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Smangus and the Atayal spirit

2009 08 18_smangus_5024

I visited Smangus this week to continue the research for my thesis. There were some significant changes in the village since my visit last year. The major one was the new classroom building near the main entrance to the village. Construction began in July last year and was completed in April. There are currently 12 students studying in the experimental branch of the Xinguang Primary School. The curriculum includes classes in Atayal language and traditional knowledge.

The building has a slate roof, rough sawn timber walls and a concrete foundation. Its combination of traditional materials and modern building techniques is in many ways a metaphor for the Smangus community which combines traditional Atayal culture with ideas from the modern world.

2009 08 18_smangus_5014

Although millet is no longer the main staple of the people in Smangus they still grow some millet each year. It was harvested recently and was being dried while I visited. Unfortunately it was too late for the peaches Smangus is famous for. The peach season had ended a couple of weeks earlier.

There was a group of young people on a trip organised through there at the time of my visit. I was able to join the activities with them. In the evening we watched the short film Msgamil: Once Upon a Time (泰雅千年) directed by Chen Wen-bin (陳文彬). This was the first film ever made in the Atayal language and tells the story of a village’s migration. It is beautifully produced and a good introduction to Atayal culture. You can learn more about it on the film’s website.

After the film there was a presentation about Atayal language and Smangus. I also saw this presentation again on the second night, although the content was a little different. On both nights they gave a lot of information about how the village of Smangus is organised. Smangus has a cooperative system where all members are paid an equal wage. There are other benefits too and students have their school fees paid and also receive an allowance. It draws on modern ideas such as the kibbutz in Israel, but also reflects the Atayal spirit of egalitarianism and teamwork.

2009 08 19_smangus_4914

On the second day I joined with a group to hike to the Yaya Qparung or group of ancient cypress trees. It was a beautiful morning. The altitude at Smangus means the temperatures at this time of the year are very pleasant and nothing like the extremes on the lowlands of Taiwan. The hike goes through both bamboo and forest. While there are some ups and downs there are no difficult or steep climbs. It is a 12 kilometre return journey and takes around five hours including time to appreciate the old trees.

2009 08 19_smangus_4971

The photo above shows the largest of the giant red cypress trees. It is 2,700 years old. The trees are in a hollow area that protects them from storms. The area has seven giant trees. Just like the ancient trees at Lala Shan they are an amazing sight.

The visit to Smangus gave me plenty more material for my thesis and even greater respect for the people there. There is so much that can be learnt from Smangus. It is in many ways a model for other indigenous communities in Taiwan and around the world.

*More photos have been added to the Smangus set at flickr.

File next to:
Second trip to Smangus
Smangus and the tree stump
Ethnographic films from Taiwan
Books and films a window into Atayal culture
Indigenous rights and the Smangus case

Mandarin Chinese iPod phrasebook


Comment from cfimages
Time August 23, 2009 at 2:16 pm

That’s a great looking school.

Comment from Todd
Time August 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm

Looks like you had another fantastic visit David, good luck on your thesis!

Comment from David Reid
Time August 23, 2009 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Craig and Todd. I hope you can visit Smangus some time.

Comment from Micki
Time August 25, 2009 at 6:39 am

Hi, David
Another beautiful remote tribal village.. It has a stone slab roof similar to that of Rukai’s in Wutai.. very interesting!