5000 years ago, an ancient culture—a culture all but almost lost to time—covered a tremendous portion of
the Earth with Taiwan to the north; Easter Island to the east; Madagascar to the west, and New Zealand
to the south; intrigues the world’s historians and researchers to track down and determine this cultures
past. Descendants of this vast and expansive culture are known today as Austronesians. Many believe
Taiwan is where this great civilization started.
Taitung, located on the south end of Taiwan’s east coast, boasts much natural beauty in addition to
well-rooted Austronesian traditions and customs. So, it should be no surprise that Austronesian culture
happens to be an integral element in Taitung’s cultural identity.
The County Government sponsors the biannually held Austronesian International Art Award (AIAA) to entice
artists, local and international, to participate in this event, and by doing so, expands the energy of
their artistic creations by infusing Taitung’s cultural elements and identity as the focal point of
their submissions. This year’s AIAA will be accepting submissions from June 1 until July 1. Submissions
that are accepted, will go on exhibit at end of the year from December 17, 2022, until January 29, 2023
at Taitung Living Art Center.
The 2022 AIAA is going to be bigger and better than previous art exhibitions. This year’s event not only
increases the number of finalists from 2 to 3 but also the prize money as well: $400,000 NTD per
finalist; that’s $100,000 more than the last art exhibit! What's more, domestic and foreign applicants
are both eligible to participate and submit works in this year’s event, as in 2020 AIAA submissions that
were restricted to Taiwanese citizens only in light of the worldwide pandemic. A recent National
Geographic three-part documentary series, Secrets of the Ocean Tribes, released in mid-February and
concluded in early March brought an international audience and spotlight to Taitung—as well as many
other aboriginal communities across the island—to experience and explore their findings on whether
Taiwan is definitely the origin location of the Austronesians. While there is no universally accepted
theory of the exact whereabouts of their common point of origin, the most plausible—and the most
accepted—theory is the Austronesian originated on Formosa with DNA and linguistic evidence to
substantiate the claim.
The documentary dives deep into current DNA and linguistic evidence as well as tries to draw parallels
between the cultures of Indo-Pacific communities from nations like Taiwan, New Zealand, and Indonesia
among others. They found recurring themes of the tattoos playing an important role in society, similar
tattoo designs, and similar interpretations of the afterlife between the different communities, however,
evidence was not compelling enough outright disprove other Austronesian origin theories. While their
findings were inconclusive and unable to label Taiwan as the definitive Austronesian Hawaiki—the
Austronesian word for motherland—the inconclusive nature of their research may be just as satisfying as
disproving other origin theories. As Julian Davison, historian, and host of the Secrets of the Ocean
Tribes documentary, puts it: “Maybe that (Austronesian Hawaiki is) not what matters—the legend of a
common homeland is something that can remind us every day, how we all live on a shared planet of which
we are not the master but just a part of.” Just as the Austronesian International Art Reward has done
and will continue to—bringing Taitung’s rich cultures and communities closer together. Please consider
attending and or submitting to the AIAA exhibition. Immerse yourself in the rich traditions and cultures
of Indo-Pacific communities that make living in Taitung so special. Enjoy our past, in the present, and
make our future even brighter and better!