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Tribal chief overjoyed by village's World Monuments Watch listing

2015/10/16 22:08:00

Photo courtesy of Cultural Affairs Department of Pingtung County government

Taipei, Oct. 16 (CNA) A community chief of the Rukai, one of Taiwan's indigenous tribes, shed tears of joy over news that his ancient ancestral village in Pingtung County, southern Taiwan, has been added to the at-risk list of the World Monuments Watch (WMW), a program run by a U.S. private non-profit group dedicated to conserving the world's cultural heritage.

"I'm really happy," said Ko Kuang-hui (柯光輝), head of the tribal community, as tears rolled down his cheeks.

The 70-year-old's remarks came after the ancient village of the Kucapungane Rukai was placed on the WMW list of the World Monuments Fund (WMF) program aimed at identifying imperiled cultural heritage sites around the world.

The New York-based WMF is a long-term partner of the UNESCO World Heritage Center.

The ancient village of the Kucapungane Rukai, in Pingtung's Wutai Township, was among the 50 sites in 36 countries included on the 2016 list of the program that was announced Thursday.

"The 2016 World Monuments Watch highlights the importance of the fragile physical remains of Kucapungane, as well as the associated intangible Rukai heritage -- the stories, the skills and the beliefs that create and sustain the living heritage of the region," the announcement said.

In 1974, the council of the Kucapungane Rukai decided to move their settlement from their ancestral home in Wutai Township to a new town in order to get access to electricity and modern schools, leaving behind about 150 distinctive stone-slab houses in the old village, which sits some 1,000 meters above sea level.

Photo courtesy of Cultural Affairs Department of Pingtung County government

However, they were forced to relocate again, after flooding struck their new settlement in 2009. Meanwhile, their numbers have dwindled as younger members of the community have moved to the cities to seek work, the WMF said.

More than 40 years ago, Ko led the community to relocate to another place when he was 28. In the ensuing decades, he said, he still visits the old village once in a while, even though he no longer lives there.

He said that when he and other elderly members of the tribe think of their old settlement, it brings them to tears.

Since the flooding caused by Typhoon Morakot in 2009, the road back to the ancestral village has become bumpier, he said, but added that "we still manage to go back at least once a year, and still hope that we can move back there one day."

Ko also urged the government to repair a bridge that connects to their ancient village to make it easier for them to travel back.

Photo courtesy of Cultural Affairs Department of Pingtung County government

Pingtung County government spokesman Huang Chien-chia (黃建嘉) said he was pleased to learn of the news. The local government has plans to promote tourism to the village, but some work needs to be done first, he said.

The ancestral village of the Kucapungane Rukai was established about 600 years ago. A centuries-old Rukai legend tells of a hunting party that was tracking a clouded leopard until it stopped at a pond facing North Dawu Mountain, where the hunting party later built the village, the WMF said.

It is the second at-risk cultural site in Taiwan to be listed by the WMW. Jungshe Village on Wang'an Island in outlying Penghu County has been listed since 2004.

(By Kuo Chih-hsuan, Timothy Huang, Kuo Chung-han and Elaine Hou)