CyberFair Project ID: 4812

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International Schools CyberFair Project Narrative
Title: Beauteous Yami Underground Dwellings
Category: 4. Local Specialties

School: Taitung County Langdao Elementary School
    taitung, taiwan, taiwan

10 students, ages 10-12 worked together to complete this CyberFair project on March 13, 2007. They have participated in CyberFair in the following year(s): 2005,2006

Classes and Teachers: Qiu guang hui

E-Mail contact:

Our School's Web Site:

Project Overview

1. Description of Our Community

Lanyu Island is a pearl in the Pacific Ocean. The islanders of Lanyu, also known as Yami, live by the traditional farming of planting taro and yam in the field using iron sticks and their own hands. Under the moonlight of summer nights, men sail on big boats to catch flying fish and on small boats to go after schools of dolphin fish (corylphaena hippurus). The culture of Yami is a lot more than the famous “T” style underpants worn by men and the “hair dances” performed by women?it is embodied by the islanders’ respect towards the natural environment, “get what we need and not what we want.” Like other native tribes in Taiwan, Yami are sweet and of good natures. People in the tribes and communities live by the folklore and legends inherited from their ancestors. However, societal changes force Yami to make choices. Nowadays, the children prefer the fast foods from MacDonald and Kentucky Fried Chicken over the tastes of yam and taro meals. The tradition appears to be well kept; but at the same time dramatic changes seem to be underway. “We are eager to understand our own tribes and, most importantly, ourselves,” as the Yami said.

2. Summary of Our Project

The Yamis of Lanyu Island are unique in their philosophy coexisting with natural environments as well as in the rites conducted in the community, which are distinct from other native tribes. The underground dwellings of Yamis have been listed one of the world cultural heritages?this speaks volumes of the significance of its status in the human history of cultural developments! To Yamis, the underground house not only shelters their families from natural disaster, such as Typhoon, but also symbolizes the social status of adult males in the tribe. We wanted to understand the wisdom of Yami ancestors from the building of underground dwellings and the insights on Yamis’ culture through the process of underground construction. We want to appreciate the richness of Yamis’ wisdom by on-site visits and to experience the inner beauty of their culture that cannot be expressed by sound and words by interviews with the tribe’s elderly. We firmly believe: participating is the only way to better understand ourselves and our culture.

3. Our Computer and Internet Access

A. Percentage of students using the Internet at home:less than 20

B. Number of workstations with Internet access in the classroom:1

C. Connection speed used in the classroom:dedicated connection

D. Number of years our classroom has been connected to the Internet:2-3

E. Additional comments concerning your computer and/or Internet access (Optional):

Limited by financial situations, only two of the students participating in this research have computers at home and due to lack of access to the Internet they can only perform data collection and simple tasks such as basic word processing. The computing resources and the Internet connections that students use at school were made available from the necessity expansion project in 1999. Located in a remote area, up-to-date the school still uses FT1+BB512, an alternative program to connect TANET with a downloading speed of 1.5 MB (actual speed: 09 MB). Nonetheless this equipment proves to be sufficient for this study. The difficulty was that the students could access the computer and related resources only when they were at school Thanks to the support of the school principle and teachers, although the usage is somewhat limited, we can have access to the computers and Internet after school hours so that our studies can proceed smoothly.

4. Problems We Had To Overcome

Underground dwellings are precious heritage of the Yamis, though disappearing at a fast pace in the modern age. If this unique cultural creation ceases to exist, it signals not only the extinction of one of Yamis’ rich cultural heritages but also a great loss of human civilization! We cannot solve the current trends of a changing society and keep the underground dwellings from extinction. However, through this study and the presentation of our observations, we intend to remind people on the beauty and uniqueness of Yami’s underground houses, both in their physical looks and in their cultural implications. We sincerely hope that perhaps Yamis’ underground houses will gain a new life through our attempts to introduce their creativeness. There are several problems encountered during our efforts in data collection:

5. Our Project Sound Bite

What is culture? Sociologists have their own and different definitions. One thing for sure is that culture must bear close ties to people’s life. Therefore, we must accept the concept that culture will evolve over time. Reflected in the Yami culture of underground dwelling, we can not expect the Yami to continue living underground, just as we can not require people to use cattle for transportation, because humans have rights to pursue a better life and higher quality of living. On the other hand, the wisdom and culture of Yami’s underground houses are a treasure common to human civilization. Being the Yamis, we have the responsibilities to record and understand it.

6. How did your activities and research for this CyberFair Project support standards, required coursework and curriculum standards?

With the study by the teachers and students this research provides an opportunity to integrate the concept of sustainable environmental conservation into the school’s curriculum, as the Yami upholds an environmentally friendly philosophy in their practices of boat- and house-building when using materials from the nature. For instance, the Yami always plant seeds next to the stubs after they harvest the trees. After all, the modern concept of natural conservation has long been practiced in Yami’s traditional approach. This is the lesson we need to re-discover and re-learn.

Project Elements

1) What information tools & technologies did you used to complete your CyberFair project?

Instruments (Purposes) Digital camera, Card reader:Taking pictures Digital camera :Making films Digital recorder :Interviewing staff and local residents Web Cam :Discussion with digital volunteers Computer :Collecting information; Designing questionnaires, web pages and briefings Printer :Data and questionnaire printout

Software Software Purposes Word 2003 :Summarizing interviews and collecting information PowerPoint 2003 :Making lists and summarizing information FrontPage 2003 :Producing web pages and briefings Skype2.0(beta) :Online telephone communication with teachers for discussion msn8.2 :Online communication with teachers for discussion and sharing files. Photo Impact 8.0:Taking pictures and interviewing Flash MX :Producing animation

2) In what ways did you act as "ambassadors" and spokespersons for your CyberFair project both on-line and in person.

Among the various efforts of data collection in our study, a major activity is the on-site visit of Yami’s underground dwellings. These visits brought great satisfaction to our research team?the residents interviewed were often surprised and moved by our efforts. They were amazed by the capability of the children in our team to complete such an incredible task and to make Lanyu Island visible to the world. They were also moved by the fact that all the teachers and students in the team were willing to spend time to understand Yami’s culture. In some cases, this reminded the elderly how their own children had drifted apart from Lanyu over the years and forgot their origin. Throughout the course of this research, we shared with them all the experiences and memorable moments! We started with a simple objective of completing this research through means of using computerized tools for information exchange, face-to-face interviews and discussions, and writing and recording of data. Yet, our hope is that, as an outcome of this study, people in the tribe will understand themselves and their culture and subsequently build confidence. Thus the tribal residents may become active in teaching their children of their cultural heritage.

3) What has been the impact of your project on your community?

The Yami are courteous; they always share their culture and knowledge with outsiders with a humble “I am embarrassed.” Unfortunately, the humbleness did not help with the regretful and gradual vanishing of the tradition and cultural wisdom with the passing of the older generation. For the old dwellers of Yami underground houses, it was a simple matter of life living in the underground and there was nothing special to it. By knowing the cultural abundance possessed by the Yami’s underground houses as discovered in our research, the residents of the community became influenced and started to spend time with us during our later visits, sharing their thoughts of the underground dwellings, their experiences of living and building, and even their recollections of how a house was celebrated and blessed when a building project completed. The parents of the research team members also volunteered to instruct our students. We gained many data from their assistance, and we were delighted by the sense that the folks in the community joined us and together enjoyed and shared the beauty of the Yami underground dwellings.

4) How did your project involve other members of your community as helpers and volunteers?

(A)Digital Spot(National Taitung University,Department of Art and Crafts Education): (1)Assist to collect interview information (2)Teach students the techniques of making web pages (3)Produce web pages (B)Parents and local residents provide information and support (1)Coordinate locations and interviewees (2)Provide translation assistance (3)Share personal experience

5) Discoveries, Lessons and Surprises (Optional)

Before the study, it was hard to imagine the time and energy consumed in building a Yami underground house. It is interesting to learn that a house built bears a close relationship to the owner’s social status in the tribe?not just anyone in the tribe can build or live in an underground house! We also discovered from the study that the students missed greatly the days they lived in the underground houses. Nowadays most of these students can only seek comfort from their childhood memory rather than re-living this experience. Nonetheless, whenever they thought of how they played hide-and-seek on the roofs, enjoyed naps on the kiosks by the sea breeze during a hot summer day, and slept in the house away from winter wind blowing outside, there were smiles on their faces. We knew it was a sweet memory brought back to them, a memory of loving, caring and warmth from their family. We admired the cultural wisdom applied by the Yami in building underground dwellings, particularly the mechanics of construction using natural materials and natural methods. The ceremonial rites during construction, encompassing endless blessings for their future generations, were the most impressive part to us in the Yami’s house-building culture.


View our CyberFair Project (Project ID: 4812)

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