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Elementary school graduates build canoe to honor Tao culture

2012/06/17 17:38:54

Taipei, June 17 (CNA) Building a traditional canoe-like wooden boat marked the ending of elementary school for a group of students on the outlying island of Lanyu but the beginning of a mission to pass down the boat building tradition of their tribe, the Tao.

Huang Hao-wei, who represented the 11 graduates of the Dongching Elementary School, paddled the boat the students began building last August on a 20-minute leg Sunday to pay tribute to Tao culture.

According to Tao tradition, the larger the fish caught during a boat's maiden journey symbolizes better life in the future for the owners.

But because the boy had not yet learned to catch fish in the wooden boat, some of the tribal elders, who accompanied Huang in another two boats during his trip, left a lembus rudderfish in Huang's boat to wish the graduates a life full of happiness.

The seniors also sang a traditional song and threw millet and piled taros into Huang's boat for good luck before he embarked on his journey.

Huang docked into shore 20 minutes later and distributed the diplomas he had brought with him to the other graduates, before handing over the oars to the fifth graders.

Huang said he was "very happy and proud to have represented the graduates," while his father said he was proud of his son to have accomplished the mission.

School principal Wen Sheng-hsun said building the wooden boat was the students' last class in elementary school.

In addition to the boat, the students were responsible for inviting guests to the graduation and harvesting the taros that were put into the boat. They also killed two pigs and distributed the meat to tribal households on the island early that day.

Lanyu, or Orchid Island, is an island that lies off the southeast coast of Taiwan. It is home to the Tao aboriginal tribe and has a population of around 4,600.

(By Tyson Lu and Jamie Wang)