Journey to Smangus

smangus-sunbeams

I have written about Smangus (司馬庫斯) a number of times on this blog. I then chose it as the topic for my group project in the Culture and Ethnic Structure of Taiwan class at NCCU (政大). This weekend I finally had the chance to visit Smangus and learn more about the case.

train at Shalu Railway Station in Taizhong County, Taiwan

The journey began on Friday morning not by going to Smangus, but catching an early morning train to Shalu (沙鹿) in Taichung County. The first part of the trip was a visit to Providence University (靜宜大學). My classmate Ben Goren met me at the entrance to the University and we went to meet Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁教授) to talk about the Smangus case.

Dr Lin and Ben at Providence University discussing the Smangus case

Dr Lin was very knowledgeable and  we were able to learn many things about Smangus from him. Dr Lin is working on a project for indigenous people to map their territory using a GIS. He has been involved in the promotion of indigenous rights in various ways, including as an official advisor to the government.

Roadworks on the mountain road on the way to Smangus in Xinzhu County, Taiwan

On Saturday morning Ben and I set out from Taichung to drive to Smangus. The initial part of the drive up the freeway was very fast and easy. We stopped in Neiwan (內灣) for a break. After Neiwan the road began heading up in to the mountains, and up and up. There seemed to be never ending twists and turns. In many places there was evidence of landslides and sections of road under repair.

After driving for a long time we arrived in a village we thought was Smangus. We asked some people, but their answers were not clear. After more questioning we found we were in the “original” Smangus village, known as Xinguang (新光部落) in Chinese. The Smangus we wanted to visit was on the other side of the valley.

Children at the Xinguang Primary School

We had lunch in the local primary school and all the children were excited by the presence of two foreigners who could speak Mandarin. We spent a bit of time in the village and conducted an interesting interview with a man there.

The village of Smangus in the mountains of Xinzhu County, Taiwan

Finally in the afternoon after many hours of driving we arrived at the village of Smangus. It is high in the mountains and it was a little cold on a December afternoon, even though it was a sunny day. My initial impression of the village was that it was very neat and well maintained. It was also buzzing with activity with many tourists visiting and preparations for a special activity in the evening. Tourism (or ecotourism) is the villages main industry and weekends there are the busiest time.

Yumin, Cumu and Ben in Smangus village, Taiwan

We then met “Yumin” Wang, one of Dr Lin’s students. He is currently staying in Smangus to work on a mapping project and he was very helpful in showing us around the village and introducing us to people. We conducted an interview with the village chief and also made a connection with Cumu, a young man who lives in the village and works as a tour guide.

David with the tree stump that was that led to the Smangus case

The photo above shows me with the tree stump that led to the prosecution of three men from the village for illegally removing forest products. After travelling such a long way to the village over narrow mountain roads it seemed incredible to believe that the Forestry Bureau would be so concerned about this tree stump. It really brought about a deeper understanding of the events and the key issues related to the rights of indigenous people in Taiwan.

*more photos in the Smangus photoset at flickr.

10 thoughts on “Journey to Smangus

  1. The mountains in Taiwan are really beautiful. Some of those mountain roads are nerve wracking to be on, especially in fog or at night.

    I think indigenous people pretty much the world over have gotten a raw deal.

  2. David good of you to cover something that you have a personal interest in and isn’t necessarily “news-worthy” by most peoples standards. So which count is Smangus in? Taichung or??

  3. I have mixed feelings about the development of Smangus. To my mind, the additional garbage, waste water, and erosion around the ancient trees isn’t worth the short- term economic benefits. Moreover, the road runoff from the increasing number of mini-buses and private vehicles is bound to have a negative effect on the water quality of the Taigan River. The village really needs explore putting a cap on visitor numbers and restrict tourist road access to the Taigan turn off.

  4. Huang, our research relates specifically to the tree case. I haven’t had the chance to study the effects of tourism on the village in detail. An article from the June 2007 Taiwan Review says they currently have about 350 visitors per day on weekends and they hope to reduce this to 250.

  5. Ah, the tree. I was told there was an agreement that in exchange for road access to the outside world the locals in Smangus would cease harvesting the forest. David, have you heard anything about this?

  6. Huang, the tree case is not really about harvesting forest products. In summary, a tree fell over in a typhoon. The Forestry Bureau took the valuable timber and the Smangus community then decided to take the stump of the tree back to the village. Three men from the village were then charged for illegally removing forest products.

    I haven’t heard anything about the agreement you mention.

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