6. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
6.1 D EVELOPMENT B ASED ON A LTERNATIVE E CONOMIC V ALUES
6.1.1 Land, God, Gaga
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In this section these values have been divided into categories for the purpose of clarity and discussion with the understanding that they are intrinsically linked and overlap in complex ways.
6.1.1 Land, God, Gaga
It is Watan Taru who expresses the core guiding principle of their work in terms of the trinity: Land, God, Gaga. By expressing it in these terms, he is showing how in their minds land, morality, ethics, culture, family, happiness, ownership systems, etc. are all intertwined through their relationships to the land and each other.
Watan says in a lecture, “Our relations between each other are changed by our agricultural practice. Our culture, beliefs and lives are integrated with our
agricultural production so we are implementing our practice with people, God and land in mind; four circles that had been destroyed by modern practices are coming together again” (at Quli 11/12/2013). While they connect this trinity to their Atayal traditional culture, it is important to note that this idea and their culture is incredibly dynamic and these points are emphasized both due to ancient tradition and the words of their elders as well as a very modern reaction to global capitalism and the post-modern academic knowledge of some young people in the tribe.
There is a strong cultural importance of staying on the land of their ancestors rather than letting it fall into the hands of outsiders. Beyond just keeping the land in the hands of Atayal people, also using the land in respectful ways and ways that would make their ancestors proud. As the tribal head of Meihua tribe, 陳光松(Cheng Guangsong) explains:
Our ancestors always insisted that we tell our descendants that this is good land that was found by our ancestors and therefore must be used with proper care. We mustn’t lose this our land. But nowadays people are different. Some people sell their land. But I think it is a pity. In the Church we try many times to promote the idea that this land was bequeathed to us by our ancestors. It should never be sold. Even if you don’t work it, it doesn’t matter. In a time of crisis, you can always use it. Actually there are a lot of people in the church who emphasize this (Qinghua University Documentary A).
During field research, I also had the opportunity to attend a training retreat for local representatives of the Zhishan Foundation. Some of the training was by social workers who led the group in some role play activities to help them deal with issues that could arise in their communities, such as alcohol or domestic abuse. One of the topics to practice was how to talk to a community member to dissuade them from selling their land.
At the traditional tribal industry workshop in 2014, some of the elders who have been pivotal in this movement discussed the importance of land and how it is used in terms of their culture, religion, identity and relationships. Pastor Taru tells of his revelation of these connections,
Every day I didn’t study a lot, was poor, just interested in agriculture, didn’t want to stay poor, didn’t want to drink like my father. If I have a problem with Natural Farming, I’ll get on my knees and pray. In my dreams God will tell me what species to use, I will wake up and quickly write it down. Agriculture is very inconsistent, especially with the changing weather. I have learned these skills and want to share them with everyone (8/11/2014).
Partor Taru’s description of his motivations and methods is very important partly because it seems that he has gone from being a more marginalized member of the community to being a leader in the organic movement in the area due to his diligence and commitment to taking care of the land. He is now one of the main (if not the main) developer of natural farming techniques in the area.
Reverend Atung adds,
I’ve known Taru since we were teenagers. Taru is someone who is good at personal reflection. I moved around but he stayed and memorized the teachings of the elders.
Taru was always kicked out, only given small, poor quality plots of land (not even big enough to turn a car around) where it was difficult to get water and badly affected by typhoons. But even in this difficult situation, Taru never forgot the teachings of the elders, always maintained TEK, even in bad situations. His faith carried him through this bad situation. Taru dedicated his time and money to the church. He is always sharing, never wastes anything (8/11/2014).
Pastor Taru has passed this passion on to his son who has not only learned his farming techniques but has been instrumental in creating the larger movement around organic farming in the area. A PhD candidate, Watan is able to frame their endeavor in the terms and concepts of the social sciences. He points out the connection between land, God and gaga:
Farmers go to church together early in the morning to pray and seek guidance from God and hope. People believe that they also establish a quality of land without belief, that they can’t have natural farming in Shilei (Quli) community. They decide themselves their agriculture, which has culture in it, Gaga in it… We love the land;
want to stop any negative activities in it.
Meihua Settlement is in the front-mountain area and much of the population there either had become involved in other industry or employed conventional farming methods. This area was and is much more modernized, for better or worse. Working with back-mountain area people, often with familial connections, they have also been making the transition to organics. Sayun’s father, Wuzhide (吳治德), of Meihua Tribe
describes his inspiration for making and promoting the transition to organic farming in his area:
Suddenly, one day while sleeping, I had a dream. It was a very clear dream. I saw that I had returned to my tribe. But I was traveling on foot on the road near Jianshi. It looked as though there had been a landslide. It was very desolate. I wondered why I found myself in such a scene [...] I was not supposed to be back in my tribe, but sure enough there I was. Since awaking the next day, I have kept this dream in my heart. I wonder if it wasn’t God wanting us to return to our tribes.
So our farm made the ambitious decision […] we decided to dedicate ourselves to succeed in this. And, furthermore, to encourage all members of the tribe to engage in organic farming and work together […] Afterwards we’ve felt that this has helped the tribe a lot. This is because we have n fundamental relationship with the land. That is why we have come back to the land. It is not simply just for organic farming. The most important thing is that we hope to find ourselves, and bring our children back. I hope they can continue to live on this land, continue to have children and the special livelihood. After all, these are our roots. (Qinghua University Documentary A)
Thus to Pastor Wu, using the land in a more respectful way and living in the
mountains is deeply connected to his belief in God, his identity and his hopes for his children’s future on this land.
Guli Organic Farm Owner Xu Dawei (徐大衛) explains why organic farming is important to him,
From a very young age I stayed here in my tribe. When growing up, I had a lot of contact with our elders. The elders would often tell us that we must respect nature. The best policy is to put the land to good and proper use. The best spirit is the Atayal spirit.
Look after the land well. The land and eco-system must be intact, not damaged. They said that it has value. I always keep their words in my heart, entirely. Throughout my life, I’ve remained committed to the land. And maybe finally it will be possible for the young people to return to their tribe. By returning to their tribe, they can contribute their creativity to the tribal environment. Create the tribe’s future direction. Continue the sustainable development.
Why do I feel I must pass down my plot of land? I think my main drive is to spur young people into action. I don’t think it’s just up to us old people; we need to pass on our traditions to the young. If nobody continues it, our work will end. We can get it to a certain stage, but if no one takes over, this industry is gone. Through inheriting the land, the young people can then understand our system of values. We can give them this concept. Thus we can teach them the knowledge and also let them know that we can only use this local land, we must put it to good use. That we can contribute to the tribe’s industry. They are also able to create a lot of industry in the tribe. They can help the tribe create a bigger vision and bigger goals. This is our dream and our goal.
Thus, the land is of the utmost importance both symbolically and pragmatically in connecting his life to those of both his ancestors and future generations.
Pastor Tali’s son Bayen, of Cinsbu Settlement, elucidates the significant relationship between land use and their identity and culture:
We replanted some traditional trees on that land [that had been degraded by conventional farming] and moved to other plots and decided to try organic farming to protect the land. We have three hearts: love, faith and patience. And we think that we have three treasures. The first treasure is crop diversity to avoid pests. The second is our excellent soil; we must protect it by rotating crops, keeping trees for sun protection in summer and to reduce erosion. And the third is our mountainous terrain that gives us lots of water. We feel if you value your treasure, you must protect it; you must not
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be greedy or selfish; you must think long-term. If you aren’t greedy, you’ll create a win-win situation. People in the plains have some stereotypes of mountain people; that we are poor and always victims of landslides, but even in a typhoon there is rain. Our philosophy is our approach to the forest, to not take too much, just enough for your family. If you take too much, there will be nothing left for future generations. If you keep the three treasures in your mind, you will have success (8/11/14).
In this discussion, we can see how the land is important in terms of providing material benefits but also intrinsically related to moral philosophy of how one should live and interpret natural phenomena. By pointing out that the people in the plains look at what they have and consider them to be poor whereas they know they are rich because of their land shows profound cultural differences in values. It is revealing that he does not consider the value of land in terms of square footage or as a property based on its market value but rather on the land’s history, fertility and capacity to contribute to local livelihoods and nutrition.
While the significance of the connection between land, God and culture (or gaga) is often said by locals to be a part of their traditional culture, it is important to note that they have experienced immense changes in their landscape and cultural context over the past few hundred years. For example, it is thought that prior to trade with outsiders like the Dutch, hunting provided much more of Atayal’s diet than farming. Furthermore, with swidden agriculture, an an historic migration in cultural memory, the attachment to the land can be seen as flexible and not necessarily connected to a single plot or area. Also, many families were uprooted in Japanese times and eventually settled different areas than their immediate ancestors and
Christianity was adopted relatively recently (Pastor Tali claims that his ancestors were some of the first in the area to convert two generations before him). Thus, these concepts are part of an ongoing interpretation of their traditional culture, surely influenced by current issues and motivations. While the people with whom I spoke do not make claims to speak for everyone in their communities, it can be assumed that there are alternative interpretations of gaga and how it related to farming and land development.
184.108.40.206 Rejection of Production-Conservation Dichotomy
That certain (especially ecologically vulnerable) tracts of land must be set aside from human influence is a concept that arose out of a particular cultural and historical context (Whatsmore, 2002; Raffles, 2004; Jones et al, 2010; Kevan Berg, 2013). The creation of conservation areas where human use is either completely forbidden or
limited to recreational activities is taken for granted in Western culture as the best way to protect biodiversity and keep landscapes “pristine.” The main arguments against this concept center around three main points. Firstly, that the dichotomy is culturally constructed and not based on a real, natural distinction between human-inhabited land and “pristine” land. Secondly, that such areas had often already been subject to human influence, thus calling into question the concept of pristine and making the impact of limiting traditional human use of the area debatable. And, thirdly, that it is only destructive modern land-use activities that make it necessary to create such dichotomies.
Pagung Tomi 芭翁都密 discusses the ways in which traditional Atayal land use is conceptualized differently from mainstream ways. She shows how,
traditionally, there has been no distinction between using the land for human needs and protecting it, that they were part of the same system:
Land and education cannot be separate. When I was a child, we did traditional farming.
I could go to school by selling millet. The valleys and the land are all our life. The Tayal language can memorialize the spirit of the ancestors. Gaga is the system between people and elders and ancestors and the land. Tayal people have a traditional way to see the seasons, weather, cultivation cycles, where to log, how to choose a place for cultivation. After cutting trees and burning them, we plant seeds at the time of the cherry blossoms. After we cultivate the land, we plant big trees, use small trees for fences, use rocks for boundaries and markers. We have some local species, like magao, that will grow naturally in the field. After we have these, we will start to separate the seeds (like sweet potato, beans) To us, using the land and protecting it are not completely separate. We can live off the land and also take good care of it because we know and understand it (11/12/2013.
Canadian researcher Kevan Berg’s doctoral dissertation involved living in Smangus village and based on the songs and myths of their ancestors, locating 80 spots on the route of their historic migration. By conducting sediment analysis of these spots they were able to scientifically prove recent human habitation (including housing foundations, planted trees and other environmental impacts) many of these areas are now protected by the Forestry Bureau as conservation areas (thus
prohibiting Atayal people from growing or collecting crops). Such research begs the question: what constitutes a natural, pristine forest? These areas have had human activity for ions giving rise to the concept of the “Anthropogenic Forest,” which describes a forest that has been altered and created with human influence.
Bayen points out that the forest is most important part of Cinsbuology. They have clashed with the Forestry Bureau for gathering mushrooms and firewood,
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activities that have been deemed illegal in order to protect the forest. But to local people, they see themselves as keepers of the forest but would still like to be able to earn an income as they protect it.
Thus, on the one hand this demonstrates the motivations the community members have for wanting to use their land in ways that minimize negative impacts on the environment. On the other hand, it fundamentally calls into question the ways in which the government in Taiwan limits indigenous peoples’ use of the land under the pretext of protecting the natural, delicate mountain environment.