— The sea is so blue, the valley so deep. That’s why sadness goes far and wide. But you must stare it in the eye. Only by braving it will you outgrow the child and be an adult. To the children at Gangkou Elementary School, Hualien County, Taiwan.
Ina often calls my name on this side
and asks me to buy betel nuts from Pilaw the grocer on the other side.
An impolite mountain road cuts through the entrance of my house.
It has a number like my seat number at school.
Its number is eleven. Mine is nine.
Last year, on the way to my house to play,
Kacaw’s dog was hit on the road and died.
“After all, it was a doggie, not a person.”
Since then, a new curved mirror appeared
at the intersection of our neighborhood—
facing Pilaw’s betel nut counter.
We thought Pilaw loved looking at herself in the mirror
and even laughed at her in secret. But
only us the children would go up to the mirror,
watch our faces change shape, grow big, turn funny.
Ina said the road hadn’t existed before;
the tribe had been a single whole, boundless to run.
The beach used to be our path.
Grandpa walked along it to preach, all the way to Shuilian Village.
The sea waves recorded his footprints and kept him from drowning.
Now, the mountain road brings in lots of city folks
and takes away our betel nuts and whitebait.
The beach has slowly disappeared
in a swamp of sticky rice dumplings
where Kacaw and I would climb up,
play hide and seek, and catch kalang.
As our road enters the mountains,
it goes across two peaks and reaches my house.
On the opposite side are a grocery store and a church.
Many elders, thinking it’s no different from the past,
cross the road as if taking a stroll.
The cars would roll down their window,
shouting ma la sun in our face.
But Grandpa won’t go to a padawsi in a suit.
He’s going to the church over that ………… side.
The road isn’t wide, only cars are fast.
So we form a line to see God.
Among Taiwan’s predominantly Han Chinese population, about two percent, or 550,000, are aborigines from more than twenty tribes. The largest of these tribes is the Amis, whose life and culture are explored in “Who Cut the Tribe in Half?”
Albeit in many ways assimilated, the Amis preserve their traditions in everyday life. Yet they face increasing challenges brought by the dominance of the Han Chinese majority and the impact of land development, as depicted in “Who Cut the Tribe in Half?” Through the innocent voice of the anonymous child speaker, the poem describes a literal division of the tribe by external forces. Jade G. Huang dedicates the poem to the students at Gangkou Elementary School, where she taught in 2012. The school has a very small student population totaling thirty to forty per year, and almost all students are from the Amis tribe. In the poem, kalang means “crab” in the Amis language. Ma la sun is a Sinicized term for “drunk,” originally from the Amis. Padawsi means a party or get-together among families or friends.
I first met Huang at a poetry festival in Taiwan in summer 2016. She read a poem about a fatal accident of a boy studying at Gangkou. The deep feelings that Huang, a Han Chinese teacher, had for her Amis student, expressed subtly in that poem, were part of her core concern for the Amis’ future. Huang’s poems engage readers with questions that ultimately pertain to pangcha, an Amis term by which the tribe address themselves, meaning “human being.”