The release of the movie Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale has generated heated discussion on several topics. The topic that should be given the most thought and that should be properly handled is the issue of old and new grievances between Aborigines and colonial governments.
For the Aborigines, the issues described in the film, such as the Japanese government taking away their hunting grounds and destroying their culture and how the Republic of China (ROC) government did not set things right when it took control of Taiwan, have not changed to this day, and they are still deprived of the land they rely on for their survival. This is one of the main reasons for the Aborigines’ difficult situation.
At the start of the film, it is made clear that an important goal of Japanese colonization was to take hold of Taiwan’s rich forestry and mining resources. In 1895, after the Japanese army overcame widespread resistance, the colonial government imposed a set of regulations restricting the use of forests and camphor production by stating that land that did not have official evidence of ownership or title deeds was to be considered crown land. However, as the Qing government in practice never ruled over the Aborigines living in the mountain areas, they did not have to obtain any proof of land ownership.
This is how the legal system of a modern and “civilized” country was used to seize the hunting grounds and land of the Aborigines. After having their natural resources stolen by the state and capitalists, Aborigines who resisted were militarily subjugated. The government would only extend its grace to those who gave them the right to use some of the land or hunting grounds that had originally belonged to their tribes.
After stealing their hunting grounds and banning Aboriginal traditions — face tattoos, for example — the arrogant colonizing government brought in the benefits of modern civilization such as schools, post offices, shops and job opportunities as a policy of conciliation.
However, tribal men were forced to engage in hard physical labor, while women were forced to work as slaves or keep Japanese men company. The original owners of hunting grounds were forced to work for low pay as they watched the government steal their possessions and land.
In the end, even tribal leader Mona Rudo was only able to drink to numb himself and pretend that this was not going on.
I’ll put it this way: Even if our ancestors were buried on hunting grounds they were familiar with, their spirits are not at ease there. There is nothing worse than the loss of heart and so we now have to fight for our rights.
When the ROC government took over control of Taiwan after Japan was defeated in World War II, it basically continued with Japan’s policies and the way in which Tokyo dealt with Aborigines and their land. The ROC government did not return the hunting grounds and land that was stolen from the Aborigines by the Japanese colonial government, but instead listed it as “national property.” It simply carried on the unjust practices that the Japanese had imposed.
Things changed with Taiwan’s democratization in the 1990s, as the Constitution was amended to recognize the status and rights of Aborigines and the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法) was passed by the legislature in 2005, recognizing Aborigines’ rights to land and natural resources, as well as stating how these resources should be returned. This law also states that permission from Aborigines should be sought out before any development is carried out on their land, that benefits be shared and that a co-management mechanism be established.