The Angel East of the River

Father Maurice Poinsot
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2017 / December

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Chuang Kung-ju /tr. by Jonathan Barnard


Maurice Poinsot, 85, is a priest at the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes in Hua­lien County’s Yuli Township, and is currently the oldest priest from the Paris Foreign Missions Society in Hua­lien. He has lived among Taiwan’s native peoples for more than five decades, writing a French‡Amis dictionary, helping locals establish savings cooperatives, and working toward progress on issues relating to education, economics and the preservation of tribal culture. 

 


 

Since 1660 the Paris Foreign Missions Society has been sending missionaries to Asia, where they have had to adjust to differing climates, environments and sanitary conditions as they have done the Lord’s work in countries of varying levels of national development. At times, they have lost their lives while still young, whether by contracting malaria or being killed during episodes of political repression. Although such examples might cause others to take pause, it has not dented the determination of the society’s members to perform their duties and live up to the principles of their mission: Ad exteros, ad gentes, ad vitam—“To other lands, to all nations, for a lifetime.” By accepting their missionary vocation, they committed themselves to spending their youths and lives overseas. 

Father to the tribe

Born in France in 1932, Poinsot entered the seminary at the Catholic University of Paris when he was 17. After eight years of hard work, he was ordained a priest at age 25.

In 1959, at age 27, Poinsot was sent to serve in Hua­lien. Back then, transportation was inconvenient and the young priest got around on a motorcycle as he ministered to people’s needs, driving up into the mountains and down to the coast in the area between Gao­liao in Yuli Township and Feng­nan in Fuli Township. ­Dongli, Lehe, Afih… Poinsot went deep into Aboriginal areas. Even typhoons’ heavy rains wouldn’t scare him off.

The local indigenous people’s poverty made an immediate impression on Poinsot, but he discovered that they were skilled at planting lemon grass. That inspired him to acquire equipment with which they could extract citronella juice and raise the value of their agricultural production.

Most of their farmland was reserved Aboriginal land and was worth very little, which meant they typically had no collateral to speak of. As subsistence farmers, the residents were subject to the whims of the weather merely to eat, and needed badly to take out loans to buy farm equipment or pay for their children’s education. But banks would usually refuse them.

To improve residents’ financial situations and introduce them to the idea of saving, Poinsot studied the models used by savings cooperatives overseas. He discovered that the spirit animating savings cooperatives—“neither profit nor charity, but simply service”—was distinct from the for-profit orientation of banks. To get a mortgage or loan from a bank, collateral is important. It is a materialistic, prop­erty-based relationship. Savings cooperatives, on the other hand, emphasize trust, pooling members’ money to provide those in need with low-interest loans.

Consequently, Poinsot paid for locals to go to Hong Kong and learn how these cooperatives were set up. After several years of planning, they finally established Hua­lien’s first credit cooperative in 1967, in the Amis indigenous village of Afih (Chinese name Tie­fen) in Yuli’s Dong­feng Ward, where the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes is located. “At first, we didn’t have much,” recalls coop staffer Wang Ju­lan. “People were saving just a few NT dollars. Whenever Fr. Poinsot went to lead prayers in the homes of church members in the local tribal villages, he would extol the importance of saving.” Poinsot’s principle: First help yourself, then help others. He was constantly encouraging people to save, noting that small contributions can combine into large amounts and encouraging residents to develop a habit of saving.

Poinsot became like a parent to everyone in Afih, and he established a kindergarten to improve the com­mun­ity’s educational foundations. Healthcare in the area was limited in scope and difficult to access, so he purchased medical goods and set up a health station to provide basic healthcare, even personally treating children’s bruises and wounds from falls. As far as residents were concerned, he was a spiritual teacher to the tribe. Anyone who had a problem would go to Poinsot for help. “The first birthday cake I ever had was provided by Fr. Poinsot, recalls Wang with a smile. “Because our family was poor, my parents had never given me cake before.” Wang says that Poinsot was more like a father to her than her own father. Because Poinsot did most of his work to the east of the Xiu­gu­luan River, he is known to residents as “the angel east of the river.”

Cultural treasure

Poinsot has a down-to-earth personality that is well matched to the Aborigines’ optimistic outlook. He is straight and to the point, and loves a joke. Knowing that locals are mostly surnamed Pan and wanting to fit in, he chose the Chinese name Pan Shi­guang. When he first came to Afih, Poinsot couldn’t speak a word of Amis, but the locals became his teachers, and he gradually mastered the language after years of chatting and gesticulating.

Whether in church giving mass, or in homes for prayer visits, or even just in every­day conversations, Poinsot is constantly speaking in Amis, and he now possesses a native-like fluency. “Fr. Poinsot emphasizes the mother tongue. He communicates with us in our own language. He even tests us,” says a smiling Wang, who has long been at Poinsot’s side. Many of the locals have thus honed their Amis linguistic skills. Even Fr. Lin Xin­liang, who comes from a neighboring village and is taking over Poinsot’s duties, only perfected his Amis when he started working under Poinsot.

“They don’t know how to speak in their own tongue. I want to give them back their language.” Such was Poinsot’s original motivation for compiling the dictionary. He had started by writing down word after word and phrase after phrase in Amis. He continued with 40 years of fieldwork, making records of the variations in vocabulary between different communities. Poinsot would interview tribal elders and take notes, revising and confirming his entries. Then he got fellow Frenchman Fr. Louis Pourrias to co-write the Amis‡French dictionary with him. The massive undertaking was finally completed in 1996.

Based on Poinsot’s dictionary, several Chinese‡Amis dictionaries were later released, which became important tools for research into the Amis language. Even Amis themselves can’t necessarily understand all the Amis entries. It is remarkable that a foreigner was willing to devote decades of his youth to create this precious cultural resource for posterity. For the work, Poinsot received an award from the Ministry of Education for his outstanding contribution to promoting native languages.

Cultural concern, sparing no effort

Early on, Poinsot, who places great stress on education, founded a nursery school to improve children’s educational opportunities. With smaller families and the out­migra­tion of young people, the population of these tribal areas has grown older and older. Under the circumstances, Poinsot came up with the idea of establishing “culture and health stations.” He hoped to create a place where seniors could come to get out of their homes and interact with each other, instead of staying cooped up and gradually going downhill. In 2005, the first of these culture and health stations opened in Afih. It employs professional caregivers and arranges various enriching activities for the seniors. For instance, they sing Amis songs and weave distinctive tribal bags and decorative items. The hope is that tribal elders, rather than passively accepting care, will be encouraged to make the most of their own strengths and convey the wisdom of the tribe to younger generations.

With Poinsot’s support, similar stations that provide loving care to seniors were also established in places such as Lehe and Wan­ning.

In recent years, Poinsot, 85, has been suffering from heart problems, and can’t easily travel long distances. He can no longer simply get on a motorbike and go. Three years ago, he began handing off his responsibilities to Lin Xin­liang. Today, although Lin now conducts the mass, Poinsot still attends each morning, wearing his neat church vestments and sitting in the pews.

In some old photos of Poinsot and the villagers, he appears in tribal clothes and headdress. One can almost hear his hearty laugh. Speaking Amis and demonstrating constant concern for the Amis people, he has fully integrated with his locale and given his life to Taiwan. He has long since stopped being a foreigner and has become a native son.

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繁體中文

河東天使‧耕耘後山 一生傳承部落文化

文‧陳群芳 圖‧莊坤儒

1952年教廷在花蓮成立教區,巴黎外方傳教會奉命來台服務,至今超過一甲子,已有多位來自法國的神父踏上這塊土地,奉獻他們的青春與歲月。高齡85歲的花蓮玉里東豐天主堂神父潘世光,是目前巴黎外方傳教會在花蓮的法籍神父中最年長的。他深入部落,編寫原住民語字典,為居民成立儲蓄互助社,以及改善部落文化、經濟、教育等問題,耕耘部落超過五十載。


1660年代開始,巴黎外方傳教會派任傳教士前往亞洲,來到氣候環境、衛生條件截然不同的國度,許多傳教士可能因此得了瘧疾,或是遭受政治迫害而遭槍斃,讓他們在異鄉失去生命。雖然這些令人望之卻步的例子時有所聞,卻仍無法抵擋傳教士們前往他鄉的決心。就如巴黎外方傳教會的口號:「往外走、往非基督徒地方去、一輩子」,這些神職人員,一旦決定入天主的門,他們就甘願在異鄉付出青春,一生在派赴的國家服務,至死不渝。

部落大家長

1932年出生於法國的潘世光,17歲高中畢業就進入巴黎神學院就讀,歷經8年的努力,在25歲那年晉鐸神父。正式成為神父後,潘世光經歷了兩年的軍旅生活,隨即被派到台灣。

195927歲的潘世光獲派至花蓮服務,早年東部地區交通不便,潘世光獨自一人騎著摩托車上山下海,在玉里高寮與富里豐南間穿梭。東里、樂合、鐵份……潘世光深入每個聚落,即使刮颱風下大雨也絲毫不懼怕,因為他知道這些居民需要他的照顧。

初到部落時,潘世光看到居民的經濟狀況不好,但他發現部落擅長種植香茅,靈機一動,便添購設備讓居民提煉香茅汁液,提高農產的經濟價值。潘世光還募款購置農地,無償提供居民耕種,希望藉此改善部落的經濟狀況。

耕種狩獵、外出打零工是部落常見的謀生方式,原住民的耕地大多屬於山地保留地,經濟狀況不佳、缺乏抵押品是常態。靠天吃飯的居民,貸款通常是為了購置務農設備,或是籌措孩子的學費,卻常遭到銀行拒絕。

為了改善居民的儲蓄觀念與財務狀況,潘世光仔細研究國外儲蓄互助社的營運模式。他發現互助社的基本精神「非為營利、非為救濟、乃是服務」的理念,與銀行機構以營利為導向不同。銀行貸款重視抵押品,以物為主,而互助社強調的是人與人之間的信任,集結社員的儲蓄,提供需要的社員低利息的貸款。

於是潘世光出資派人到香港學習儲蓄互助社的經營,歷經幾年的籌備,終於在1967年成立花蓮第一間儲蓄互助社──露德儲蓄互助社。「早期我們都是幾毛、一塊五塊十塊的存,神父到各部落教友的家裡祈禱時,會跟大家宣導存錢的重要。」互助社專員王菊蘭說。先自助而後互助,是潘世光的理念,他不斷鼓勵大家聚沙成塔,一點一滴建立居民的儲蓄習慣。也正因為潘世光一點一滴的耕耘,讓他贏得居民的尊敬與愛戴。

潘世光就像部落的大家長,他成立幼稚園,解決部落教育問題。醫療不發達、就醫不便,他就購置醫療用品並成立保健室,為居民提供基本的醫療服務,甚至還會幫跌倒的孩童包紮傷口。對居民來說,他就像是部落心靈導師,大家只要有問題就會求助潘世光。當年離家在外打拚的王菊蘭,工作不順遂,因為潘世光的一聲關懷,讓她決定回部落,「我的第一個生日蛋糕就是潘神父送的,因為家境困難,爸爸媽媽從來沒有送過我蛋糕。」王菊蘭笑說,潘世光比她的父親更像父親。潘世光服務的身影,遍佈在秀姑巒溪以東的地區,因而被居民稱作河東天使。

阿美族的文化珍寶

潘世光直爽的個性,與原住民樂觀的天性十分契合,直來直往、愛開玩笑的潘世光,得知當地居民多以潘姓居多,為了融入當地生活,便為自己取名潘世光。來到鐵份部落時,潘世光一句阿美族語也不會,幾十年來,他以當地居民為師,透過不斷地聊天練習、比手畫腳的方式,逐漸學會阿美族語。

不論是教堂彌撒、家庭訪視的禱告,甚至是日常生活的對話,潘世光開口就是阿美族語,彷彿自己母語般的自然。一位來自異鄉的法國人都能將阿美族語學會,部落族人更不該讓這個語言失傳。「神父最重視的就是母語,他都用族語和我們講話,還會故意考我們。」長年陪伴在潘世光身旁的王菊蘭笑說。許多居民的阿美族語就是這樣被潘世光磨到會的,就連潘世光的接班人,東豐天主堂現任本堂神父林信良,來自鄰近部落的他,也是在跟著潘世光學習教會事務時,才把母語學會的。

在當時只准說國語的政策下,潘世光發現越來越多部落的年輕人不會講自己的母語,他擔心隨著部落長者凋零,阿美族語也將跟著失傳。「他們不會講自己的話,我要把他們的語言留給他們。」是潘世光編撰字典的初心。於是他開始一字一句將阿美族語的單字記錄下來,歷經40年的田野調查,隨著阿美族人的居住地不同,語彙也會有所差異。潘世光以逐字逐字的方式向各部落長者詢問、修改與確認,並找來同樣是法國籍的博利亞神父共同編撰,終於在1996年完成了法語阿美族字典這項浩大的工程。

這本字典的問世,對於只有口述歷史的原住民來說,讓部落文化有了能長遠傳承的可能。以潘世光的法語阿美族語字典為本,後來陸續有人翻譯成中文的阿美族語字典,成為研究阿美族語的重要工具書。身為阿美族人也不一定能完全了解字典裡的每一字,但一個外國人卻願意以數十年的青春為原住民留下珍貴的文化資產,這樣的付出讓潘世光獲得教育部頒發本土語言傑出貢獻獎的肯定。

文化關懷,不遺餘力

早期,重視教育的潘世光,興建幼兒園改善孩童的受教情形。隨著少子化、青年人口外移,部落的人口結構也越來越老年化,潘世光有了成立文化健康照顧站的構想。他希望建立一個空間讓部落的長者走出家門互相交流,而不是只能關在家裡漸漸凋零。於是潘世光在2005年於鐵份部落成立第一個文化健康照顧站,找來專業的照顧員,為長者規劃許多豐富有趣的交流活動。例如,吟唱阿美族語歌曲、編織部落特色的飾品和提袋,讓部落長者不只被動接受照顧,也鼓勵他們發揮自己的所長,將部落的智慧傳承給後人。

有時也會與地方衛生單位合作,共同舉辦健康衛教的講座,帶著他們做運動,或是幫長輩們進行身體檢查、施打疫苗等。中午時間一到,潘世光也會和大家聚在文化健康照顧站一同用餐,一起聊天,讓照顧站總是充滿活力的笑聲。

就像當年潘世光一磚一瓦地在他負責的堂區高寮、樂合、安通、萬寧、豐南建立教堂。在潘世光的推動下,除了鐵份部落,樂合、萬寧等地區也都成立了文化健康照顧站,讓各地的長者都能受到關懷。

近年來,高齡85歲的潘世光因心臟問題,已不太能遠行,不能騎著摩托車到處跑,三年前他開始陸續將教會事務交棒給林信良神父。如今,雖然主持彌撒的工作已交由林信良負責,但每天早上潘世光還是會穿著整齊的祭衣,坐在台下參加彌撒。每周也都會輪流到各個部落教友的家裡,帶著他們禱告,祈求他們一家平安。即使體力已大不如前,只要部落居民有需要,他仍堅持去到家裡,送上關心與祝福。

五十多年前從法國飄洋過海來到台灣,潘世光至今已二十多年沒回家,他投注全部的心力,照顧部落裡的每個居民,而台灣早已是他的第二故鄉。每周一次法籍神父的聚會,便是潘世光一解思鄉之情的時候。幾位法籍神父輪流作東,大家聚在一起玩法國牌,用法語談天,潘世光還會在他的小廚房裡,為大家煮上幾道拿手的法式料理,潘世光的好手藝,總是讓嘗過的人讚不絕口。可惜日前他因為年事已高而宣告封鏟,將這些美好滋味留在心裡。

看著潘世光早年與部落居民的合影,照片裡的他穿著原住民傳統服飾,頭戴部落裝飾,彷彿都能聽到潘世光爽朗的笑聲。講著阿美族語、悉心照顧部落的潘世光,融入在地,將他有限的生命奉獻給台灣,他早已不是異鄉人而是部落的歸人。

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