More than 50,000 of Pingtung County's 873,000 inhabitants are aboriginal, and a string of villages dominated by the Paiwan and Rukai tribes stretches from the northeastern corner of the county all the way to Kenting National Park on Taiwan's southernmost tip. The best known of these settlements is a village that people from the plains often call Sandimen, but which the government officially refers to as Sandi. The township in which it lies – which is the actual Sandimen – contains six villages, some more accessible than others, and of its 7,400 residents, 94% are indigenous. The neighboring townships of Majia, Wutai, and Taiwu also have a strong aboriginal character.
Unlike Alishan – where aboriginal residents, outnumbered by hotel workers from other parts of Taiwan, live in a ghetto-like cluster of dwellings that few visitors see – Sandi remains a proper village. Tourism brings in dollars but it does not rule; on any given day, the majority of those making their way through the streets are local folk. Most adult males divide their time between construction or factory work in the lowlands and on small farms in the hills. Their wives also work on the land, growing mangoes or gathering wild taros, which are then spread on the roadside to dry in the sun. And like indigenous youngsters throughout Taiwan, Sandi's teenagers are more conversant with Mandarin rap music than the language of their ancestors.Sandi is laid out on a steep hillside above the Ailiao River, and most of the 120-odd households enjoy superb views over the plains. For many visitors, the first stop is the Dragonfly Beads Art Studio (Tel: 08-799-2856; www.puqatan.com.tw), on the left of the main thoroughfare just below the heart of the village. There is no English sign; visitors who cannot read Chinese should look for the giant model dragonfly on the workshop's roof.
Established in 1983, Dragonfly is likely Pingtung County's best-known producer of souvenirs. The glass beads that have made Dragonfly famous are more than beautiful keepsakes. They represent a revival of a tribal tradition, as until well into the 20th century colored beads were treasured by both the Paiwan and the Rukai. Women wore them with pride, since possessing such beads implied high social status.
Dragonfly enjoyed a boom in late 2008 and early 2009 thanks to the home-grown smash-hit movie Cape No. 7. In several scenes, the stars of this romantic comedy wore glass-bead necklaces supplied by Dragonfly. Unfortunately, the production of glass beads cannot be quickly ramped up to meet surges in demand, as new employees need at least three months – and often half a year – before their work is good enough to be sold...
Like the previous entry, this article is in Taiwan Business Topics' Travel & Culture special issue. To read the whole thing, go here.