fulbright Taiwan online journal

fulbright Taiwan online journal

Author: Mary Hamilton 何美笑

Mary Hamilton 何美笑
Mary Hamilton is a graduate of Fordham University. As a Fulbright Fellow at National Taitung University’s Department of Public and Cultural Affairs, she is researching boat building among the Tao indigenous people of Orchid Island from an anthropological perspective.

What the Taotao Means to Me

        On Orchid Island, the Taotao is a ubiquitous symbol.  It can be found inside churches, outside of 7-11, adorning many a tourist trinket, and most importantly, on every Tao boat.  Known as (人型 renxing the person symbol), the Taotao is often depicted as a small person with swirled arms and “curly Qs” coming out of its head. Whimsical in appearance, but steeped in meaning, the Taotao represents a person’s relationship with his or her physical environment.  For Tao people, this environment includes dense mountainous jungle, rocky beaches, and the crystal blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean.            Living on a small island over 40 miles from Taiwan and the Philippines, the people of this island have historically had a comprehensive knowledge of their environment.  In fact, the Tao people had such a depth of understanding that Orchid Island was self-sustaining until the Japanese occupation of Taiwan at the turn of the 20th century.  While the Tao are the only of the 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes of Taiwan that have taboos with otherworldly ramifications, many of these taboos actually contribute to the ecological sustainability of the island.  For example, the taboo that forbids island residents from fishing for or eating

Read More »

On Shamanism, Positivism, and Shifting One’s Frame of Reference

     An important skill that I have adopted for living overseas in a different culture is shifting my frame of reference to accommodate new experiences or ideas.  Living in Taiwan for the last six months has certainly challenged me to do so in refreshingly unexpected ways.       Since new understandings begin with language and so much of language is based upon context, even a play-on-words can illustrate the value of shifting one’s frame of reference to unlock new meaning in a different culture.  As my Social Cultural Anthropology teacher, Futuru Tsai, said jokingly in class, “If you asked an English speaker what is one plus one, they would reply with ‘Two.’ If you asked a Mandarin speaker what one plus one is, they would reply ‘Wang.’”  The clever observation makes sense when you consider that Chinese writing is traditionally written vertically. The character for “one” is a horizontal line, 一, followed by a plus sign +, and then another horizontal line, 一, forms the Chinese character 王, wang, meaning king or monarch.  Shift your frame of reference and you are already smiling.      The approach of shifting one’s frame of reference comes in handy especially when encountering subjects that

Read More »
Share on email
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on facebook

Research & Reflections

fulbright taiwan online journal