US Student Sean K. ('22) Translates Taiwanese Indigenous Picture Books

By Fish Tung, Communications Team

Please see below for the Chinese translation. 如需閱讀中文版本,請參考下列翻譯。

Photo caption: The Moon whispers, '"The millet in the soil experiences the warmth of the Sun in the sky and the nourishment of Mother Nature, along with your prayers. You take some boar hair and burn it with fire. The aroma of boar hair will awaken the sleeping millet spirits, breathing them with new life. The millet will then slowly start sprouting out of the soil."

Language is not only a tool for communication but also plays a crucial part in carrying and delivering cultural messages.

For some ethnic groups without writing systems, storytelling -- whether transmitted orally or hidden in the cultural codes (totems) -- is a way of presenting and passing down languages. It is also the core of continuing the ethnic cultures and local knowledge.

In a globalized world where languages are frequently exchanged, translators are recognized as a bridge, building an environment for better communication and understanding. Therefore, a lot more stories can be told, seen, and heard between cultures.

Some translators describe themselves as invisible representatives, while other translators think translating is more like solving a complicated puzzle.

One of our upper school Tigers, Sean K.('22), has recently joined this group of communications "bridges." He recently completed translating a complete series of Taiwanese indigenous picture books.

The books are about four different stories of group Takitu'du of Bunun (布農族卓社群). Including Balincinan (The Origin of the Bunun's Surname), Pasuntamul (The Bunun's Harvest Festival), Qalingas buan (The Whispering of the Moon), and tultul (The Melody of the Bunun's "tultul").

For Sean, the whole process of translating the picture books is just like a journey of learning something new about himself, and something more about Taiwan-- the land he grew up in.

There are six major tribal communities in Bunun. Takitu'du is one of them which is mainly distributed across the area of Hsinyi and Renai townships of Nantou. According to the Administration Bureau of Indigenous Peoples, Nantou County Government, there are about 5,000 people of Takitu'du living around the area.

The project of generating and translating the Takitu'du picture books happened in one of the villages called "Qatu"(卡度部落), located in Renai township. In fact, this project is part of the plan of Indigenous Languages Learning Center in Nantou (原住民族語言南投學習中心). The idea came from the team effort and production of one of the classes for the purpose of learning Bunun in a creative way.

As a member of  Indigenous Impact and Initiative Formosa school clubs, Sean connected to the Qatu and one of the key figures-- Mr. Shi Zhi-Xiong, through the first visiting experience of the club. Mr. Shi is the Bunun translator, illustrator, and co-editor of the books. He then invited Sean to join the project and worked closely with him to sort out the English translations.

It took about two months for Sean to complete the translation of the four books. He found the stories were extremely interesting to him, and they all somehow connected to nature. 

"Except the stories in the picture books, one of my favorite stories told by Mr. Shi is the Great Snake War between the Bunun and the Chinese Moccasins (百步蛇)," said Sean. "They ended in an agreement to coexist from then on." 

The story not only represents the Bunun tradition knowledge and their view of life but also shows their relationships with nature.   

"I want to study biology in the future, so I do know how important the environment is," he said. "I couldn't help but marvel at the intricate harmony between the Bunun and their respect and appreciation of nature." 

In order to fully understand and not to lose the meaning, Sean had to pay close attention to many details. He had to keep checking again and again with Mr. Shi. 

"I think the biggest challenge for me was because there are some words that I was not quite sure would be completely captured in English, and the values are completely different," Sean said.

He said that this concept of values and culture often caused him some confusion in the process.

"When I was reading the Chinese translations, I was still confused about some of their differences like their customs and traditions," said Sean. "I had to ask Mr. Shi, and I think that was another entry point for learning about their cultures. But it was pretty fun, actually. You're basically reading a story and helping other people get to know the story."

According to Mr. Shi, in the process of proofreading and helping Sean with the English translation, he expected Sean to translate the stories from Bunun's point of view. He hoped the translation can still carry out the indigenous perspectives and the view of the life of the Bunun people.

Besides, Sean said that he got influenced by those learning experiences from Mr. Arnold's history class. 

"There's always people left out in history sometimes," said Sean. "Like the stories are never reflective of their own views."

Sean mentioned that one of the main factors that thrived his passion for promoting indigenous cultures was his eagerness for building a deeper connection with Taiwan, an important part of forming his own identity.

"I'm going to college soon and will be very far away from home. I'm going to miss it somehow," Sean said. "I just kind of thought, why do I not feel as connected to the identities of all the people in Taiwan? I really wanted to know more about Taiwan and its various cultures."

Sean talked about how he was inspired by Bunun's culture in the preface of the books: "The Bunun demonstrates their interdependence with the island we all call home…, and most importantly, their own unique identity that is one of the true treasures of the native land of Taiwan."

By translating the picture books into English, Sean hopes that it can reach out to more cross-cultural readers. On the other hand, it is also a good chance for him to reflect on the relationships between the Bunun and himself, people and nature, Taiwan and the world.

At TAS, we know that home is where the heart goes, but it is also where the heart is. So we bid Sean (and all of our TAS graduates) a Takitu'du blessing, a phrase usually said to young people who study, work, or live far away from home:

Uvava'az mulumaqa! (Come home! My children.) 

While we celebrate the significant achievement for Sean, we know that no matter where we go in the world, as Tigers, we are never far away from home.





我們高中部十二年級的學生—Sean K.('22)近期剛完成台灣原住民布農族卓社群繪本的翻譯工作。

這一系列的繪本是關於布農族卓社群四個不同的故事。包含Balincinan(布農族卓社群姓氏起源說)、Pasuntamul(豐收感恩祭)、Qalingas buan(月語),以及tultul(布農族卓社群杵音起源說)。




身為學校兩個原住民相關社團Indigenous Impact及 Initiative Formosa的成員,Sean透過社團首次到卡度部落的參訪經驗開始跟當地,還有其中一位關鍵人物—石志雄先生有更多深入的聯繫。石先生除了是當地的族語教師,也是這次系列繪本的布農族語翻譯、繪圖跟共同編輯。在那之後,石老師邀請Sean加入繪本翻譯的行列,並在翻譯過程中與Sean密切合作,協助他整個翻譯的歷程。
















*卓社群(Takitudu)分布於卓社大山及濁水溪上游沿岸山坡台地,卓社群稱濁水溪左岸為Taki qantavan,指的是「qantavan」的地;而卓社大山至asang Tudu之間稱Taki savanan。名為卓社群Takitudu,因卓社群的始祖名字為Tudu,因此該群的發源地稱為asang Tudu,社群的名稱則稱為Takitudu。