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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.