"Negritos" celebrated as early Taiwan settlers

Mon Nov 17, 2008 1:57am EST
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By Ralph Jennings

WUFENG VILLAGE, Taiwan (Reuters Life!) - Chinese have long been the dominant race in Taiwan, trailed by a tiny Asian aboriginal population. The government says so. Historians agree.

But they seldom mention a group of short, dark-skinned people who are believed to be among the oldest settlers in the island.

"Most people don't know, as this is passed on by word of mouth," said Wu Yu-ling, an oral history master's student at Tung Hua University in Taiwan. "I knew it because it was my research topic. It's a precious piece of history that should be studied."

These dark-skinned people are believed to be ethnically similar to Negritos, a term that covers several ethnic groups in isolated parts of Southeast Asia.

Although they share the dark skin and short stature of African pygmy populations, they are genetically distant from Africans and their exact origin and migration route to Asia remain a mystery.

Those who know the legacy best in Taiwan belong to an existing aboriginal group that killed what they believe to be the last village of Negritos in a battle over women 1,000 to 2,000 years ago.

The group that remains, the Saisiyat, dances for three straight bonfire-lit nights every two years to remember them. Their latest memorial ended early on Monday morning.

"There's a bit of guilt, so we're apologising to them," said Chu Fung-lu, master of ceremonies for the memorial held in Wufeng Village deep in the mountains of central Taiwan. "We want them to protect us, to give us safety."   Continued...