Searching for the Koko Ta’ay-New evidence of Negrito presence on Taiwan found?

Key information

6:30 pm to 8:00 pm
Brunei Gallery

About this event

Tobie Openshaw

As part of the 2022 SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies Summer School, we kindly ask that you register to attend.

*Please be aware that this session follows British Summer Time (BST).

Also available via Microsoft Teams


Taiwan Indigenous folklore stories about “mischievous little people” who lived in the mountains, caused mischief among the tribespeople, and eventually were wiped out, are common among several Taiwan groups – and indeed, across the Pacific. Most notably, the Saisiyat people invoke the “koko ta’ay” during their semi-annual paSta’ay ritual, an act of contrition towards the spirits of the little men for whose extinction, the story goes, they were responsible.
These have long been accepted as just that – myths and stories, interesting mainly from a folkloric perspective. However, the description of the koko ta’ay, which usually says they were “short-statured, dark-skinned and with curly hair” – does appear to match some remaining populations of “Negrito” people still living in other parts of Southeast Asia. But no physical evidence of Negrito presence in Taiwan has ever been discovered... or has it? A recent surprise archaeological finding has rekindled the intriguing theory that these mythical “little people” may be more real than previously imagined.
Documentary filmmaker and UCLan Affiliated Research Fellow Tobie Openshaw has engaged with this topic alongside Saisiyat friends and elders for over a decade, attending every paSta’ay since 2012, and following clues in the fields of anthropology, linguistics, archaeology and genetic studies.
Tobie, a seasoned storyteller, will share his work-in-progress on both a book (co-edited with fellow UCLan Fellow Dean Karalekas) entitled “Seeking the Kokota’ay, An Ethnography of the Elusive Little People of Taiwan”, and a documentary film on the subject.
This promises to be spirited, wide-ranging talk about persistence, ethics, dead ends, surprise evidence, and unravelling sometimes contradictory stories.

Speaker's Bio

Tobie Openshaw is a documentary filmmaker/photographer based in Taiwan for 24 years. His work has been seen on channels such as National Geographic, Discovery, and the BBC.

Tobie is an Affiliated Research Fellow at the Center for Austronesian Studies, UCLan, and his primary subjects of interest include Indigenous hunting rights, post-colonial transitional justice, Indigenous climate resilience, and the Austronesian connection across the Pacific. He recently co-wrote a chapter entitled “Climate Change, Humility and Resilience: Analyzing a Myth of the Bunun in Taiwan” in Pacific Voices and Climate Change, published by UCLan. Tobie has been invited to speak on his experiences and insights in the Taiwan cultural landscape, social movements, and Indigenous issues at institutions such as SOAS London, UCLan, Academia Sinica Taipei, University of Ottawa, and others. He also guest-lectures on Indigenous Knowledge and Documentary Filmmaking in Taipei.

Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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