Chapter 3. Participatory Research and Analysis of Literature Review
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Table 3-5 Significant Atayal Terms
Classification Atayal Term English Term
Soil Type Mqalux Black soil
Talah Red soil
Bmbulang Loose terrain
Species Variety Qenu tumaw Pearl Onion
Qurip qahal Fresh ginger
Qurip paris Chili pepper
Tibihi Bok Choy
Topu Daikon radish
Qlban Mountain lettuce
Seed Knowledge Tmubux Sowing seeds
Norms Gaga na Sbmyux Custom of working together
Gaga na Kmloh Harvest knowledge
Gaga Rhyal Soil knowledge
Gaga Mlahang Farm Management
Gaga Pinbahuw Crop knowledge
(Lo 2016, 47, 64, 64)
According to the farmers, one of the main influences on natural farming is Christianity and faith. When Christianity first entered Shi Lei in 1947 many residents
drew similarities between Christian teachings and their traditional Gaga (Lo and Ru 2015, 90). According to Loyi, strong similarities between Christian and traditional Atayal teachings include ideas of respect and selflessness. For example, during the time of swidden agriculture there were no concrete boundaries on territory. One problem some communities have faced with shared territory is a ‘tragedy of the commons.’ This is where individuals act in their own self-interest instead of doing what is best for the common good. For example, an individual or several individuals may choose to take more resources than they need, which not only prevents others from gathering necessary resources but also has the potential of disrupting the balance of the ecosystem. According to Loyi, proper adherence to the norms of the Gaga and faith were important to
preventing a ‘tragedy of the commons’ like situation from occurring (Loyi 02/10/2016).
According to Taru Behuy, natural farming and spirituality are intimately
connected. He believes that a farmer’s success and stability is dependent on whether he is faithful to God. He depicts that natural farming embodies Christian morals, and by following Christian teachings people will receive God’s blessing and good farming results (Lo and Ru 104, 106). Since the time of swidden agriculture, spirituality and farming have been connected. Loyi states that it was important for farmers to ask the spiritual ancestors (Utux) what season would be best for farming, what crops they should plant, and what time they should begin farming. After being converted to Christianity, similar practices remained, and now, people still pray to God for guidance on farming.
(Loyi 02/10/2016). According to Watan Taru, community member Lomuy Taya dictates the importance of prayer and the important connection it has to natural farming practice.
Lomuy Taya states that, if one prays diligently to God and asks for advice on their problems, He will listen and give advice and new ideas (Lo 2016, 199). Through praying, community members such as Lomuy Taya and Taru Behuy feel God has given them important guidance. One of the most prominent pieces of advice was to use the taxol plant to heal Taru Behuy’s wife’s cancer, which later sparked an inspiration for him to use taxol and other plants from Atayal ethnomedicine in natural farming.
Using taxol is far from the only piece of advice Taru Behuy received from God.
Three prominent pieces of advice include using sea water from Yilan, avoiding the use of the plastic PE cloth in the summer and using grass and weeds as topdressing. Taru Behuy
states that God advised him against using the plastic cloth in the summer, because it traps heat. This may over heat microorganisms within the soil and stunt crop growth. Now, instead a combination of rice and straw are used to cover the soil in the summer.
Furthermore, he states that God advised him to use grass and weeds to replace store bought topdressing. From these examples, the reverence towards God within the
community may be seen and also the deep connection between Christianity and the Shilei farm (Lo 2016, 231-233).
One of the main things that stood out to me when I was doing my participatory observation on the farm is the amount of respect and reverence with which the Lo family holds for God and the Church. Christianity permeates through every facet of their lives, from a simple prayer before meals to the hospitality with they treat all guests in their homes. Furthermore, they are not only extremely active in their local church but also have a small chapel at their home. Christianity helps them to create meaningful
connections with others, which goes beyond lecturing others on proper farming. Instead the farmers willingly listen to problems and encourage the formation of solutions pertinent to those issues.
One of the reasons strong faith and Christianity is so important for the farmers in Shilei, is because of the unpredictability that comes with the transition to natural farming.
The idea of all of life’s systems being interconnected is an easily romanticized notion, where all everything in thing in the ecosystem is seen as working perfectly in harmony with each other. In actuality, being connected with and reliant on the land comes with a feeling of uncertainty, when compared to conventional farming methods. For example, severe weather impacts all aspects of the farm and surrounding areas, not only the ability to cultivate crops. Not only do farmers lose an important part of food source and income, but insects, rodents and birds also tend to die off as their food sources become depleted.
Moreover, with a constant sense of uncertainty looming, the author finds it admirable that the farmers are able to maintain such a level head.
Before visiting the Shilei farm, the author worked on a community garden in Central Texas. In 2011 Texas experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, severely limiting Texan farmer’s ability to grow crops. Naturally, this drought impacted local farmers in the area along with the community garden at which the author was
working in, making it difficult to grow any type of produce. Yet, despite the severity of the drought, it had little impact on my living circumstances. Supermarkets import a majority of produce, so it is not easy to visually see how severe weather is impacting local farmers. This situation contrasts with my experience in Shilei during the winter of 2015, when unexpected snow in the mountains made it difficult to cultivate any crops. At this time I was living in Taipei, and again I did not experience many ill effects of this weather, and was not aware of how harshly it impacted farmers until traveling to Shilei for participatory research. Visiting Shilei in the winter, almost all of the fields were barren, highly contrasted with when the author visited the farm that past fall (October).
Living and working in the fields in Shilei the author was able to feel and experience the interdependence among all of the different organisms. There is a certain kind of
relationship that goes beyond the structural scientific explanations of biodiversity. Often it is easy to become detached and forget that humans are just another organism in the large web of life.
Yet, as mentioned in the literature review, it is often difficult for farmers to separate themselves from their beliefs when talking about their farming. Elements of spirituality have become so deeply ingrained in the farmer’s culture and integral to how many define who they are as a person. In this respect, Lo’s PhD thesis has been criticized by some for being not scholarly enough, because Lo does not step out of his insider perspective to give further objective commentary on how spirituality affects the practice.
Topics such as spirituality are often dismissed by scholarly communities on the basis that they are not concrete and measurable. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that spirituality, namely Christianity, works as a key motivator for the farmers in a way not found in other farms. While the story of the Lo family natural farm is one of success there are many other examples of farms that attempted natural farming, but quit and reverted back to mainstream organic farming. Natural farming is time intensive, labor intensive, and sometimes risky economically. Oftentimes the farmers face large obstacles such as harsh winters or find their fertilizer combinations are inadequate to combat certain problems.
However, the farmers on the Lo family natural farm have been relentless in pursuing these natural farming efforts, which they attribute to their faith and duty to God. They believe that when going through a difficult time, with hard work, determination, and
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prayers to God eventually the answers will come to them. Therefore, it may be assessed that spirituality gives the farmers motivation to continue with this complex style of farming and also the patience to persist though any difficulties they may encounter.
Moreover, although this research focuses specifically on the natural farm in Shilei, the issue of how culture interacts with biodiversity extends far beyond the farm.
Through the INIEF conference I had the opportunity to speak with different ecological farmers from across the Asia Pacific. According to these farmers, agriculture and culture are not a dichotomy. Instead, for many people, agriculture is an integral aspect of culture.
Without agriculture or if these farmers were forced to do agriculture in a different way, such as not gathering materials from traditional lands, many would have to redefine culture.