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).
Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times
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.
TRADITION AND LAW
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.
Last year, the NPA approved the use of the safer Hilti Corp nail guns, a type of modified shotgun using Hilti nails for ammunition and commonly used by Aborigines.
Legal activists, however, say the limitation on firearms is groundless because there is currently no provision in the law that restricts the types of home-made firearms that Aborigines may own or use, and the possession of unregistered guns are only liable for a fine of up to NT$20,000, not imprisonment.
Today, judges tend to rule in favor of Aboriginal hunters, says attorney Chen Tsai-yi (陳采邑), who has worked at the Legal Aid Foundation’s (法律扶助基金會) Taitung branch for the past five years.
“But the police on the front line keep making arrests.... If a hunter is unfortunate and meets a conservative prosecutor or judge, then he will be the next Tama Talum,” says Chen, who represents the Bunun hunter.
According to Legal Aid Foundation data from 2013, it provided legal assistance to Aboriginal defendants on 73 criminal cases of violating the Controlling Guns, Knives and Ammunition Act, 42 violations of the Wildlife Protection Act and 125 violations of the Forestry Act (森林法).
Among the more notorious cases, four Truku Aborigines of Knkreyan village, also known as Tongmen Village (銅門), in Hualien County, were arrested last year when returning from a hunt as part of the celebrations of mgay bari, the Truku Thanksgiving Day festival. Their hunting activity had been legally pre-registered with authorities.
“The young men [in Tongmen] were handcuffed, and are now afraid to go hunting,” says Chen, who also represented the hunters in Tongmen.
Legal activists say the Supreme Court ruling against Tama Talum’s appeal is particularly troubling because it may affect decisions by lower courts.
Last month, a number of individuals and groups supporting Aboriginal rights staged a series of protests for the Bunun hunter. Shortly after, Prosecutor-General Yen Ta-ho (顏大和) filed an extraordinary appeal against the hunter’s jail sentence, stating that the ruling is based on a narrow interpretation of the laws, which limits Aborigines to the use of primitive firearms and prohibits them from hunting protected animals for personal consumption.
Back in the village, Tama Talum resumes life as normal, spends most of his time looking after his 94-year-old mother and two-year-old grandson. Life goes on as usual, as least for now.
“I will continue to hunt. It is our culture,” he says.
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