Song of Orchid Island

by Barry Martinson

E-book US$5.99

Thirty-nine miles due east of the Hengchun Peninsula, Orchid Island rises up out of the Pacific, a volcanic creation of gnarled shores and steep emerald mountains. Home to the Tao people, the most distinctive of Taiwan’s aboriginal groups, the island’s isolation has long preserved their ancient maritime culture.

In the early 1970s Jesuit seminarian Barry Martinson spent a year on Orchid Island, teaching art and music to primary school children. Song of Orchid Island is his ode to this beautiful island, its close-knit community, and the twilight of age-old ways. Martinson’s poetic warmth is balanced with honest observations of poverty, hunger, and illness – this is no tribal paradise. Woven into the vignettes are anthropological details such as the intricate customs regulating the catching, preparation, and eating of the all-important flying fish; superstitions concerning malignant spirits; and the climactic boat ceremony when the iconic Tao fishing canoes are launched.

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