Sun, Dec 26, 2004 - Page 17 News List

At the frontline of an Aboriginal hunting plan

Bunun hunters in Nantou saw a lot of forest in the Danda Wildlife Refuge, but not as many animals as they hoped

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER

Hunters inspect the Chuoshui River valley from a high bluff.

PHOTOS: MAX WOODWORTH, TAIPEI TIMES

Barely five minutes out of an isolated camp deep in the mountains of Nantou County on Monday night, the lead member of our hunting party dropped to a crouch that the rest of the party instantly mimicked while he drew up the barrel of his homemade rifle and took aim. There was a moment of eerie silence and then a single thunderous shot lit up the forest in a blinding flash, echoing off the nature reserve's canyon walls.

Ducked in the bushes I couldn't see what the hunter was trying to shoot, but his mumblings seemed to indicate that he had missed.

Amazingly, though, the animal on the business end of the gun hadn't fled through the underbrush after the first shot, so the second hunter in our file stepped up, took aim ... and missed as well. Without waiting to reload, the exasperated man who took the first shot, Li Chen-hsin-te (李陳信德), then walked over to the bush where the telltale iridescent glow of an animal's eyes had betrayed its hiding spot to his flashlight, reached into the grass and pulled out a screaming baby Formosan muntjac by its pencil-thin legs.

Though it was a tiny, perhaps one-month-old doe of the endangered species of miniature deer, its full-throated shrieking had the eight members of our hunting party wincing in pain trying to cover our ears until it was stuffed into a coarse plastic sack and eventually piped down. But as soon as it stopped, its mother could be heard somewhere in the obscurity of the forest, barking in a desperate but hopeless attempt to locate the doe it had been forced to abandon as we approached noisily through the bush.

I felt relieved the fawn hadn't been shot, but then I noticed that, curled up tightly in the plastic sack, it was about the size of a dinner plate and then I didn't feel so good. I realized at that point it was going to be a long two nights.

Cooperative hunting

The hunting excursion had been arranged by Song Bi-chang (松碧常), head of the Di-ba-en Tourism Association (迪巴恩觀光協會), which is serving as the on-the-ground partner in a controversial Forestry Bureau scheme to devise new wildlife management measures in traditional Aboriginal hunting lands.

The plan seeks to allow a limited number of Bunun Aboriginal tribe members access to the Danda Wildlife Refuge to hunt legally and then register their catch with Council of Agriculture and Forestry Bureau officials. The gambit for the Bunun tribe members is that, if successful, the plan could hand to them full management rights for a large sector of the reserve that had been their homeland before they were forcefully relocated by the colonial Japanese administration and then prevented from returning by the ROC government that followed.

For the Bunun, who consider hunting a way of life and the ultimate expression of a man's worth within the community, the quest to reclaim the hunting lands is more than just a land issue. It involves a mission to achieve recognition of the tribe's religion, history and culture and, in the opinion of some, an opportunity to demand the many outstanding entitlements to compensate for their treatment at the hands of previous governments.

Once out in the nature reserve, however, the larger issues melted away and the hunting party became focused on their main purpose: killing whatever was dumb enough to trundle in front of their path.

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