The Atayal village of Piyaway, deep in the mountains in Taoyuan County’s Fusing Township (復興), was once dotted with trash, and agricultural products grown by the villagers were full of pesticides, but these days, the village is ready to welcome visitors with its clean streets, cherry blossoms during the spring, friendly residents, organic fruit and vegetables and a bit of traditional Atayal culture.
“If you had come here 10 years ago, you would have seen a completely different village,” said Hama Silan, a villager who works as a tour guide. “You would see empty liquor bottles and other garbage filling the ditches on both sides of the road and elsewhere around the village.”
There was even a case in which a farmer in the village was hospitalized with pesticide poisoning, Hama said.
However, things have changed due to the residents’ hard work.
“Ten or 11 years ago, a young man from our village decided that he wanted to move to the city,” said Atay Yukan, another villager. “Before he left, he said that he could not stay here anymore because he saw no hope in the village and he wanted to achieve something in his life.”
The young man was not the first young person to leave the village, but he was the first to point out how hopeless he felt life in the village had become, Atay said.
“We were actually quite shocked, and so elders and church leaders in the village began to figure out how to make a change so that the village’s children would stay and those who had moved away might return,” Atay said.
The first things they decided to do was to clean up the village and to stop using pesticides on their farming products.
“We wanted to make some changes in the village, but we actually did not make any changes, we just returned to the way our ancestors used to live,” Hama said. “Before chemical pesticides were developed, our ancestors grew things organically.”
However, Piyaway villagers did suspend their centuries-old hunting tradition.
“Hunters have become defenders of nature. They not only stopped hunting, but also began patrols in the mountains along their hunting trails to prevent anyone from harming the environment,” Hama said.
As hunting stopped, the wildlife returned, Hama said.
“Formosan blue magpies, an endangered native bird species that disappeared a long time ago, returned to Piyaway after we stopped hunting and started the patrols,” Hama said.
“The magpie is now a symbol of our village, and we’re proud of it,” she said, pointing to a handmade wooden sign that marked the entrance to the village.
To maintain Piyaway’s neatness, the residents implemented a set of regulations, including a prohibition on smoking in the village and a requirement that every resident should contribute two days a month to clean public spaces, Hama said.
However, Piyaway residents said that a clean village and a well-preserved ecology would not bring back the young people. They needed a greater incentive.
“If we wanted the young people to come back, we had to provide them with a way to make a living,” Hama said. “Therefore we decided to welcome guests from around the world so that they could experience for themselves how we Atayals have lived throughout history and how rich our culture is. We wanted to show them they could relax entirely here — mentally and physically.”
Piyaway residents came up with an itinerary that included a guided tour of the village, a traditional meal cooked with mostly locally produced organic fruit and vegetables and served with traditional tableware made from bamboo or wood, and do-it-yourself programs that allow visitors to make jams with village-grown fruit of the season.