Q&A: Meet Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hung, Sakizaya language activist

Lami' Tsai-Wei Hung and her Sakizaya friends Hana Ateng, Sabak Nubu and Dayas Siku take a happy pose after a cultural conference.

After the Conference on the 140th anniversary of Sakizaya Takubuwan Battle and Kavalan Kaliwan Battle, 2018, Hualian. Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hung (rightmost) and her Sakizaya friends (from right to left) Hana Ateng, Sabak Nubu and Dayas Siku. Photo provided by Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hun.

Following last year's successful social media campaign celebrating linguistic diversity online throughout Asia, the collaborative project is continuing in 2020. Every week, a different language activist and advocate will be taking turns managing the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account to share their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned from their revitalization work promoting the use of their native languages, with a special focus on the role of the internet. This campaign is a collaboration between Rising Voices, the Digital Empowerment Foundation, and the O Foundation.

Each week, the upcoming host will answer several questions about their background and give a brief overview of their language. This Q&A is with Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hung (@GomorrahCastle ) who will provide a sneak preview of what she will be discussing during her week as host.

Rising Voices (RV): Please tell us about yourself.

Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hung (LTWH): I am Lami’ Tsai-Wei Hung, a PhD student in the Department of Ethnic Relations and Cultures, National Dong Hwa University, Taiwan. I have been working for two years with Sakizaya people to revitalize the Sakizaya language, promote its use and improve its status.

As part of the Sakizaya Mentor-Apprentice Program (facilitated by the Sakizaya Language Promotion Organization, funded by the Council of Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan), my role is to create practical activities to connect people with the language. This could include curriculum development, film-making, news publications on Facebook as well as recruitment to expand Wikipedia's user base.

RV: What is the current status of the Sakizaya language on the internet and offline?

LTWH: The Sakizaya community numbered 985 in January 2020, but there could be as few as 590 actual speakers, as intergenerational transmission hasn't been perfect. One might expect many Sakizaya elders above the age of 55 to be fluent in the language, but that might not be the case for young people and those living in cities.

Two local media stations (Taiwan Indigenous TV (TITV) and FM96.3 Alian Radio), both of which are accessible online, broadcast in indigenous languages, including Sakizaya. However, their lead anchors are in their sixties and are struggling to appeal to younger generations.

There have been efforts on the part of the government to use indigenous languages alongside Mandarin. More indigenous-friendly policies have been implemented and additional funding has been allocated to language revitalization programs. Hopefully, these measures will garner public interest.

In terms of education, there is a mandatory “native language class”: a weekly one-hour session for all students until 9th grade. Schools are required to find instructors for any endangered indigenous language such as Sakizaya, upon request by a student.

Given the situation described here, it will come as no surprise that Sakizaya language usage on the internet is minimal, except for the Wikipedia site where many language materials as well as Sakizaya history and culture are preserved.

RV: What topics do you plan to focus on during the week that you’ll manage the @AsiaLangsOnline Twitter account?

LTWH: We have planned to have two main topics. We will first showcase the fish harvest festival that takes place in June and is hosted by the Sakul tribe. The river, which used to be a traditional fishing territory, had been going to waste for years, and recently the Sakul people started to dredge it and put traditional handmade fishing equipment in the riverbed before the day of the festival. On the day, only men can go into the water, and women prepare food in the kitchen, waiting to share the harvest with everyone.

The second topic will be the recovery of traditional outfits in the Kaluluwan tribe. The present Sakizaya outfit was actually created/discovered about 20 years ago to promote the union of Sakizaya people. However, individual tribes or families might have had their own outfits for generations. We'll take a look at these styles of dress in the Kaluluwan tribe.

In addition, I've published a notice through a social network, to invite contributions. Thus, I'm expecting two or three entries by outside contributors introducing other cultural elements in daily life, such as folk plants.

RV: What are the main motivations for your digital activism for the Sakizaya language? What are your hopes and dreams for this language?

LTWH: Allow me to transcribe and rephrase the answer given by Padakaw Lami’, a young Sakizaya learner:

“Digital activism can preserve language materials more solidly and securely. Besides, it makes it easier for what I write and say to reach people who might be interested, no matter where they are. To get feedback and know that others appreciate my efforts and my language keeps me enthusiastic and dynamic.

What I look forward to is the day when the youth can naturally speak to elders in Sakizaya, meaning our language has regained its vitality. My personal expectation is to one day be able chat with the elders in my own family without any hesitation.”

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