Category: Narrative/Verbal Art — Folk/Fairy Tale

Aboriginal Folk Tales of Taiwan: Animals, Heroes, and Heroic Adventures

By Charles P. Beaupre. 2007. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press. 316 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7734-5302-9 (hard cover).

Reviewed by Margaret Read MacDonald, King County Library System

[Review length: 608 words • Review posted on May 26, 2009]

Dr. Charles P. Beaupre is associate professor of Modern Languages and Asian Studies at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from McGill University. He thanks “many individuals of the aboriginal community in Taiwan” and notes that through "countless interviews and exchanges, I was able to gather much useful data on a vast array of themes and ideas pertaining to aboriginal folk tales.” Beaupre cites collections of aboriginal tales by Fafa Huoseluman (1997), Lin Chun-Yi (2001, 2001), and Lin Sheng-Xian (1999) published by Zhen Xing press, and a collection by Lin Dao-Sheng (2001) published by Han-Yi Si-Yen press. He also cites two websites as sources for aboriginal tales.

The book includes forty-two tales, including legends from the Tsou, Paiwan, Amei, Bunun, Saisha, Tao, Lukai, Puyuma, and Atayal. Each tale in the collection is followed by a tribal name and a term such as “Source: Saisha tribal community.” The stories are all told in a similar tone, clearly Beaupre’s voice, and no mention is made of individual tellers interviewed, though it is implied by the introduction that he learned about these stories through numerous interviews with tribal members.

This book appears to be a compilation of three shorter books, since the introductions to Part I: Animals, Part II: Heroes, and Part III: Heroic Adventures indicate that they were meant to stand alone. The bookmaking is strange indeed. The introduction to the book and the introduction to Part I each cite several works. A bibliography of these works finally surfaces at the end of Part I. This is followed by a section of illustrations not mentioned in the table of contents, which includes forty-eight pages devoted to full-page black-and-white illustrations, one for each of the stories in the three parts. They are drawn by Taipei art instructor Reinmei Chung, who has written a foreword to the book and says his art is influenced by aboriginal communities near his home village.

Many of the stories contain unusual elements. A Puyuma tale tells of a young man who flies on a kite to rescue his brother. The brother grabs onto the kite’s tail and is whisked away from his captors. In another tale a brother rescues his sister by bending a long reed until his captured sister can grasp it and then letting it spring back, carrying her to safety.

Kindness seems an element in many tales. Several tales deal with relationships with snakes and often the snakes are portrayed as kindly. In one Bunun tale the humans even form a treaty with the snakes. Another Bunun tale tells of a kind couple who visit a country underground and are treated kindly by the dwellers there; less kindly neighbors follow, and the underground folks have to seal off the hole to their country. A Paiwan tale of Monkey and Crab treating each other unkindly ends with Monkey being burnt, a theme appearing in Japanese folktales, but in the Paiwan version the Crab becomes worried about the friend he has mistreated and hurries to help him.

The chapters containing tales of heroes and heroic adventures reveal much about the cultures of the various aboriginal tribes, showing their connection with magical beings and their beliefs about how they first arrived on the island of Taiwan.

Despite the book’s total lack of information about the tellers or the cultures from which the tales come, this collection is important for the fact that it makes these tales available to us in the English language. Beaupre has obviously done much legwork in searching out information about these tales and putting them down in English-language retellings which reveal their unusual elements to Western readers.

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© Journal of Folklore Research, 2020. Last revised January 22, 2022.