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An Exploration of the Tsou People's Forest Memory Bank, Forestry Bureau Publishes the Plant Book of TSOU

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202011/13
    The book launch for the Plant Book of TSOU, published by the Forestry Bureau, dictated orally by the Tsou elder Avayi‧Yatauyagana, and edited by Seedesign, was held today (13th) at the Huashan 1914 Creative Park W5-2 Building. Tsou elders were invited to the event to share their knowledge on the use of tribal plants, and were well-received by the audience for their witty banter. In addition, the book also mentioned the work "Memories of Azalea Mountain - A Tribute to the Alishan Tsou" by Tsou musician Uong'e Yatauyungana (Kao Yi-Sheng). His granddaughter, Yinguyu Yatauyungana, a well-known Tsou singer, was also invited to give a live performance onsite. At the event, food design was also carried out using the concepts of "Food of the Forest: Tsou's Edible Plant Design." Several dozen edible plants, including ailanthus prickly ash, were used for food design that incorporated cultural traditions and innovative techniques to create dishes that allowed guests to experience the wonders of the Tsou's unique plants and the richness of the indigenous land and culture.
    According to the Tsou's origin myth, the gods descended from Yushan and shook the Formosan Sweet Gum. The fruits it dropped became the ancestors of the Tsou. The Tsou people, living in symbiosis with the forests, serve as stewards of nature. The Tsou people, who call the forest their home, have passed down their mountain treasure compendium of "every blade of grass and every tree" through oral tradition. The Chiayi Forest District Office of the Forestry Bureau commissioned Professor Liu Chiung-Hsi of National Taitung University and the elders of the Tfuya tribal community to conduct a botanical survey of plants within the Tsou cultural context. After fieldwork and interviews with the elders, more than three hundred species of plants were recorded. Aesthetic transformation was added to the basis of academic research to enrich the storytelling and aesthetic aspects of the Tsou plants, which were presented in the vibrant Plant Book of TSOU.
    Lin Hwa-Ching, Director General of the Forestry Bureau, said that the Plant Book of TSOU is a memory bank collectively formed of people and plants. The natural and cultural wisdom of the Tsou people is documented through the uses, stories, and crafts of the plants in the lives of the Tsou. The Tsou people have a unique way of looking at plants, and the entire forest is like a library to the Tsou. From sacred plants for ritual use to the common plants transformed into childhood games, the details about tribal life are brought to life and each and every plant offers its own engaging tale. How fortunate we are to be able to simply open the pages of this book and be guided by the Tsou people into their colorful world of botanical life.
    Whether it's legends, such as underground dwarfs giving millet as a gift; linguistic features, like the names given to the various parts, the stages of maturity, and uses for harvesting silvergrass; or rituals, including the magic of the pearleaf microglossa and red quinoa, which are known only to shamans; the yellow rotang palm and the red fruit fig tree, which symbolize men's gathering places; the red cedar that houses the temple of the soul; or the Taiwan davallia that can be used in a secret recipe for a love potion...contained in every botanical record is the wisdom of the ancestors that embodies nature and culture, spirit and body, a wisdom which will be passed down through the generations.
According to the Forestry Bureau, the book categorizes the Tsou's traditional uses of plants. In addition to plant-related sacred myths and legends of the supernatural, the book also includes plants important for hunters, plants used for building and domestic purposes, plants used for healing or that have an adverse effect on other plants, plants used for children's toys, and plants used for farming and raising animals. Each plant is presented through illustrations, with the corresponding name in the Tsou language and scientific names. It is not just a botanical book, it is a crystallization of the Tsou's wisdom on plants.
    If you are interested in this publication, please contact the Government Books Store (address: No. 209, Songjiang Road, Zhongshan District, Taipei City; telephone: 02-25180207). Or you can order the book online (online store website: Goverment Bookstore).
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