Categories Asia, Blog, Taiwan, province of China

Seeking the Revival of Sustainability for the Island of the Tao People

By Sutej Hugu, Regional Coordinator for East Asia and Syaman Vongayan, Lead Director, Tao Foundation

We call ourselves Tao, a population of about 4,000 people. Pongso no Tao (literally the ‘Homeland of Tao people’) is a small northern volcanic outlier of the Batanes Islands, southeast of Taiwan, province of China (now labeled ‘Lanyu’ or ‘Orchid Island’ on the official atlas). Not far from the starting point of the Kuroshio Current and nurtured by the richness of its large marine ecosystem, the Tao people have lived ‘the original affluent society’ with their comprehensive traditional ecological knowledge base on their home island for millennium. There are non-hierarchical and unspecialized egalitarian tribal communities, without chiefs or ruling elders but functional leaders responsible for various production and ceremony activities, and only with a simple complementary sexual division of labour within households. Following the unique time reckoning system of Tao people, which is an original calendar with thirty names of the phasing moon and an intercalation calibrated by the annual revisiting of flying fishes, our ancestors seasonally alternated their migratory fishing and coral reef fishing, maintained their wet taro fields with irrigation channels and supplemented that by shifting cultivation (firing and fallowing) of dry taro, yam, and millet. They also maintained forests through their caring and ecologically-wise timber harvesting for plank boat-building and house building. The accumulated social and ecological knowledge and a related elaborate ‘makaniaw’ (taboo) system are continuing today.