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Xiaoliuqiu Driftwood Arts Association

  • Date:2020-06-12
Xiaoliuqiu Driftwood Arts Association

  • Name: 屏東縣琉球鄉漂流木人文藝術協會
  • Year of Establishment: 2010
  • Located At: Liuqiu Township, Pingtung County
  • Did You Know That …?
  • Some of the association’s most popular products include chopsticks, back-scrappers used by traditional medicine practitioners, and marine-shaped keychains — all out of collected driftwood.
  • Site: 

Shaped like a flip-flop adrift on the ocean, the island of Xiaoliuqiu — officially Liuqiu Township, part of Pingtung County off to the southwest of the mouth of the Gaoping River — is the only coral island among the 14 islands neighboring Taiwan proper. The beautiful reefs, clear waters, wonderful beaches, and fishing village flavor of the island have made it a long-time favorite among tourists.

However, after typhoons or torrential rains have passed, the shores are awash with driftwood and trash that have washed up, causing environmental damage and requiring challenging cleanup work. To deal with the driftwood, the locals came together and decided to turn their hands to carving, giving new life to the wood.

Thus they made carving techniques a top priority, and in 2012, under the leadership of the Xiaoliuqiu Driftwood Arts Association, they successfully applied for government support in launching carving training.

Their craftwork classes introduced a design concept merging green lifestyles with woodwork, addressing everything from sustainable forest management to healthy use of wood and the reuse and recycling of resources. In this way, they strive to live harmoniously with the environment and create a greener Taiwan.

Their training courses also saw painters specialized in temple artwork come to Xiaoliuqiu to pass on their skills and demonstrate basic color usage. The team of teachers also introduced their students to the properties of driftwood, including how to distinguish the species of driftwood by their softness, texture, color, and scent.

Among the species found, camphor, incense cedar, and cypress are all considered higher-quality carving woods. Beginners, however, should choose less dense woods to work with. It should be noted that the material should be cut across the grain, as this is better for showing the fineness of the wood and makes it less susceptible to cracking or deformation and easier to carve.

This project also combines wood carving with the local faith to develop craft products with distinctively local character. 2012 also happened to be a year in which the island’s triennial Tribute to the Lord of Sanlong Temple was to be held. The people of Xiaoliuqiu have made their livings off the sea since antiquity, and worship at local temples has been an important part of keeping the community together and reassured.

Festivals like this, which includes a boat burning for the aforementioned Wangye, are powerful symbolic prayers for peace and good fortune. The special craft products developed make use of the wood remaining from these boats, creating a link with the local faith and giving the pieces an additional element of "peace and good fortune."

Many years ago, driftwood served as an important source of firewood for the people of Xiaoliuqiu, before later becoming a source of trash harming the environment. To transform this trash into a resource, the community has taken to using it as a material for carved souvenirs, ornaments, furniture, and artistic creations unique to the island, creating a craft industry unique to the locale.