Written by Yu Tai; Photo credit: Profound Life; Illustrated by Lin Jia-Dong; Translated by Lin Shih-Fen
Though none of them is of indigenous descent, the team members at innovative travel group Profound Life still guides travelers to experience indigenous village life with vigor. The team collaborates with indigenous young people who have returned to their home communities to roll out travel itineraries. Travelers are invited to enter the villages and spend two days and one night with local community members in the mountains.
Imagine hitching a ride into the lush forests of Hai’an Range on a “mountain Ferrari” (a pickup truck), then hiking about three and a half hours in the woods to a hunting hut. There is no A/C here, and no internet connection. But you can enjoy natural breezes and the sounds of birds and insects. You may find wild boar footprints and Formosan barking deer droppings randomly around you, announcing the beginning of your ecology lesson.
This is the itinerary for the Jiqi Old Trail Experience offered by new-gen travel group Profound Life. Half a century ago, the indigenous peoples that lived along the coast of Hualien walked to the rift valley for trade. They went along Jiqi, went over the mountains and crossed the Coastal Mountain Range. Nowadays, with the new coastal highway in place and the fact that community members have gradually moved to the plains area, the quiet old trail was slowly forgotten by the indigenous residents.
“If we don’t look for it now, no one will find it anymore.” Profound Life co-founder Liu Hsiang-Yuan said. About a year ago, the Jiqi Community Development Association in Fengbin Township, Hualien County, assembled local indigenous elders and youth to rediscover the historical trail hidden in the overgrowth. They rebuilt a taluan (hunting hut) halfway on the mountain where the former trading post was located in the following year. The team members of Profound Life also participated in the project; and later, with permission from the local community members, the company rolled out the Looking for our roots - Jiqi Old Trail Experience. Travelers follow local elders into the forest to experience a hunter’s life - including gathering timber to make fire, harvesting the heart of rattan palms for food, and making traps.
Lots of Repeat Customers!
Team and Local Communities Spend Up to Six Months to Plan Out the Tours
Profound Life founder A-Lun worked as a tour guide in the tourism industry for eight years. He found that most tour groups would just stop at a tourist destination for short while then hurry to the next one. Many tourists do not have the opportunity to appreciate the beautiful local culture. Thus in 2018, A-Lun founded the travel group Profound Life, which focuses on indigenous village tours, with two other partners. Every trip brings travelers deep into indigenous villages to really connect with local community members. The tours do not stop at specialty shops or popular tourist hot spots, and don’t expect luxurious and comfortable lodgings.
The first tour on the main island of Taiwan A-Lun organized was an experience tour in the forests of Tefuye Village in Alishan Township, Chiayi. His high school classmate Liu Hsiang-Yuan decide to join the team as the two shared similar ideas about changing the existing tourism culture. Actually, the four team members of Profound Life, who are all in their twenties, all experienced the tours themselves and agreed that they shared similar ideas before they started to work together.
Now Profound Life's Facebook fanpage has 11,000 followers, and IG account has 13,000 followers. The four tours that run regularly are the Jiqi Old Trail Experience in Hualien, Tefuye Forest Expedition in Chiayi, Community in the Sky- Ruiyan Village Experience in Nantou, and Tao – the Island of People Tour in Orchid Island (summers only). Each tour departs at least once every month. The carefully planned itineraries attract many repeat customers for Profound Life. Some travelers form such strong friendships during one tour, they all come back later for another tour. “Travelers who have experienced all four village tours can receive an exclusive necklace!” Liu said as he pointed to the wooden necklace around his neck. It is a smaller version of a Truku hunting knife, customized by Profound Life.
Entering the Villages
to Experience Indigenous Lifestyles in the Mountains and Forests
Interestingly, only one of the four members in Profound Life are of indigenous descent. However, this does not diminish their determination to explore indigenous culture. Normally, when travel agencies plan their tours, they can get all details in place with just one phone call. But not for Profound Life. The team usually spends up to three to six months to figure out the community’s culture and get to know the locals before they plan out the itinerary. And they try to buy locally as much as possible.
Tsou youth atai yatauyungana is Profound Life’s important contact at Tefuye Village. After graduating from junior high in Alishan Township, atai yatauyungana moved to the city to work while he studied. Having no concrete goals in life, he returned to his village after completing military service, and was forced to stay there for a month after Typhoon Morakot hit Taiwan. However, this timeout period gave atai yatauyungana a chance to think. He started asking local elders about the village's history, and learnt that his own grandfather played an important role in village rituals. The knowledge strengthened his resolution to learn more about Tsou culture.
Two years ago, atai yatauyungana came into contact with Profound Life, and together they launched the two days and one night “forest internship” guided tour in Tefuye Village. Forgoing a set itinerary, the tour experience is flexibly adjusted according to the environment surroundings. After touring the village, atai yatauyungana leads the travelers into the forest, where every corner is a classroom. Take the common mountain plant, Microglossa pyrifolia (Lam.) Kuntze, as an example. The plant is known as “tapanzou” in Tefuye Village, but as “tapannou” in Dabang. atai yatauyungana also shares distinct ritual songs from different villages so that the visitors from the city can understand the unique features of every people and village, and appreciate the respect and reverence the Tsou people has towards nature. “When visitors come into the mountains, they may accidently offend community members because they don’t know better.” In atai yatauyungana's mind, conflicts that happen between tourists and locals usually originate from the fact the visitors do not understand the local indigenous culture. By giving the travelers a chance to truly experience community culture can bring the public and indigenous peoples closer together.
Other tours are operated in the same model as the one in Tefuye Village. On Orchid Island, travelers not only travel around the island on motorcycles, but also roll up their trousers to pick taros in the fields. They can learn about the dining customs and seasonal rituals of the Tao during the experience. The Jiqi Old Trail was originally used by hunters, and now travelers can learn how to survive in the forest with just one packet of salt and a hunting knife. When you reach Ruiyan Village, the “community in the sky”, you can actually make a jew's harp, listen to the ancient tunes of the Atayal in the taluan, and dream of the life in the olden days.
All tours by Profound Life are results of long periods of study, research, and discussions with community elders and the young generation. The goal is to let travelers fully experience the daily life in indigenous villages and not just walk through the locations like tourists.
Taro is a main staple on Orchid Island. Profound Life brings barefoot travelers into the fields to reconnect with the earth.
After Winning Their Trust,
Community Members Become Family
“The hardest part is to win the trust of the community members.” Liu explained that they have to be culturally sensitive when planning the village experience tours, because you could easily misstep and run the risk of abusing indigenous culture. Liu mentioned that he once posted a photo of a village ritual on Facebook. From a photographer’s perspective, it was a powerful and beautiful photograph; but for the community members, they could not see the connection between the members’ actions and the ritual itself, and questioned whether this photo could really represent the ritual.
Liu immediately took down the photo upon hearing the community members’ reactions. From then on, he would always invite village elders to preview the photos of major events and obtain their permission before publishing the photos. Although this means additional discussions and more details to take care of, Liu believes that this is necessary. Especially since each community has their own unique culture and characteristics, Profound Life insists on taking care of every little detail and everyone’s feelings to present the communities in the most authentic way.
This is an extremely challenging mission, yet it is also the source of heartfelt emotions. “I actually have a godfather at Jiqi.” Liu recalled that after the community members decided to trust Profound Life, they basically took the team members in as family. The effort and dedication everyone put into the tours go beyond a simple business relationship between two business partners.
When they started, the team just wanted to offer in-depth village culture experience tours; but with each trip, they became more and more touched by the beauty of indigenous culture. The strong emotions motivate the team to further connect indigenous villages and city dwellers. Maybe we can say Profound Life is the number one fan of indigenous village life!