Save the Smangus People

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing in regards to the wind-fall beech event that had occurred at Smangus and would like to extend my support for the Smangus community. Based on the information made available to me, the Forestry Bureau staff had cut the tree into pieces and removed of them, which was in village boundaries. When the village people tried to take the wood back to the village after it was transported, they were accused of burglary. How can it possibly make sense to charge these traditional people with burglary on something that originally was located in their territory? These people were only taking back what was originally theirs, which was taken away by the Forestry staff. Since that were the case, perhaps it could be considered the Forestry staff committed the burglary first. Had they not removed the tree, the village people would not have been able to take the pieces away.

The Smangus people who have been charged with this unthinkable crime should not only deny these charges, but defend their beliefs as well. These people have broken no laws, because they are being charged with a law that doesn't even apply to them to say the least. They were only taking back what was rightfully theirs. It plays a major role in sustaining their tourism they have. Furthermore, these people are charged with a crime, when Section 4 of Article 15 clearly states that aboriginal people may take forest products which promote their traditional living needs.

It is my hope that these charges can be reviewed and overturned. The Smangus people have resided there for many generations and many are outraged that this situation has come to this.

Thank you for your time.


Kenneth Lau

Student of San Jose State University , San Jose, California

Interview with Elder Masay

Reprinted from Coolcould Forum: Who’s the Executioner? Smangus or the Forestry Bureau?
Written by Tzuyaya (Stringer journalist of the Coolcloud website)
Translated by Chie-Yu Hong

“We are far more qualified to protect the forest than the Forestry Bureau!” claimed former director-general of The Association for the Development of Atayal Smangus, Masay Sulong.
Masay stated that Taiwan's aerial images could reveal how those thick forests in Alishan and Cilan mountain areas have turned from green to bare due to over exploitation under the Forestry Bureau's jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Smangus still embraces dense forests, limpid creeks and towering giant trees, which demonstrate well the villagers' environmental sense.
Smangus has devoted to forest conservation for the practical concern of living with the environment. Though the people have protected not only the environment but also their homelands through forestation, their concerns come to serious conflicts with government departments. To illustrate, three villagers were charged with stealing by the Forestry Bureau for violating the Forestry Act; they were sentenced to six months in prison with two years of probation and fined NT$160,000 dollars each. However, they had only found a wind-fall beech from typhoon in the year before, while rushing to repair the damaged road, and attempted to carry the tree back to their village for reuse.
Masay sigh, saying that our government had been blind to the indigene's efforts for the environment. “Rather, our government values wind-fall and withered trees above all” he retorted.
“We've been thinking about how to preserve our mountains and our lands” said Masay. He remarked that the ancestors of indigenes had indeed ample environmental sense. They would, for example, build a retaining wall by laying stones after logging. They could understand the values of planting trees because they knew that Nature could run short of supply and trees could hold back mudflows. They left the animals for propagation in summer and did not hunt until celebrations in winter. They protected their rivers for clean water to drink.
Masay expressed his hope that our government could listen in patience to Smangus voices and work out an agreement through equal consultations to let the Smangus care for their own mountains and keep their cultural traditions. “Isn't it nice to respect each other?” said Maysay.
Maysay sighed gently and led me to the square in the village.

“This is my production named ‘La qi klokah.’ The term ‘La qi’ means a child, while ‘klokah’ means way to go. In other words, this name implies ‘Way to go, my child!” Masay pointed for me.
Taking a careful look, I discovered a path of foot prints carved quite neatly on the front right of this woodcarving. Masay addressed that they symbolized Smangus ancestors' tracks. At that time there was no outside force from our government to disturb the indigene lives; hence, though their ancestors had difficult days, they still stuck to their lives, nurtured offspring and survived with Nature.
“Right after then, here came the Japanese geta” said Masay. When the Japanese Government came to Taiwan, they banned facial tattooing and other traditions, for they did not understand indigenous cultural backgrounds. Masay pointed at the footprints between the geta and said to me, “Tayal people lost their pace, and culture began to break down.”
Masay continued, “Later, leather shoes and high heels ensued.” He described that after the government of the Republic of China settled down in Taiwan, domestic economy started to thrive and Tayal people sold their lands and children to improve their living standards. They drew big businesses to their villages all for their own good, not treasuring the lands from ancestors.
Masay went on to explain that he did not mean to accuse big businesses, but oftentimes they did not mind aboriginal way of living while exploiting and making profits vigorously; unfortunately, villagers could do nothing with these big businesses' coercion and bribery but selling lands one after another.
“If we do not appreciate the land that grows us, what else shall our culture depend upon?” said Masay. He hoped that Smangus children could strive hard to keep protecting the lands they inherited from ancestors, and walked in measured steps, just like the small feet on the left of the woodcarving.
“La qi klokah!”