Sakenge Kazangiman: Law and the power of the People

by on Tuesday, 30 October 2012 Comments

My motivation for participating in this activity, stems from the fact that when I was evaluating the Canada international exchange which I took part in a year ago, I realized that, in certain aspects, aboriginal affairs and the law can work together, as well as internationally on top aborigines about modern law and traditional systems under attack and their response. Afterwards, I took part in the “Aboriginal international affairs personnel training”, which helped me to understand more deeply the influence that can be exerted by aborigines worldwide by establishing ties with each other, which then let me to realize the importance of promoting an international perspective. When I found out about the trip to Fiji, in Austronesia, this year, it made me feel all the more resolutely that I must try the experience again, I must go once more.

When talking to the locals, we realized first hand the similar high pitch of our languages which is proof of our common ancestry. We took part in a class by Professor Morgan of the University of the South Pacific. We asked him if the people of the villages thought they were originally part of Austronesia, and he said that most of them thought they originated from Africa. However, we were surprised by the fact that counting from one to ten sounded almost the same in all of our mother tongues, we could barely believe it! This also seemed to give irrefutable evidence to the Austronesian grouping of languages. I had always thought that the concept of Austronesia was just discourse, I had never experienced it in a heartfelt way. After going through this kind of experience, however, I felt quite strongly that, despite the skin color and external appearance having changed somewhat due to environmental factors; we have clear proof that our institutions, languages and culture share similarities, and this gives me a deeper sense of identity.

In the Oceania Centre for Arts and Culture performance area at the university, we found a pillar on which words had been written. The words were those of deceased scholar Epeli Hau’ofa in his influential essay Our Sea of Islands. The contents of this essay he discusses how the ocean is a means for developing an Oceanic identity. He claimed the ocean was the main link that joined together all the small islands, that we are the ocean. This concept allowed us to look upon the world and the ocean from a new perspective. Hau’ofa devoted himself to creating an Oceanic identity: the islands of Oceania are not isolated, but rather a community linked together by the Ocean, so we should connect with one another. And as a native of Oceania, I think that Taiwan should also be a part of this.

Photo by Sakenge

The indigenous Fijian people, unlike the young Taiwanese, don’t have any identity crisis issues. The indigenous Fijians are not divided into over ten different ethnic groups like the Taiwanese, the difference between some of these groups being the fact that the people are from a different village or with a slightly different dialect. Identity is very personal and subjective, and manifests in a natural way in one’s daily life. After this first personal level of identification, ethnic groups will often try to find reasons behind their defining aspects, using sociological, historical, and anthropological concepts to justify their identity and purposefully separate one group from another.

There are two types of tourism in Fiji; the first is run by foreign businessmen and consists mainly of large-scale resort hotels, and the other is a grassroots ecological experience promoted by individual villages. We experienced both during the course of this trip. I think that part of the negative effects of tourism stem from the fact that the managers don’t really understand the locals, so they present an overly simplistic form of their culture, in addition to adding all the comforts of capitalism. In order to cater to the expectations of the outside world towards Fiji’s culture and nature, these expectations are packaged to create the sense of a holiday paradise; for example the view of cannibalistic natives becomes a selling point for the business, which causes the local culture and ecology to come under attack. I think if some of the power to shape the way tourism works were to return to the village, that would be a good way to mitigate this problem. Villages should have autonomy when deciding how to manage tourism, how to present their culture, and how to defend their ecosystem.

From visiting the villages, we noticed that all of them had a very high level of self-determination and subjectivity. Muaivuso village in particular is collaborating with the University of the South Pacific to defend knowledge about traditional ways of life and protect the ocean through the creation of ocean conservation areas. Although the government provided some technological help, the main driving force has been the people from the village and their tribal spirit. Seeing this has motivated me to go back to the tribe and encouraging them by telling them just how many things can be achieved with their strength of will. This will show other people our achievements, will allow for many possibilities in our hometown, and can also be used as a bargaining chip with the government or mainstream society when trying to defend our rights.

IMG_5936sakenge

Fiji and Taiwan have a rather similar system of land division and land preservation. The difference, however, is that in Fiji all the land is collectively owned, which differs from Taiwan where it is privately owned. Land preservation is managed jointly by the iTaukei Land Trust Board and the traditional tribal chiefs. If a foreign business wants to make use of the land of any given village, they must first visit the village and gain its consent, before submitting an application to the Land Trust. After that the three parties will come together to discuss the terms and conditions of the contract, and to sign it if an agreement is reached. This high level of respect for the opinions of the tribe can serve as an option to ponder and an example to follow for Taiwan. Maybe we can use village meetings to exercise the communal rights of the tribe, such as discussing the usage of natural resources and the way we open up land for development.

After this trip, I think that establishing international connections and gaining an international perspective are very important! I decided that in the future, I would focus all my efforts on developing and studying tribes, so before I left Taiwan for this trip, I thought that just learning about development in Taiwan would be enough. However, when you represent only two percent of the population, how can you dialog efficiently with mainstream society, when you both have different views shaped by your differing culture?Most indigenous people are not the majority in their respective countries, so they need to use international connections and agreements to interact with the mainstream government, and on occasion even to resist it. However, indigenous people need to have a strong cultural foundation before trying to expand their international point of view. Only in this way can they become a medium of communication between the tribe and the world. Otherwise, the connection with their roots will be lost, including the ability for the tribe to pass on information. If this happens, then the internationalization of the indigenous people will have lost its meaning.

This international exchange was a great opportunity for young Taiwanese aborigine people to have a broader view of the world, as well as allowing us to engage in cultural diplomacy with different indigenous people from around the world. If we form connections with each other, then our youthful power will become ever stronger. I also look forward to the opportunities that will arise from participating in this event, such as becoming the foundation for building a relationship between Taiwan and Fiji, and making sure Taiwan is in sync with the indigenous people of the world.I hope that these international exchange programs can continue in a far-reaching and sustainable way, so that this meaningful activity can continue to help young Taiwanese aborigine students to broaden their horizons.

 

Translated from the Chinese by Daniel Pagan Murphy

 

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