Categories Article, Asia, Community Fisheries, Taiwan, province of China

Indigenous fisheries and agriculture in Pongso no Tao coastal and marine territory of life

“Our world order and community rules are based on the all-species harmony. Our communities are embedded in the all-species habitats as the custodians and connected to all beings.’’

Ten-oars plank boat of a communal fishing group. Photo: Sutej Hugu

First published on 06/27/2022, and last updated on 03/09/2023

By Sutej Hugu
Indigenous Taiwan Self-Determination Alliance ITWSDA
Regional Coordinator for East Asia and North Asia, ICCA Consortium Secretariat

(Adapted from a talk delivered by the writer at a recent ICCA Consortium webinar titled a journey through coastal and marine territories of life held on June 21, 2022.)

ikongo cinimat na do karawan
no ji pa minisaza a kapivahay a
kano maoyong a nilalagan a
kano cinaotaoan a tatala am
orio ipivannyaga da sira am
ano panalirongen ko o nakem
ano minavahalang do malaod am
minisikesikep a jijiji
a minacitalanak do cinalikey

Chanting an “anood do pongso no tao”

Why did we come to this world for? 
If we don’t build big house to shelter family, 
Make big boat together with the fishing group, 
And launch carved small boats to feed the community?  
That’s why people see you as good at nothing.
The story is sung only from the bottom of the heart,
Just like the extended collection of metals, 
Types by types and piece by piece,
All capacities are accumulated from childhood on. 

The chanting mentioned above means that we would respect our heritage by connecting with the field, the forest, and the ocean through our original labors; and following the knowledge and wisdom inherited from our ancestors and elders to continue the commitment to the wellbeing of all creatures around us. Our living tradition tells us that our territories are habitats for all species, including humans. Our communities are embedded in these all-species habitats as the custodians and are connected to all beings.

The Kurushio ocean current passes by our small island, Pongso no Tao, and brings rayon, the oceanic migratory fishingseason, to our communities. Coral reefs surround the island, and we fish in these nearshore reefs during teyteyka season.

Our world order and community rules are based on the all-species harmony formed between the ancestor of the noble black-winged flying fish and the ancestor of the Tao people. The teachings from the noble black-winged flying fish include information about the various flying fish schools and their predators and the ahehep no tao. Ahehep no tao, the ecological calendar, defines our working schedules and seasonal rituals in response to the small island’s ecological cycle and natural rhythm.

The rayon, the fishing season of migratory flying fishes and their predators, starts in March with the initiating ceremony, mivanoa. The ceremony summons the flying fish schools to return to the small island’s fishing grounds. Rayon remains open for four months until June.

The fishing groups of extended families in each village undertake the most critical harvesting of the year. During this season, the harvest of coral reef fish is prohibited by taboo. When the flying fish are approaching the peak time of their reproduction, Tao people stop fishing because that is the norm within the inter-species harmony their ancestors had with the noble black-winged flying fish.

Teyteyka, the coral reef fishing season, follows the end of rayon season from July to October. When the teyteyka is underway in the ocean, people also are busy on the land, taking care of taro paddies and maintaining the irrigation channels. This continues until the winter monsoon arrives.

Sustainable usage and food diversity of marine resources is implemented by dividing the coral reef fishes into three categories: oyod or better fishes for women and children first, rahet or not-so-good fishes for men and older adults only, and jingangana or fishes not-for-eating hence not caught to mitigate the pressure on the food chain.

Coming to the winter monsoon season of amian from November to February, there are two months assigned for making earthenware and shell-ashes. During this time, people prepare the fishing gear and repair the boats for the coming migratory fishing season. This is how life thrives on Pongso no Tao. 

But there have been new challenges since the 1980s. Our communities dealt with a turbulent decade after lifting 38 years of martial law that ended in 1987. We have been engaged in campaigns to stop nuclear waste dumping since 1982 and rejected the proposal of a national marine park in 1984 on Pongso no Tao. Both endeavors were successfully achieved in the 1990s because of the solidarity of the six tribal communities on the small island. This decade-long struggle also helped us to be further integrated as the Tao people.

In 2000 following the power transition in Taiwan from KMT to DPP, the long opposition party, the Tao people, started to receive compensation for the nuclear waste in the temporary depository built in 1982. This brought about the era of reconciliation and reparation. All this progress has culminated in a 2020 trust fund of 2.55 billion TWD (about 92 million USD at the time) in retrospective compensation for nuclear waste dumping for Pongso no Tao.

After strong campaigns of the Tao people for years, in 2005, the government announced an administrative regulation prohibiting commercial fishing in the six nautical miles of marine territories surroundingPongso no Tao during the migratory fishing season from March to June.

In the recent decade, Pongso no Tao experienced the booming of seascape and cultural tourism. The traditional boatbuilding, salted and sun-dried flying fishes, and seasonal initiating ceremonies have found new motivation and market potential for the younger generation. The small island and its people are in transformation.

We are also undergoing a self-strengthening process for survival and revival of our living tradition.

We joined the global movement to recognize and restore ICCAs-territories of life in 2012. More recently, we have tried to ensure Indigenous and community fisheries join forces in the dialogue surrounding small-scale fisheries.

Let’s strive for the continued resurgence in coastal and marine territories of life:

  • Follow the living tradition that embeds the custodian communities in the inter-species habitats and keeps us connected to all beings both materialistically and spiritually.
  • Seek appropriate recognition of our collective rights and governance institutions on our territories of life by a pluralistic framework on legislation and knowledge for conserving the Trinity of language, cultural and biological diversity.
  • Find resources and support to resist exploiting and destroying territories of life and enhance our community’s livelihood and cultural creativity.
  • Collaborate on our self-strengthening process for sustainable self-determination as the custodians for territories of life through joint self-declaration and mutual recognition with diversity, vitality, and solidarity.