The Paiwan people are renowned for their gorgeously colorful weaving, and previously there were no written records of how the Paiwan ancestors used metalworking in their crafts, until the book "Aboriginal Arts in Taiwan — The Collection of Chen Cheng-ching (陳澄晴)" showcased red-bronze boxes decorated with traditional markings representing smoke. This discovery was an inspiration for metal artist Kao Wu Hui-chin (高吳惠琴), whose mother was a Paiwan from Kuskus. With this new inspiration, Kao Wu set out to teach fellow community members the techniques of metalworking.
Kuskus is among the oldest Paiwan villages in Pingtung's Mudan area, with over two centuries of history. Their 2009 relocation after Typhoon Morakot was the seventh time the community had moved. After they returned to the lands their ancestors once occupied, they found that time had changed the environment and that they could no longer rely on a traditional way of life. The young men began to leave and set down roots elsewhere, leaving only a handful in their traditional lands. How were they to retain their population and rebuild both their capabilities and their confidence?
It was to this end that the Kuskus Handicrafts Project was established, with the aims of creating sustainable operations for Kao Wu's Xin Workshop, improving the community's economic situation, and securing the future of traditional handicrafts in the area. They also began to incorporate modern techniques and create elegant handicrafts that truly represented the art of their people.
The project uses a gradual approach to learning, with participants first learning to create a unique set of bookmarks with strong sawing and openwork techniques, before moving on to making bracelets and rings using cold-shuts and different tools to create various textures on the metal surfaces. Then came the use of mosaicking to integrate local character into materials to create unique brooches.
Finally, with the teacher's guidance, community members learnt to make filigree jewelry with traditional beads — crafting necklaces, pendants, and earrings, and arranging the twists and turns of gold and silver threads into myriad patterns. Participants eventually make use of all of Kao Wu's crafty metalwork techniques to create products that represent their community in hopes of developing a unique artistic industry.
With the support of Kuskus Community Development Association, Xin Workshop remains a community-oriented initiative that is building a creative trade in hopes of attracting a steady stream of tourists, drawing the youths back to the village to work, and keeping alive this traditional craft that they've only recently rediscovered.