Smangus documentary to screen on PTS

Smangus: A Year in the Clouds, a documentary about the Atayal community of Smangus, will screen on Taiwan’s Public Television Service (PTS) tonight (30 June). The documentary had its premiere in Smangus on Tuesday night. It is a co-production between PTS and British documentary makers Dean Johnson and Frank Smith. The team filmed various aspects of the daily life in Smangus over a period of 15 months.

Continue reading

Voices in the Clouds: a search for identity and belonging

Voices in the Clouds poster

Voices in the Clouds (眾族同聲) had its Taiwan premiere at the closing of the Urban Nomad Film Festival in Taipei on Sunday night. The documentary is a moving and personal story of a man’s search for identity and belonging.

Tony Coolidge was born in Taiwan, but moved to the United States of America with his mother and step-father at a young age. While growing up in the USA his mother kept details of her life in Taiwan hidden. She encouraged her children to speak English so they could fit in. A year after his mother passed away from cancer Tony returned to Taiwan to meet his mother’s family. Only then did he discover that his family were indigenous people belonging to the Atayal group.

After making this discovery Tony returned to Taiwan again several years later along with his younger brother and Taiwanese wife to further explore his roots and connections with Taiwan’s indigenous people. His journey of self-discovery takes him into indigenous communities around Taiwan. Continue reading

Hagay community protests against impacts of Baling Dam

Hagay community protests outside Executive Yuan

Members of the Atayal community of Hagay (哈凱部落) protested outside the Executive Yuan in Taipei today. They called on the government to provide permanent housing to replace the temporary housing they have been living in for ten years. They also called on the government to take responsibility for the impacts of the construction of the Baling Dam in the catchment of the Shimen Reservoir.

The Hagay community originally lived in a remote location in Fuxing Township of Taoyuan County (桃園縣復興鄉). About twenty years ago the community decided to move to a new location near the Baling Bridge (巴陵橋) on the Northern Cross Island Highway to make it easier for the children to get to school. Continue reading

John Seed in Jianshi and Smangus

Atayal artist Yawi

After travelling through central and southern Taiwan the next part of John Seed’s trip spent a few days in Jianshi Township of Hsinchu County. The photo above shows the Atayal artist Yawi. He has a studio up in the mountains and he kindly showed us around. His artworks have been purchased by the former Vice President Annette Lu and the current First Lady Chow Mei-ching.

Ginger cultivation in Jianshi

We also went to see the area where ginger is being cultivated in Tianshui. This is another important local environmental issue. The ginger growing is done by outsiders who come in and rent or buy the land, usually via dubious legal methods. The cultivation is being done on slopes which are steeper than the legal limit. The extensive clearing and disturbance of the soil creates a significant risk of a landslide. The growers exploit the land for short term profits while the local residents have to live with the effects of environmental degradation and risk of landslides. Continue reading

Approaching storms and millet harvest in Smangus

millet harvest in Smangus

I went on a trip to Smangus this week. I carefully checked the weather forecast on Sunday night before I left. I was aware that Tropical Storm Lionrock and the low pressure system to the northwest of Taiwan would influence the weather during the week. However, it seemed unlikely that either of them would directly impact Taiwan. By the time I arrived in Smangus on Monday afternoon the potential tracks of the storms had changed. The low pressure system had been upgraded to a tropical storm named Namtheun and was heading for the north of Taiwan. Continue reading

Trip to Marqwang and Smangus

I spent last week visiting Marqwang and Smangus, two communities in the houshan (後山) area of Jianshi Township (尖石鄉) in Hsinchu County. The visit was to conduct field work for a research project about the management of the Shimen Reservoir Catchment following the implementation of the Shimen Reservoir and Catchment Area Remediation Special Act (石門水庫及其集水區整治特別條例) which was passed by the Legislative Yuan in January 2006. The act created a special budget of NT$25 billion to upgrade the facilities of the Shimen Reservoir and management of the catchment area.

The Shimen Reservoir suffered severe impacts following Typhoon Aere in 2004 and several other typhoons in the period from 2001 to 2005. These typhoons caused large inflows of the sediment into the dam and compromised the ability of the reservoir to supply water to Taoyuan and Taipei counties. Michael Turton recently published a post detailing some of the problems based on an article that was published in CommonWealth magazine (天下雜誌). These two articles provide excellent background information. Continue reading

Ethnoecology workshop at Smangus

Smangus community classroom

On Sunday and Monday I attended a conference in Smangus. The conference, organized by National Chiao Tung University (國立交通大學), brought together a small group of anthropologists to discuss the topic of “Rethinking environment, localisation and indigenisation.” While it poured rain on the Sunday afternoon the cafe at provided a great refuge for the presenters gave their papers.

The presentations started with Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁) talking about the politics of the plan for the Maqaw National Park. The proposed national park covers a mountain area that is the traditional territory of the Atayal people. The social movement to promote the park developed through several stages. Initially indigenous people were not involved but an alliance between indigenous people and conservationists later developed. However, there was also another indigenous group that opposed the park. The plan for the park is now suspended but it has had an important influence on the development of ecotourism and laws related to indigenous peoples. Continue reading

Books and films a window into Atayal culture

I saw the short film Msgamil: Once Upon a Time (泰雅千年) while visiting Smangus in August last year. I then saw Through Thousands Years* (走過千年) at the Ethnographic Film Festival. Msgamil is a short film produced by Chen Wen-bin (陳文彬) about the historical migration of the Atayal. Through Thousands Years, by the Atayal director Pilin Yabu, documents the process of the making of Msgamil.

Illustration from Words from Yaba

I recently visited Taichung to talk with Dr Lin Yih-ren (林益仁) at Providence University (靜宜大學). Dr Lin very kindly gave me DVDs of both films and also two books about the production of the films. The books, titled Words from Yaba (Chinese: Yaba的訪; Atayal: Kay na yaba), are both bi-lingual with one edition in Chinese and Atayal and the other in English and Atayal. The text is beautifully illustrated by Wang Yong-cheng (王永成) and also includes photos from the making of the films. Continue reading