Resting on the southeastern coast of Taiwan, separated from the Batanes of the Philippines by the Bashi Channel of the Luzon Strait, is an island dressed in lush greenery and steep mountains whose sun rises and sinks into an ocean peppered with the red, white, and black boats of the Yami. The walls of the children's schools burst with iridescent tribal paintings, and bright summer rays melt onto skin.
This is Orchid Island, also known as "Lanyu" or "Pongso no Tao" (Island of the People). Once restricted entry under Japanese occupation, its eight-hundred-year-old culture remains one of the most archaic of Taiwan Aboriginal societies. But despite lacking in the material development of its Taiwanese or Philippine neighbours, Orchid Island's community of four thousand is not left wanting. Theirs is one of those rare cultures balanced in subtleties and a timelessness; elders dressed in loincloth and collarless vests walk hand in hand with a younger generation, increasingly curious and welcoming to anyone willing to cross the crystalline channel to their home with a forgiveness and understanding that, despite war filled history or government neglect, we are all just stars that have people names.
Words & Photos: Mason Marcobello