Friday, August 23, 2013

Tracing the footsteps of their Taiwanese grandfathers


It is a very little known and sad story of World War 11 in Papua New Guinea, that many of the Japanese soldiers were in fact Taiwanese.
The Takasago Giyūtai (Taiwanese Volunteers) were forcefully-conscripted volunteer soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army, recruited from the Taiwanese aboriginal tribes during WW11because of their hunter-gatherer culture, and sent to the jungles of far-off New Guinea to fight in a war that was not theirs.
Now, almost 70 years after the end of WW11 in 1945, a Taiwanese academic is in PNG to follow the footsteps of his grandfather in Wewak, East Sepik, as well as conduct traditional rituals to bring back the spirits of the Takasago Giyūtai who lost their lives there.
Tsai…a man on a mission

Prof Futuru Tsai, an academic at National Taitung University in Taiwan, left for Wewak yesterday (Thursday) with research student Yavaus Gling, artist Siki Sufin, and documentary filmmaker Siaman Zhang Yehai, on a special mission to retrace the footsteps of their grandfathers and bring their spirits with them back to Taiwan, as well as foster new bonds with the people of Wewak East Sepik, and PNG.
Prof Futuru Tsai with artist Siki Sufin, Taiwan Trade Mission representative Daniel Hu, research student Yavaus Gling, and documentary filmmaker  Siaman Zhang Yehai.-Pictures by MALUM NALU

He estimates that of the more than 4,000 Takasago Giyūtai brought by the Japanese to fight in PNG, up to 3,000 lost their lives here.
Tsai’s grandfather, Roeng, died two years ago aged 90, but his stories about WW11 in PNG, which included that of starving Japanese being forced to eat human flesh to stay alive in the jungles, have always intrigued his grandson, who had already published his biography.
This is his second time in PNG, having first come here four years ago with his father and younger brother, to retrace Roeng’s footsteps.
“There were more than 4,000 Taiwanese indigenous people who were conscripted by the Japanese to go to the battlefields, especially in Papua New Guinea, like Wewak, Madang, Lae, and Rabaul,” Tsai told The National yesterday.
“Four years ago, I traced the footsteps of my grandfather with my father and my younger brother.
“At that time, we made many, many new friends around Wewak and Angoram.
“This time, four years later, I bring with me one of the most-famous indigenous artists in Taiwan, a documentary filmmaker, and also one of the students from my graduate institute.
“This time, we want to bring our ancestral spirits from around the battlefield, back home to Taiwan.
“We also want to establish new connections.
“We want to create new understanding between Taiwan society and Papua New Guinea.”
Tsai admitted that the story of the Takasago Giyūtai was one of the little-known and saddest in the WW11 history of Taiwan, Japan, and PNG, and hopes that something positive will come out of his visit to Wewak and East Sepik.

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