Cordillera Struggles Inspire Taiwan IPs

They live around 1155 kilometers away in Taiwan. Their history and culture is distinct from the Cordillera peoples. But the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and the Cordilleras share the same issues and concerns. And they are linked in solidarity in the struggle for indigenous peoples (IP) rights.

Vol. VIII, No. 14, May 11-17, 2008

BAAY-LICUAN, Abra (more than 400 kms. North of Manila) The Cordillera people’s organized struggle is an inspiration for the indigenous peoples (IPs) of Taiwan. They were so inspired that they traveled a long way to this remote town to be able to attend the Cordillera Day celebration, again.

Taiwanese belonging to the Atayal and Paiwan tribes have participated in the celebration of Cordillera Day not just once. Besu Piyas and Yunaw Sili of the Atayal tribe have joined the Cordillera peoples in commemorating the event twice while Tobias of the Paiwan tribe has participated thrice already. This year, there are 26 Taiwanese who observed the Cordillera Day celebration in Baay-Licuan, Abra.

According to them, they share the same concerns as what the IPs in the Philippines have been experiencing.

Restrictions a disrespect to IP culture

Taiwanese tribes originally live by hunting wild animals.

In fact, the Puyuma tribe performs a traditional ceremony every January as a rite of passage. As the main part of the ceremony, young people who have come of age are given guns and sent to the forest to hunt wild animals.

Traditionally, IPs are allowed to use guns in hunting. But in 2000, Piyas said, their government restricted gun ownership by requiring licenses. He said the government issues licenses only for traditional guns used for hunting. However, he said IPs now use modern kinds of guns, which do not recoil much and do not produce an ear-deafening sound as traditional guns do.

Because of this law, Piyas’ Kanke community had experienced problems with the government.

Since they are hunters by nature, it is but normal to find guns in their homes. But, Piyas said, last March 15 police raided their homes, confiscated their guns and bullets, and charged them in court. If found guilty, IPs are fined from NT 2,000-20,000 while non-IP are imprisoned for more than five years. The IPs get a lighter penalty than the non-IPs if they are able to prove that they use their guns for hunting and not for self-defense, and they hunt for their consumption and not for selling.

But their problems do not start and end with gun restrictions. They also worry for their hunting grounds.

Tobias said that the government now requires them to secure hunting permits, indicating when and where they intend to hunt.

“Hunting is not only hunting. It is possession of the culture and use of their ancestral territories,” said Tobias. “If the government restricts hunting, it is insulting our culture and violating our rights to hunt.”

Urban migration and poverty

Like in the Philippines, urban migration and poverty are affecting IPs in Taiwan.

Historically, Tobias said, tribes owned the lands. Tribes divided the land they own according to its use: for hunting and agriculture. But the government has ruled that ownership should not be communal but personal, and thus, required them to apply for titles, he said.

But since IPs are not familiar with titles, he said, they lost their lands to the government. Though the government has announced it would return some of the ancestral lands to the tribes, Tobias said, it still owns most of the IP lands.

For more than 30 years now, Piyas said, IPs who have lost their lands have been migrating to Taipei City. They ended up in urban poor communities in Taipei. And the government seems to have no plans to help them. Recently, he said, the Taiwan government unveiled a development plan, which, Piyas said, intends “to build houses for rich people, not for the IPs.”

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