Thursday, May 9, 2013

South Taiwan's Hakka bastions (Unity)

Taiwan's south is a stronghold of Taiwanese Holo culture, yet it also has some of the island’s most intriguing pockets of Hakka culture. Small towns and villages dominated by Hakka clans are close enough to Kaohsiung's urban core to make for easy day-tripping, yet distant enough to present scenes of bucolic tradition.

Southern Hakka often say their ancestors arrived in Taiwan during the reign of Qing Emperor Kangxi (1661–1722). Dating the migration in this way is fitting, as many early settlers joined militias which not only defended Hakka communities from rebels but also helped imperial troops put down uprisings. These loyalist bands formed six units (六堆, liu dui in Chinese). Later, the term Liudui came to mean not just the fighting men but also the six zones of Hakka settlement in Kaohsiung and Pingtung.

Men from Meinong fought as part of the Liudui’s Right Unit. This town of 43,000 is still more than nine-tenths Hakka, and hundreds of residents live by making and selling handpainted oil-paper parasols or thick noodles.

Long before they became choice souvenirs, the former were popular gifts when couples married, and not only for their beauty. Auspiciously, the Hakka word for paper sounds like the word for children. Also, the word used to describe a parasol’s roundness has the same pronunciation as the word for completeness, so they came to symbolize family unity.

In souvenir stores miniature parasols decorated with images of birds and flowers can be bought for less than NT$500. Painted-to-order versions are also available.

Meinong’s most famous specialty dish is ban tiao. These thick white noodles are made from rice flour, unlike most of the noodles eaten in Taiwan, which are made from wheat. Typically fried with slivers of pork and carrot, or boiled and served in a soup with a little pork and a few greens, they go down well before or after exploring Meinong’s quaint neighborhoods...

This is part of an article which appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Unity. I took the photo on the outskirts of Meinong a few years ago.

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