Most of the literature surrounding 三仙台 San Xian Tai (“the Stage of the There Immortals”), three huge pieces of rock jutting out from the middle of the Pacific Ocean in between Taidong and Hualian, says that it is so named when 呂洞賓 Lv Dong Bin, 李鐵拐 Li Tie Guai and 何仙姑 He Xian Gu, from ancient Chinese folklore the Eight Immortals, decided to board the island from here. However, to the Amis, the three immortals mean nothing to them. For the tribe nearest to San Xian Tai, these rock formations have always been called PiSiLiAng, meaning a land for herding sheep. Since the little island is landlocked in the midst of the lapping waves the sheep have nowhere to go but to stay put, and hence PiSiLiAng have become a favourite spot for herders.
As is the case with most aboriginal areas in Taiwan, the biggest challenge faced by the community these days is the lack of local career opportunities, forcing the majority of the working population to big cities and leaving the old and the young behind. Most children are being taken care of grandparents too old to be able to discipline them, and hence social problems like drug abuse starts to present themselves.
Seeing this, community development director Chen Chun-mei teamed up with music teacher Zhi-ming to develop a drumming group for teenagers. The group turned out to be a huge success. Soon, every kid and teenager wanted to join. The children make their own drums from abandoned buoys from the ocean, and the drumhead from dried sheepskin. Their name, Paw Paw, literally means buoy. Today, proud to be part of the Amis tribe and part of the group, the children start to cherish their culture and the traditional Amis language.
We came to watch the performance on a hot summers afternoon. When we reached the music hall, it seemed as if every grandparent and child from the tribe had gathered around the building to watch these kids perform, for the nth time perhaps. Grandmas were chatting amongst themselves, and little kids roamed free, clambering in and out of the thick, wood-framed windows as if it was tree. There was an air of festivity, and when the drums rolled, I was awestruck.
To see where Paw Paw Drums are performing next, follow them on facebook.