6. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
6.1 D EVELOPMENT B ASED ON A LTERNATIVE E CONOMIC V ALUES
6.1.4 Autonomy from outsiders and Collective Decision-making
sense of identity based on shared ancestors and history. Also through this history and identity, they hope to cultivate connections among community members as well as to the land.
Reverend Atung advises that young people,
Remember the words of our ancestors, we are brothers who should not point fingers but should work together. Some elders can sing the history of the Tayal through song.
They are carriers of history. This generation is thinking of proof; using modern technology to confirm [the words of our ancestors]. More and more people are asking how you can prove that [the land] belongs to you, so tracing and evidence is important to persuade [them]. We can find the traditional lands and different places through songs tracing back how names were invented. Singing is important but not recognized by the government. We are working with other indigenous peoples to push [the importance of this knowledge]. Meanings are very deep, describing the environment, regions, names. The names have deep meanings; sometimes about a place or an historic story.
Each community has its own songs, stories and myths related to hunting, fishing, rules, boundaries, ethics (for example ethics in courting a woman). (11/12/2013):
Thus, multigenerational concern is central to the development work being done in the area and of great importance to local people. It would seem that this is one of the key values that on the one hand give their work meaning and on the other makes it more socially sustainable.
6.1.4 Autonomy from outsiders and Collective Decision-making
In terms of power and decision-making in the communities, two themes became apparent after a very short amount of time spent in the area. Autonomy from outsiders, including government officials, middle-men, and to a lesser degree NGO workers and academics, in preference for home-grown ideas and rationales based on local knowledge, history, culture and with the long-term interests of local people in mind is overtly prioritized. Less overt but easily observable is the collective nature of decision-making based on a history of egalitarian values but seen as essential to the long- term success of these projects.
While Atayal resistance to external power structures may have manifest in different ways in the past, these days it mostly seems to center around a blame-game against the government with regards to natural resources management. In terms of farming, local people lament that they are forced to adopt environmentally damaging practices due to their restriction to small plots and that the government pushes fertilizers and pesticides on the one hand and blames them for soil and water contamination on the other. As mentioned previously, the government –
petrochemical industry creates dependencies that lead to tensions. Watan discusses the importance of the work of the FA,
We are trying to develop an independent agriculture because conventionally you must buy from the Bureau of Agriculture. We wanted to find a way out of this system […].
Using local TEK and Korean natural farming based on enzymes, my father replenishes soil that has been degraded. So rather than depending on outside government or private sellers for soil and fertilizer, they are able to be independent. This also helps to build local people’s confidence. (August 2013)
The issues they face are similar in other potential means of economic development:
they would like to develop tourism but are restricted in building infrastructure, low-impact activities like gathering wood or mushrooms are outlawed and hunting restricted.
Water is a highly contentious topic, as the area is part of the catchment area for the Shimen reservoir, which provides drinking water for more than 3 million people. Indigenous people are often blamed for causing sedimentation by triggering landslides and of contamination of the water network through overuse of agricultural chemicals. On the other hand, Atayal argue (as mentioned above) that they are forced into bad agriculture practices. They argue that given the freedom, their land-use practices would be best for the land in the long-term (and the waterways and their downstream users as well), whereas the outsiders’ perspective is to provide water to cities and industrial parks prioritizing short-term goals and harming the land through over-engineering. The local people argue that the increasing network of dams is ecologically destructive and unsustainable. In these ways (among others),
management of resources creates great tension between local indigenous people and outsiders.
Although the FA explicitly states that sharing knowledge and creating networks is an important part of their work, the egalitarian culture of discussion and decision-making is much more striking when observing workshops and meetings.
They operate more like town-hall discussions with everyone seemingly feeling very comfortable speaking their minds and listening thoughtfully to the opinions of others.
While elders and church pastors are treated with extra respect, the discussions that I observed were open to input from anyone in the community and I sometimes noticed a hesitation of community members to answer questions on behalf of everyone without their input. This is in contrast to the more mainstream social structure in Taiwan which has roots in Confucian tradition and can tend to be much more hierarchical.
Canadian scholar Kevin Berg, who spent much more time in the area thata I did, makes similar observations during his time in Smangus settlement,
During my fieldwork in Smangus, the village chief was clearly the most self- assured among participants with respect to sharing of individual knowledge – perhaps responding to a presumed responsibility as knowledge bearer – but even he would sometimes defer to group meetings regarding certain ecological interpretations and categories, saying that “the others might disagree with his answer,” or that “together as a group we can give a more accurate response.” Overall, participants as a whole were generally uninhibited and untroubled with sharing their knowledge and personal observations of the forest, but they seemed equally comfortable with group settings where knowledge could be discussed, debated, contested, and negotiated […] (Berg, 2013, p. 290).
It is important that Berg points out that disagreeing and providing different input to discussions seems to be unproblematic. I observed this as well, people from both more influential families and seemingly less influential families seemed to feel equally comfortable giving their opinions.
At one workshop I observed an interesting situation whereby one farmer (leaving names out of this story) presented his community’s progress and techniques, describing their methods to deal with various agricultural and marketing issues as they have come up. At the end, a member of another community raised their hand to speak and told him that he had given incorrect ratios when describing the composting recipe. As an outsider, I was unable to interpret the significance of this but it did strike me as somewhat unnecessary. On the one hand, it could be an indication of the willingness to discuss and dissent as described by Berg. On the other, it could be an indication of some mild competition between communities. There was not an appropriate way for me to inquire about this but in the end the exchange was interesting because it was not one that would typically be observed in mainstream Taiwan culture or in my culture either.
As mentioned above, the FA is actively promoting the creation of a network of communities and families working together to protect their land and culture. They argue that this is more in line with their traditional way of life and that the
sustainability of their economic development depends on it. As Watan puts it,
To plan how to organize, we start with traditional cultural organization: a network of families, there is strength in family ties. This network of families can make it so information can be shared more widely. We had 5 people from 5 different communities. We recruit young people with passion, with stable funding we now have 10 people. We have a very close relationship in which we share or feelings. We work with the community – not instruct. We help, meet, discuss, develop together.
The members of the FA and local organic farmers know that their economic
activities and their social organization are inextricably linked and they are deliberately and conscientiously incorporating the fundamental values of autonomy from outsiders and collective decision-making into their institutions.
6.1.5 Low prioritization of Profit-making and Emphasis on Community Work