這戶人家不再發生類似的意外事件。

這種傳統使得死人永遠不寂寞,因為他們距活人只有一板之隔。如果死人有知,定能知曉屋內發生的一切事情。因此魯凱老人家常說在屋內不可亂罵人或說粗話,以免引起地底下祖先的不悅。若有外人在屋外對家人叫罵,地下的祖先會對叫罵的人不利,他們相信死者也可保護家人不受外來侵害。

據好茶老人表示,日本統治時經過長期的努力,並給予厚重的喪禮,才說服喪家將死者葬於屋外。聽說當時族人多痛不欲生,因為他們認為,死去的親人將被棄置荒郊野外,永不得安寧。

由於魯凱族人對祖先如此敬重,因此他們去喝酒前都會用手沾兩三滴酒灑在地上,代表先孝敬祖先,請祖先同飲之意。

石板屋內的對話

基於歐威尼對石板屋和舊傳統的感情深厚,所以一定要回山上來。

他將一切安頓好了之後,就專心從事寫作。他已發表過有關台東大南村及屏東霧台村的文章,另外則在報上撰寫好茶的「人與土地」專欄,並在今年獲得順益原住民博物館的出版獎助獎,計畫將要出版專書。

歐威尼目前正在寫好茶最後一位雕刻師力大古的傳記,此外歐威尼還著手記錄舊好茶的部落史,他已將所有舊好茶部落每一戶每一人的血緣都查對過了,在家系族譜方面已經沒有問題。

不過他認為,若只是套套彼此的血緣關係並沒多大意義,他要將各家族所有生命的活動事蹟全部用文字表現出來。他在過去三、四年之間,已做過詳密的田野調查,訪問過許多部落老人,所有的筆記資料都已有了,就等他整理出來。

據估計,這本部落史將會有五、六百頁,可能要花二至三年才會有結果。

寫作時遭遇最大的困難還是魯凱語含義的解釋,他很想將美麗的詩文翻成漢語,但常因詞不達意而擱筆。「有時常為了想一個字,愣在那裡半天想不出最合適的詞句」,這也就是寫作速度慢如蝸牛爬行的原因,有些神話故事很深奧,有些概念無法表達。

此外魯凱語也有變化很多的腔調,這些音律的語言,寫出來無法完全掌握涵意,有些甚至需要當面解釋,口述或透過錄音帶,才能知道一種語詞在不同環境下會有不同的解釋,只不過目前他還沒找到解決的辦法。

寫作第一優先

「重回舊好茶」之後,一般人可能會懷疑,歐威尼光是寫作能解填飽肚子嗎?他如何解決生活上的需求?

在生活上,為了用水上的方便,歐威尼已從水源地用塑膠管引水到部落,並在空地開墾,種植小白菜、油菜等。綠油油的顏色,增添不少生氣。在主食方面,由於遊客或友人上山時總會帶食物,離去時留下的米麵等,歐威尼就拿來裹腹;萬一真的斷炊,就請友人下山背糧上來。

不過歐威尼認為吃並不重要,他說:「自己在寫作時雖然營養不良,但能進入祖先的靈魂,與舊好茶的回憶同在,才是最重要的。」現在家落成、人定居,象徵著重回舊好茶的夢想,已經向前邁了一大步。

〔圖片說明〕

P.111

石板屋雖然不大,卻能讓心定下來。

P.111

屋內陳設簡單,月桃席是最好的床舖。

P.110

(左)石板疊疊拼拼,歐威尼花了十五天終於將家屋整修完成。

P.112

老房子順利修復完成,歐威尼開心極了。

P.113

遊客聞風上山觀光,多少破壞舊好茶的環境。

P.113

整群的五色鳥棲息在枝椏上,這是別處罕見的景觀。

P.113

舊好茶路邊的野蘭花。

P.114

歐威尼將在此開始今後的寫作計畫,也希望有更多的族人能上山。

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Making Wishes Come True

Jackie Chen /photos courtesy of Lin Meng-san /tr. by Jonathan Barnard

"Much that we need we can wait for, but children can't wait, because their bones are growing, their blood being made, their consciousness forming. We can't tell them 'tomorrow,' because their names are 'today.'"--Chilean poet Gabrela Mistral


Everyone has dreams, and while beautiful dreams may not come true, you can always wait for them. Yet one group--children with serious illnesses-can't wait.

Taiwan's Make-A-Wish Foundation devotes itself to making these children's wishes come true. Such efforts didn't start in Taiwan. Back in 1980 the Make-A-Wish Foundation was established in Arizona for severely ill children aged 3 to 18. Its earliest case was arranging for a child with leukemia to play cop, wearing a handsome uniform and a badge and sitting in a helicopter as it circled around in the air.

How best to treat severely ill kids

On a business trip a few years ago, Chen Kuai-yu, a businessman and member of Taipei's Chungshan Rotary Club, happened to see a news report about the Make-A-Wish Foundation in America. Feeling that its efforts were very worthwhile, he got together with like-minded people and in April of last year established Make-A-Wish Taipei, which is the twelfth international chapter of the American organization.

With so many people seriously ill, why focus on the children? Make-A-Wish provides an answer: because children are less able to help themselves.

Ill children need a helping hand even more--especially those with cancer, leukemia, neuroblastoma, or other life-threatening diseases. Curing these illnesses isn't simply a matter of having shots and taking pills. Many require chemotherapy or bone marrow transplants, which weaken the immune system and bring a constant danger of infection and complictions. Without a doubt, such children are always in a battle for their lives.

Child, your name is today

The ward for seriously ill children at Veterans General Hospital frequently holds sing-alongs. Jung-jung loved to sing, and only she really answered her music teacher's calls to sing "a little bit louder now" or "a little bit softer now."

At the end of last year seriously ill children at Veterans performed at a benefit for the Taiwan Children's Cancer Society. Right off the bat, Jung-jung wanted to attend, but the severity of her condition eventually made it impossible.

After the performance, Wu Yu-yuan, a Veterans social worker, rang the hospital, wanting to tell Jung-jung about how things had gone, but she couldn't get through, and so she went home, thinking she could tell Jung-jung the next day. Early the next morning she had a dream in which Jung-jung painfully told her, "You once said that I could go sing, but you didn't keep your promise." Wu was startled awake and immediately gave a call to the hospital. Jung-jung was just then being given emergency aid, and she left this world without having lived out her dream.

"Jung-jung came to accuse me," Wu says tragically and regretfully. And so Wu cut off her long, flowing hair and decided to greet children in the new year with a new look and a new attitude. She resolved to work her hardest to make these children's dreams come true no matter how great the obstacles.

The twinkling stars of Puhsin

A serious illness turns a pure and simple wish into an extravagant and difficult undertaking. In July of last year, two ill children wanted to go shopping at Toys 'R' Us. Foundation members and hospital staff made thorough preparations three times before the children's condition permitted the trip. "It got so the children thought the adults were lying to them and didn't believe they would actually go," Liu Ju-jung says.

Two sick children wanted to get out of the hospital and take a stroll, and hospital staff thought up a night trip to the Puhsin Farm, where the starry sky is enchanting. "Hsin-hsin's bone cancer made it impossible for her to stand up. To move she needed people to support her, and pain could shoot through her limbs at any moment," explains Wang Yu, head nurse in the pediatrics ward of Taiwan University Hopital. "Chi-chi had leukemia and had been bedridden for a long time, so that the muscles of her legs had atrophied and she couldn't walk. The two were on antibiotics and pain killers." To prevent the children from being disappointed by not being able to make the trip, hospital staff spent three hours packing three large boxes of medical supplies, an oxygen tank and an ice bucket. Three nurses and two doctors went along. "It was like a wedding procession," describes Wang Yu of the festive trip to Puhsin.

Puhsin's sky was particularly brilliant that night. The two patients, their relatives, doctors and nurses gazed at the heavens, exchanged gifts, played cards and learned to make tea in the proper ceremonial way. Particularly for the parents, it was a rare chance to unwind and laugh a little. Everyone had a special experience that night.

Making dreams come true

The Make-A-Wish Foundation helps children with life-threatening diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Currently there are no figures for how many such children there are in Taiwan, but according to Children's Cancer Society statistics, 500 children come down with cancer a year. Most of these children are treated at Taipei Veterans Hospital or Taiwan University Hospital, major teaching hospitals where Make-A-Wish is focusing its efforts.

Liu Ju-jung points out that most seriously ill children need long-term treatment. Having observed and come in frequent contact with the patients, hospital staff are well acquainted with their conditions and desires, and so when Make-A-Wish goes about finding a prospective child, it usually first asks hospital staff, consulting closely, looking at the severity of the illness and observing parents' wishes. "What's most important in planning any foundation activity is that the kid's health is up to it. The plan has to be realistic," says Liu Ju-jung. The foundation has already sponsored 13 cases. Its children have sung at the National Concert Hall; watched a baseball game at Municipal Stadium; been given Nintendo games; gone to Disneyland in America and had face-to-face meetings with celebrity-idols like Liu Teh-hua, Lin Chih-ying, and Sally Tsai.

While most were arranged through hospitals, if parents take the initiative to contact them first, Make-A-Wish will then contact the doctors responsible for the child. "In principle, we hope that it is really the child's wish; we hope no adults--including the child's parents--lobby for one plan or another or make suggestions," Liu Ju-jung says.

Whether the child's wish is big or small, Make-A-Wish will try to make it come true. Besides cases where children aren't certain what they want, or where making a dream come true would involve legal problems, there are no limits placed--not on expense or manpower," says Liu. But suppose an ill child wanted to save a company near bankruptcy. This could involve legal problems, and the foundation might not get involved.

In camouflage

Kuan-hong, a five-year-old from Taichung County's Taiping Rural Township, recently had his dream come true. He always loved playing soldier, crawling low and firing his toy machine gun.

Kuan-hong had leukemia, and he wouldn't have been able to survive without bone-marrow transplants. Unfortunately cancer cells reappeared after the procedure, and his prognosis went from bad to worse. Just then Make-A-Wish went through social workers to ask Kuan-hong's mother Yang Hsiou-fen if Kuan-hong would like to live out his dream of be coming a soldier.

At the end of last year numerous media reports featured Kuan-hong, accompanied by officers, inspecting the assembled troops at an army base. The Ministry of Defense pinned a medal on him like he was a little general, and he inspected a tank battalion and troop barracks to see that the blankets were folded as firmly as pieces of dried tofu. He even got to ride in a tank.

He listened and watched carefully, and with much practice standing at attention and saluting, he knew what to do and really looked like "a little general."

Five days after returning from his "military service," Kuan-hong passed away while wearing his camouflage army fatigues and the medals he was given that day. "He left this world peacefully," his mother Yang Hsiou-fen says.

Together enjoying a wish come true

Some children, like Kuan-hong, die just a few days after living out their dreams. Others, who were in good condition at the time, later experience relapses. Yet no matter what the result, the anticipation and preparation have their own effect. "Their expectations do indeed stimulate their courage and will to live and do reduce the pain of their treatment," says Swun Juo-mei, whose deceased daughter Pei-chen sang at the National Concert Hall in the first activity Make-A-Wish sponsored in Taiwan.

Swun recalls that practicing singing allowed her child to be quite happy during the course of her treatment. "She virtually took the ward as her home. When released from the hospital, she would ask Mama 'how many days of vacation' she would have before going back. After coming in contact with other seriously ill children, the formerly shy and introverted Pei-chen opened up and grew optimistic."

Yun Yun's mom Hsu Ming-yue, who led the group while they sang at the National Concert Hall, points out, "Patients and their families pass day after boring day in hospitals during the course of treatment. Make-A-Wish gives them some social activities of a different sort, and these bring all kinds of rewards and joys."

Yun Yun, a good writer of essays, wrote in her journal about her feelings participating in this concert, the first Make-A-Wish activity: "I think I'll never forget this night my whole life. When we were singing 'Orchid Grass,' all eyes were upon us Make-A-Wish children up there on stage. It's our favorite song, and we sang our hearts out. Many mothers came to tears and pulled out their hankies. Everyone was moved. I thought about all the years of suffering, and I started crying. Hard work does indeed have its reward: tears of joy!"

Wu Yu-yuan believes that all the anticipation and preparation that go along with Make-A-Wish activities really do give the children a new outlook on life by turning the focus of their concentration. This is especially the case for children in group activities, like those who had their dreams answered by performing at the National Concert Hall. "They were no longer crying or asking each other about how painful the chemotherapy was. Instead they'd be asking each other, "Are you practicing today?" "Have you learned the lyrics yet?" It made the ward full of life.

Everlasting life

When seriously ill kids have their dreams come true, the children benefit and the parents are greatly comforted too.

Today Kuan-hong's mother still loves to talk about that day he was a soldier. "I was honored by his performance," Yang Hsiou-fen says. Swun Juo-mei is also very grateful for the assistance and support that society offered. She says that if it Make-A-Wish hadn't asked about her child's wishes, she would have forgotten, as so many parents do during the course of their children's illness, that the object of the treatment is life and the child's happiness. And it was only through Make-A-Wish's questionnaire that she learned that her eight-year-old daughter wanted to go to Sunday School, to shop in a department store, to visit Grandma in America. . . . They helped their daughter realize these dreams one by one. "We have no regrets about what we didn't do," Swun says. Because she was helped by so many people, she and her husband want to give something back. Both have become long-term volunteers at the hospital.

In the giving and taking, it's clear everyone benefits. Liu Ju-jung notes that Make-A-Wish has never advertised, but support from society has been constant. "Perhaps because Taiwan is small in area, relations between people are close," she says. The foundation has 100 members and nearly 200 volunteers. Many got involved after their own child had a wish come true.

Make-A-Wish has become one rung in the chain of social support, with great meaning psychologically for ill children and their parents during the course of treatment. Yet with less than a year of experience and with an organizational structure that is still very young, the foundation faces many challenges, such as in making best use of its financial resources and avoiding advertisements when fund-raising.

Liu Ju-jung mentions that the "human sentiment" so important among Chinese is of great help to the foundation when it makes arrangements. Airlines have provided free tickets and hotels free lodging. In some cases the depth of feeling has really been moving. Take the case of Kuan-hong, for example. After hearing the story of Little Kuan-hong, a tailor made camouflage army fatigues in just two days, and then refused to accept payment for them.

The essence of life

Recently, five-year-old Chi-chi was taken to Disneyland in the United States, where she got to meet her favorite cartoon character, Mini Mouse. Because the foundation had the right connections, Disney provided free tickets and lodgings, and the airlines provided free plane tickets and limo services. But even with so much support, Chi-chi's case still required spending NT$500,000.

Such large sums are spent with only one aim in mind: to leave behind memories that are the happiest of a lifetime. "The essence of a life isn't in its length, but rather in whether it has been lived to the fullest," says Liu Ju-jung. She tries to cheer the kids up, accompanying them as they live out their dreams or perhaps come to the end of their lives.

These dreams sometimes involve great expense. From the standpoint of more fairly allocating social resources, Head Nurse Wang Yu hopes that Make-A-Wish will consider more carefully what dreams to sponsor. "It's best not to be too extravagant," she says. While acknowledging the difficulties they present, Wu Yu-yuan suggests that "group dreams," in which everyone can participate together, "have a contagious effect, increasing the psychological and therapeutic rewards."

But the truth is, there's more than one thing that Make-A-Wish gives people. Wu Yu-yuan says that the courage children show in living out their dreams while facing life's uncertainty moves many onlookers.

Ah-chiang's vitality

The 17-year-old Ah-chiang was very smart before he fell ill. He had good grades and was artistic, winning a prize at the Taipei Municipal Art Contest. When he got bone cancer, doctors amputated his right arm fearing that the disease would spread, and so he practiced writing with his left hand. Although he was ill, he refused to give up ice skating, playing ball or fishing. Later, the cancer spread and he started to require dialysis. He no longer had freedom of movement, and his spirits fell to their low point. He wasn't even willing to see his old classmates or friends.

Going to see the Mercury Tigers play baseball rekindled his fire for life. In the stands. he and the other fans rooted the team on and shouted happily. As was his wish, he was able to be photographed with several of his idols, including Lin Chungchiou, Tu Hong-chin and Kang Ming-shan, and they gave him an autographed ball. After the game, Ah-chiang was a changed boy, no longer withdrawn. Like all children, he proudly displayed the photographs and the autographed ball for everyone to see. Although Ah-chiang passed away less than a month after his dream came true, Wu Yu-yuan says she has "never met anyone with more vitality."

How blue the sky on the way back home

Wang Yu, who has long worked in the ward for severely ill children at Taiwan University Hospital, says that in cases where treatment offers no hope, many patients' last wishes are to go home.

Once she was arranging to bring a 14-year-old named Little Ying home, and the sweet, innocent girl refused to ride in an ambulance. "Aren't ambulances supposed to be for people who need urgent care?" she asked. "Leave them for such people. Daddy's car is good enough for me." Wang Yu saw how insistent she was and thought about how this might be the last time she would ever ride in her father's car, and so she agreed with the request, figuring out how to resolve the problems that such a journey would pose.

"The car drove up Chungshan South Road, and when Little Ying saw the green trees and the blue sky, her spirits rose. It was infectious, and I too felt the beauty of the sky outside," Wang Yu recalls. "We started chatting, and she mentioned that when the family had returned to their ancestral home for Tomb Sweeping Day the previous year, they got a ticket for speeding on the highway coming back. When they got to Hsin Yi Road in Taipei, her father saw a yellow light and put the pedal to the metal. It made Little Ying laugh. "Running a red for the first time is fun, isn't it?" I remarked. Everyone in the car laughed, and we all forgot that we were bringing a dangerously ill person home.

The essence of life isn't in its length, but in its being lived to the fullest. In beautiful moments lies magnificence.

(Make-A-Wish, Taipei Chapter: 02-563-4117. Donations can be made through the Taipei City Post Office, account 18292913)

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After his right arm was amputated, Ah-chiang drew with his left hand for three days and three nights before giving this drawing to "auntie," his trusted friend. How the formerly active Ah-chiang longed for the drawing's bicycle and garden bench! (courtesy of Wu Yu-yuan)

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…Math is the subject I hate most, but ever since the new teacher arrived, I've gotten more from the class than just numbers. I never used to like listening to big, abstract theories, but when he describes them, I listen happily. He is a very hard-working teacher, and so I feel I will let him down if I don't study hard. . . I can't stand Miss Li. . . she is going to teach us for three years. Oh, my God! I think I'm going to faint. . . Three long years. How it makes me long for elementary school. . . .

Yun-yun was 15. She had leukemia and passed away on February 21. In these entries to her diary, this girl of many emotions left a record of her hopes and her love of life.

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Little Kuan-hong had no time to grow up, but through the efforts of Make-A-Wish Foundation, he was able to serve as a happy soldier. (courtesy of Kuan-hong's mother)

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A meeting with Snow White is no longer just the stuff of fantasy. With a lot of people's help, severely ill children can have their dreams come true. (courtesy of Make-A-Wish Foundation)

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…That first week my head ached like it was going to burst. After taking just my first test of junior high, I had to go to the hospital. I had never thought that things would happen so fast, so sudden. When they were trying to figure out what was wrong, instinct told me it was leukemia, a kind of blood cancer. A lot of people think death as soon as they hear "cancer." I remember that a friend who came to visit suddenly blurted out, "Won't cancer kill you?" Sometimes I wonder myself why I'm still alive. . . .

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Children get on well with this friendly "auntie" social worker. In their spare time, they come to her room and joke around.

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Don't pity me; just remember me. These toys adorning a social worker's room will be given to Make-A-Wish kids.

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…Today l finally got a chance to listen carefully to the cassette of Tsai Lan-chin. He died when he was just 22. His voice sounds sad and truthful. I wonder if he was also scared of death. . . "It's a road laid by the people that came before me. With strangers to accompany me, I won't be lonely". . . I've found a voice that echoes my sentiments. I hope that life is as bright as summer blooms, death as beautiful as fall leaves. . . .

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"The chick is pecking. The eagle is flying. Nothing's the matter. Nothing's the matter." They're chanting this moving nursery rhyme in a ward for seriously ill children, where volunteers are helping to put on a birthday party.

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…I think I'll never forget this night my whole life. When we were singing 'Orchid Grass,' all eyes were upon us Make-A-Wish children up there on stage. It's our favorite song, and we sang our hearts out. Many mothers came to tears and pulled out their hankies. Everyone was moved. I thought about all the years of suffering, and I started crying. Hard work does indeed have its reward: tears of joy. . .

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Little Kuan-hong became the focus of media attention when he served as a soldier. He has since passed away, and though he made his mother proud, she can't hide her pain when mention is made of him.

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Though her daughter has left this world, this mother, wanting to help others, still goes to the hospital to provide medical information and alleviate patients' suffering.

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Pei-chen has gone. I have a feeling that one day it will be my turn to go, and it may come pretty soon. But I'm not complaining. One day we'll meet in heaven.

A Rocky Home Life: A Rukai Aborginal Author Returns to His Roots

Chen Yue-kuei /photos courtesy of Chen Yue-kuei /tr. by Phil Newell

Two years ago, in a report entitled "Return to Old Haucha," Sinorama reported on efforts by some Rukai aborigines to return to the village of Old Haucha.

Today, two years later, a number of villagers led by the writer Auvini Kalus (Chiu Chin-shih in Chinese) have completed the restoration of some houses in the mountains and plan to reside there. The impact of this "return to Old Haucha" has been such that even the tribal chief is laying out the funds to repair his stone residence. The idea of returning to Old Haucha has proved to be more than just words on paper.


"I lived here when I was small. My brothers and sisters all slept in a cradle woven by my mother's own hand. Today I have settled into this home, and brought my soul here to stay, so now I can write with peace of mind."

On March 5, Auvini put the last stone slab on his ancestral home, which faces North Tawu Mountain, in Haucha Village. The restoration of the house was finally completed. Auvini made offerings to his ancestors, did some last minute arranging, and then set to work on a series of writing projects. Smoke from the cooking stove, not seen in the village for 15 years, flew down Chingpu Mountain and danced among the birds and animals playing in the forests.

Though this stone-encased living space is small, every day the sun shines in at daybreak, and the air is full of warmth and happiness. Moreover, the impact on Auvini has been enormous, because this is no longer a pile of rubble but is now a home.

Rebuilding the stone houses

After Auvini returned to the village with Ah Yi, Hunter, and Little Tiger, the four of them spent 15 days reconstructing the house. They worked when they felt like it, and rested when they wanted to. They didn't force themselves to do anything. They used hammers, tape measures, pickaxes, and machetes to first set the beams, and then to cut the stones into appropriately sized pieces. The quartet built up the thick stone walls piece by piece using traditional construction methods. They completed the structure by constructing the roof out of stone slabs pieced together one at a time. To make the dwelling more comfortable, they stood stone slabs around the four walls inside the house, and constructed a traditional toilet outside.

The main materials are beams and flat stone slabs. In the past the construction of a house was a major community affair, and everyone would pitch in to find stones. Just above the red juniper forests is an area where people used to collect stones--lighter in color and also firmer--for roofs, facades, or floors. There is another quarrying area along the mountain road to Taitung. The stones from there, darker in color, were used to construct the walls. "Some of these sheets of stone could weigh hundreds of kilos, and it took several strong young men the better part of a day to move one to the village," says Auvini.

Because of a shortage of helping hands, the house that Auvini has just built has been made entirely out of stones found on the original site of the village. Because stone is so durable, the old stones proved perfectly usable, and there turned out to be no need to collect new ones.

The beams were also found on the site. But these were only taken after talking to the original owners and paying a small fee for the right to use them.

In general the beams in the old houses lasted a long time. This is because the homes were heated with fires, and there was always cooking going on, so that insects could not survive the smoke. Also, because the beams would sag (albeit only slightly) over time, every two years during renovations the beams would be turned over to resist the force of gravity, thus keeping them as good as new.

It was customary to renovate the houses and rearrange the stones every two years because typhoons or earthquakes would periodically dislodge some, creating leaks. Because the houses were built with no bolts or nails, renovation was rather a simple task.

House of the spirits

Rukai houses were designed to be high in back and low in front. This design served a defensive function.

In the past, the windows in the houses were small, large enough only to stick one's head through. Because the young men were mostly away hunting, leaving only the women and small children at home, it was easier for the women to guard against suspicious-looking strangers in dwellings of this type. "This may be why the Rukai, who are small in numbers, could survive amidst powerful neighbors," opines Auvini.

Rukai houses all had individual names to represent the family. The surname representing the members of the dwelling also symbolized their status and role within the community. In principle, names were passed along from the father to the eldest son, and the house went with the name.

Auvini's family name is Kalisman. It means "central pillar" in Rukai. "It is not only a concrete symbol of the center, it also abstractly suggests the core," explains Auvini. His ancestors were skilled hunters, and often had a surplus to distribute to members of the tribe, and people would come to their house to eat or to pick up food.

The central pillar was the most sacred place in the home, and was the protective deity of the household. On the central pillar of the chief's home was carved the story of the clan's origins. The sacredness extended to a niche in the back of the house, and to the clay jar stored in the niche. Auvini's ancestors were at one time second-level nobility. But their status steadily declined because of intermarriage with commoner women, so the family had no carvings on the pillar.

Each dwelling was divided into three units: the main room, the auxiliary room, and the front garden. The former two were interior spaces, the latter exterior. The main room was the center of activity; the right hand side was the good side, the left hand side the bad. The whole family slept together on one large mat.

Ancestors beneath the stones

Like the Puyuma, the Rukai buried deceased family members under their houses. Their reasoning was that "family members are not animals, so why should they be buried out in the fields where they will suffer from the wind and rain?" explains Auvini.

The method of burial was as follows: The body was placed in a bent over sitting position, then wrapped in cloth. However, the right hand was left outside the cloth, symbolizing the hope that the deceased would "bless his (or her) descendants with the right hand." The corpse was then placed in the hole by the eldest son or nearest kin, facing the direction in which the sun set. This is because the Rukai believed that death was like the setting of the sun. The body was buried as deeply as possible below the stone floor of the house so that no odors would pass into the house to disturb the living.

After burial, the mud and stones were replaced, and the cracks between the stones filled with ash from the fireplace. A straw mat was then spread on top, and the family member who buried the body would sleep on the grave for twenty days to insure that the deceased was peacefully settled in.

Auvini states that burial places differed depending upon the status of the deceased. Men who died a natural death were buried in front of the central pillar, while women were interred under the sleeping platform. Those who died in accidents were buried beneath the wood pile, behind and to the right of the central pillar, while suicides were interred behind and to the left of the central pillar. It was not deemed appropriate to bury those who died in accidents or by suicide with those who succumbed to natural causes. Families hoped that by setting these bodies off from those who died naturally, they could avoid having any other members of the family fall victim to similar unnatural deaths.

The tradition of home burials meant that the dead would never be lonesome, because they resided only a stone floor away from the living. The deceased were aware of everything that happened in the house, so that older Rukai often warned against using foul language in the house so as to avoid offending their ancestors. If someone outside the house cursed those within, the dead would act against whoever cast the insults. The Rukai also believed that their ancestors could help protect them against invaders.

Older Haucha residents recall that during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), the colonial rulers devoted a great deal of time and effort, and gave large funereal gifts, to finally convince the Rukai to bury their dead outside the house. It is said that the Rukai at that time were profoundly saddened, because they believed that their ancestors, abandoned to the wilds, would never rest in peace.

This deep Rukai respect for their forebears is also reflected in the practice of sprinkling a few drops of alcohol on the floor with one's fingers before drinking: The gesture symbolizes the sharing of the libation with the deceased.

A dialogue in a stone house

Auvini was determined to return to the mountains because of his love for the stone houses and the old traditions.

Since settling in, he has concentrated on his writing. He has already produced essays about Taitung's Tanan and Wutai villages. He is also writing a column for the papers on "The Land and People" of Haucha. This year he was awarded a publishing subsidy by the Shun Yi Aboriginal Museum, and he plans to produce a book.

Auvini is currently writing the life story of the last sculptor of Haucha. He is also recording the history of Old Haucha. He has already traced back the lineage of each and every household in the community, so there is no problem in drawing up family genealogies.

But he feels there is little significance to just figuring out who is related to whom. He also is making a written record of anecdotes about the lives of all the households. For the last three to four years he has been doing intensive field research, and has interviewed numerous tribal elders. He has all his notes and data, and all he needs to do now is write this community history up.

Auvini expects that this community history will be 500 to 600 pages long, and will take two or three years to complete.

His greatest difficulty in writing is to express the nuances of the Rukai language. He is anxious to translate the beauty of the poetry into Chinese, but he is often stumped because there are no Chinese words that capture the full meaning of the Rukai. "Sometimes I spend the whole day just trying to think up one phrase." This is the main obstacle holding up progress. It is especially a problem with many Rukai myths, which are rich in meanings that are difficult to express in Chinese.

Furthermore, spoken Rukai has a great variety of cadences. Sometimes it is not enough to write out the language. Only with face-to-face explanations or through tapes can one understand how the same phrases can have disparate meanings under different conditions. Auvini has still not figured out how to resolve this problem.

Writing is the first priority

After Auvini's "return to Old Haucha," many may wonder whether he can really fill his belly just by writing. How does he meet his immediate practical needs?

For water, Auvini installed a plastic pipe to bring water to the village. He also cleared some land and planted vegetables. The greenery adds a great deal of life to the scene. As for his staple foods, friends and visitors often bring food up the mountain and leave behind rice and noodles. If he really has nothing to eat, he will ask a friend to go down the mountain to buy some supplies for him.

In any case Auvini doesn't place much emphasis on food. "It's true I don't eat nutritiously when I'm writing. But the important thing is that I can get into the souls of my ancestors and become one with the memories of Old Haucha." As of now, his house is completed, and he is all moved in, indicating that the dream of returning to Old Haucha has taken a giant step forward.

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(left) Piecing together stone slabs, it took Auvini fifteen days to complete the reconstruction of his stone house.

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Although stone houses are not big, they make you feel at home.

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The interior is simple; a mat makes a good bed.

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Auvini is delighted by how smoothly the renovation went.

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Curious tourists can't help but destroy the ambience of Old Haucha to some degree.

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A group of formosan barbets resting in the trees is something rarely seen in other parts of Taiwan.

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A wild orchid on the road to Old Haucha.

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Auvini has begun a series of writing projects, and hopes more Rukai people will go back up the mountains to live.

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