Sun, Aug 10, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Protecting ancient giants

The Formosan cypress of Smangus are some of the largest in Taiwan, but are the center of a dilemma for locals

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

As the story goes, in 1991 a Smangus village elder traveled to see friends in an Atayal community in Bali, Taipei County. There he saw that the local economy prospered modestly from growing peaches and from an influx of tourists, who traveled from all parts of Taiwan to see that area's grove of ancient trees.

That same night the elder's ancestors came to him in a dream, saying that Smangus had it's own ancient giants located near red waters en route to Yuanyang Lake (鴛鴦湖). He returned to Smangus and immediately dispatched a team of young men to search for the divine trees. Nearly three months later they were found beside the stream whose bed is lined with brightly colored red rocks.

But the discovery of the trees was only part of the windfall. The residents of Smangus began planting peaches just as the Atayal in Pali had done. The peaches from the Lalashan area near Smangus are today widely considered the best in Taiwan.

And so fortunes have changed both for the Atayal of Smangus and the ancient cypress rooted in their land. "We owe a debt to the trees," Masay said, intoning that his tribe now has a vested interest in seeing that the trees remain standing. "We used to kill them for profit, now our livelihood is linked with theirs."

It's quite a haul into the hinterlands, but seeing Smangus and its ancient forest is well worth the effort. For more information on how to get there, you can contact the tribe at 0928-804-983 or visit their Web site at www.smangus.org.

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