The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

FOR Tama Talum of Tai­wan’s abo­rig­i­nal Bu­nun moun­tain peo­ple, hunt­ing is a way of life, in­te­gral to his tribal cus­toms – but af­ter his ar­rest for il­le­gally killing a deer and goat on land near his vil­lage, he fears those tra­di­tions will soon die out.

It is just one of many cases re­flect­ing the wran­gle be­tween Tai­wan’s au­thor­i­ties and its indige­nous peo­ple, with crit­ics ar­gu­ing laws dis­crim­i­nate against abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture and that so­ci­ety as a whole has lit­tle un­der­stand­ing of it.

New Pres­i­dent Tsai Ing-wen – the first Tai­wanese leader with abo­rig­i­nal blood – at­tempted to ease those ten­sions when she de­liv­ered the first-ever apol­ogy to the is­land’s indige­nous peo­ple on Au­gust 1 for in­jus­tices over the cen­turies.

“An apol­ogy isn’t go­ing to solve all the prob­lems, but sym­bol­i­cally it shows Tsai is will­ing to face this is­sue,” said Ko­las Yo­taka, a leg­is­la­tor of the rul­ing Demo­cratic Pro­gres­sive Party (DPP), who is from the largest Amis tribe. She added, “It gives us hope.” How­ever, for Talum, the dam­age is done. The 57-year-old is a free man while he awaits the re­sult of an ap­peal at the Supreme Court af­ter an up­roar in the abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity over his three-and-a-half-year sen­tence for pos­sess­ing an il­le­gal weapon and hunt­ing pro­tected species.

Abo­rig­i­nal hunters are legally only al­lowed to use home­made guns – which they say can been dan­ger­ous and have led to in­juries – and to hunt on fes­ti­val days, re­stric­tions to which many tribes­peo­ple ob­ject.

Talum’s ar­rest has al­ready stopped younger tribe mem­bers want­ing to hunt, he says.

“Some of them are scared af­ter see­ing me be­ing dragged away. They don’t want to learn. I was an op­ti­mistic man but it’s hard to be up­beat,” he told AFP.

An­thro­pol­o­gists say Tai­wan’s abo­rig­i­nals mi­grated from Malaysia or In­done­sia and now make up about 2 per­cent of the is­land’s pop­u­la­tion.

Their sense of in­jus­tice re­volves mainly around the loss of an­ces­tral land rights, which first came un­der threat when im­mi­grants from China ar­rived 400 years ago.

Much of that land is now des­ig­nated na­tional park, lead­ing to clashes over hunt­ing, fish­ing and for­ag­ing in ar­eas where per­mits are needed.

“There are so many re­stric­tions, telling us what we can’t do,” Talum said at his home, nes­tled among moun­tains in Taitung county.

Corn and rice fields sur­round the vil­lage of Tas­tas – “wa­ter­fall” in the Bu­nun lan­guage – where about 250 peo­ple live in sim­ple cor­ru­gated-metal roofed houses.

“We aren’t stealing or rob­bing any­one, and it’s not that we are hunt­ing ev­ery day,” he said.

Talum moved to the city in search of work, but even­tu­ally re­turned to take care of his mother.

Abo­rig­i­nal un­em­ploy­ment is higher than the rest of the work­force and their wage is about 40pc less than the na­tional av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the gov­ern­ment’s Coun­cil of Indige­nous Peo­ples.

A lack of au­ton­omy to man­age and live off their land also ex­ac­er­bates so­cial is­sues such as al­co­hol abuse, ac­cord­ing to Scott Si­mon, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Ot­tawa, who re­searches Tai­wan indige­nous rights.

“The al­co­hol prob­lem is a ma­jor pub­lic health is­sue that is not be­ing ad­e­quately ad­dressed. Th­ese is­sues are re­lated,” he said.

De­spite the chal­lenges, some young abo­rig­i­nals are try­ing to re­con­nect with their roots.

“What we want is sim­ple: Give us back what was orig­i­nally ours,” said Kelun Katadrepan, who works for an indige­nous tele­vi­sion sta­tion.

The 30-year-old from the Puyuma tribe has started a cam­paign group gath­er­ing young pro­fes­sion­als to ad­vo­cate abo­rig­i­nal in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics.

In ad­di­tion to restor­ing dis­pos­sessed land, Katadrepan wants an over­haul of the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem to pre­vent fur­ther loss of tribal lan­guages – five are seen as “se­verely en­dan­gered” by UNESCO.

His par­ents did not want to teach him their na­tive lan­guage while grow­ing up, be­liev­ing he needed to mas­ter Chi­nese to se­cure a bet­ter fu­ture.

“We aren’t Chi­nese, but we are forced to learn Chi­nese since we are lit­tle. That is not our cul­ture,” Katadrepan said. But there have been grad­ual ef­forts to change that. While teach­ing is usu­ally in Chi­nese, some schools of­fer op­tions to take na­tive lan­guage classes.

There are also indige­nous com­mu­nity col­leges where tra­di­tional cus­toms and skills are taught.

With the DPP now in power, leg­is­la­tor Yo­taka hopes gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions will now be brought in line with the abo­rig­i­nal ba­sic law, adopted in 2005 to pro­tect indige­nous rights.

That would cor­rect cur­rent con­tra­dic­tions, in­clud­ing the fact that hunt­ing is il­le­gal apart from dur­ing ma­jor tribal fes­ti­vals – even though the ba­sic law pro­tects indige­nous rights to kill wild an­i­mals for self-con­sump­tion.

Talum says he has not risked hunt­ing since his con­vic­tion, ex­cept for a sanc­tioned foray dur­ing a spring fes­ti­val where young Bu­nun men demon­strate their hunt­ing skills and pray for a good mil­let har­vest.

He still clings on to hope that his son, who was raised in the city and is now in his 30s, will even­tu­ally learn the old ways.

“Af­ter a while, when the time comes, he will think of go­ing to the moun­tains with his fa­ther,” he says. –

Pho­tos: AFP

Tama Talum (right) prays for good luck be­fore hunt­ing with fel­low tribe hunters at a moun­tain in Taitung.

An abo­rig­i­nal hunter ges­tures at the wild pigs’ skulls out­side of a hunter’s home.

An abo­rig­i­nal hunter holds his shot­gun out­side a gun store.

Tama Talum’s son stands next to the shot­guns in front of his home in Taitung, east­ern Tai­wan, on July 2.

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