Tue, Jan 26, 2016 - Page 12 News List

A clash of cultures

A recent court case raises concerns over the disregard shown towards the traditions and customs of Taiwan’s Aboriginal hunters

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Aboriginal hunter Tama Talum received a jail sentence of three years and six months after killing protected animals.

Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times

In the summer of 2013, Tama Talum ventured into the mountains to hunt game for his mother. The ancestral spirits seemed to smile on the Bunun hunter, for he shot two deer: a Formosan serow and a Formosan Reeve’s muntjac. The animal meat, he thought, would satisfy his mother’s craving — and provide food for other families in his community.

But on his way home, Tama Talum was arrested and charged with violating the Controlling Guns, Knives and Ammunition Act (槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例) and the Wildlife Conservation Act (野生動物保育法), for which he was sentenced to three years and six months in prison. In October last year, the Supreme Court ruled against Tama Talum’s appeal to overturn his convictions for weapons possession and poaching protected species.

“I did it, but I am not guilty of any crime,” says the 56-year-old hunter from the Bunun hamlet of Takimi, administratively known as Lungchuan Village (龍泉), in Taitung County’s Haiduan Township (海端).

Tama Talum’s jail sentence reflects how the traditions and interests of Aborigines frequently collide with the authorities in Taiwan’s predominantly Han Chinese society. Those supporting Aboriginal rights have long raised concerns over the disregard toward the traditional and customary practices of the indigenous peoples, which often criminalizes the Aboriginal way of life.


Like his ancestors before him, Tama Talum hunts because it is a way of life. For highland Aborigines, a man’s life traditionally revolves around hunting. In Tsao culture, for example, a one-year-old boy is given a hunting knife to symbolize his future as a hunter. When he reaches adulthood, he is given a hat made from animal hide that elders expect him to adorn with the animals that he has killed.

“A hunter’s duty is to look after his family, village, traditional territory and the land… The hunting tradition is an important base for our culture and personal identity,” Tsao educator Tibusungu Poiconu says.

A hunter is, therefore, a highly esteemed, honorable member of his community, responsible for passing down the knowledge about the land and the life of his people. However, in Taiwan’s legal system, the indigenous hero often becomes a lawbreaker.

“In his village, Talum is a respected elder and leader. He teaches youngsters everything they need to know about the mountains, and passes down the hunting tradition. But now, their teacher is suddenly made a criminal. It is an insult to our culture,” says Login Yuduw, a Sediq hunter.


Aboriginal rights to land and natural resources are protected by the Indigenous Peoples Basic Act (原住民族基本法), which came into effect in 2005. However, there are many other laws, regulations and administrative measures that contravene the act and have yet to be amended or repealed.

Take hunting rifles for example. Before last year, Aboriginal hunters were only allowed to use home-made, muzzle-loading rifles, according to the regulations on gun control issued by National Police Agency (NPA). Users of these antiquated rifles manually insert gunpowder into the barrel before each shot. If a hunter misses his prey, he needs to reload the gun, which places his life in danger when hunting animals like wild boar. The gun is also prone to accidental discharge, sometimes causing serious injury to the hunter.

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