The Tao people of Orchid Island (Lanyu) in Taiwan have traditionally attributed bad things that happen to the work of evil spirits, and believe these spirits cling to the sick and dying. For a long time, the tribespeople in these conditions found that only a handful of relatives were willing to take care of them, as others kept their distance for fear of attracting bad luck. Elderly people suffering from chronic or serious illnesses comprised the majority of the sick and they too, felt that they would bring misfortune upon their families, choosing instead to isolate themselves in a small hut and shunning contact, which resulted in their medical condition deteriorating. The resource-poor island already had limited medical care and this traditional belief further exacerbated the situation.
The director of the film, Si Yabosokanen, used to work as a community nurse at Lanyu Public Health Center. She believed that there was an urgent need to provide home care services to these tribal patients. However, once she started providing this service, she realised that it was not enough to make a difference; she had to improve the overall convalescent care system. It was a huge job, given the number of patients, and was too much for her to handle on her own. Fortunately, she had the habit of recording her life and would occasionally share the images with the tribespeople. Through her actions, the Tao youth became aware of the patients’ urgent need for help, and came forward as volunteers to provide home care services for the elderly. After three years of hard work, the team of volunteers grew to more than forty people, who would visit the patients at home every week. Unfortunately, the concept of evil spirits remained a deeply ingrained part of the Tao culture. The volunteers often found themselves discriminated against by patients or their family members. There were even some volunteers whose husbands opposed their service because they feared the misfortune would rub off on their family.
Si Yabosokanen discovered that the use of images would increase the visibility of the patients in her tribe, and recorded them all down, editing them into a documentary for distribution. The deeply moving images received much attention from the population of Orchid Island and the main island of Taiwan, gradually garnering respect for the healthcare workers of Orchid Island.
Si Yabosokanen:'I am a Tao woman and proud to be one. Even though our cultural taboos make providing medical services to the elderly people difficult, after more than two decades of providing on-site home care to the local community, I realise the elders' reluctance to accept assistance is out of loving kindness on their part: They do not wish to be a burden to their own children. Rather than being forced to deny the tradition of my own people, I hope my nursing work, which I love, can co-exist peacefully with my own culture. I also hope my audience would watch this documentary with an open mind, learning to understand these taboos as a part of the Tao culture.'
Interview with the director HERE.
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