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Institutional Adaptation and Community-Based Conservation of Natural Resources: The Cases of the Tao and Atayal in Taiwan

Abstract

Traditional institutional rules, values, and beliefs help support conservation regimes of natural resources in many indigenous communities. Such traditional conservation regimes may break down as a result of influences from the outside world. This paper examines two cases in Taiwan—the Tao communities on Orchid Island and the Atayal community in Smangus. The former illustrates a process in which traditional institutions supporting local conservation broke down as a result of external influences, leading to the loss of the local community’s ability to govern the use of a coastal fishery. The latter, in contrast, demonstrates how local people are able to adapt their traditional institutions to meet the challenges from the outside world while preserving a local forest. The paper concludes by examining factors that affect institutional adaptation in community-based conservation of natural resources.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Tao and Atayal have been the most thoroughly investigated aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. Since the establishment of Taipei Imperial University (now National Taiwan University), many Japanese scholars, for example, Oshuma Masamitsu, Miyamoto Nobuto, and Kano Tadao, undertook systematic anthropological research on Taiwan (Yang 2005).The colonial government encouraged studies of the Atayal in order to develop strategies for preventing rebellion. On the other hand, the geographical and social isolation of the Tao attracted them to Japanese anthropologists.

  2. 2.

    An additional research challenge on Orchid Island was that most native elders had trouble understanding Mandarin spoken by the interviewers, and tended to decline to be interviewed.

  3. 3.

    The island was isolated from the outside world during the Japanese colonial era mainly because the Japanese government intended to preserve the aboriginal conditions for anthropological investigations. When the Nationalist regime from mainland China took over, they kept this closed-door policy for security reasons. Most small islands around Taiwan were reserved for military use.

  4. 4.

    The population of Tao was quite stable at around 1,500 until the island was opened to outsiders. This was probably due to the scarcity of natural resources. Recently, there are about 3,500 registered residents, of whom about 1,000 actually live on Taiwan Island (Tien 2002:49).

  5. 5.

    Many of these taboos are associated with indigenous knowledge. For example, to deal with the shortage of large logs, all boats were made of small pieces of wood. The wood for the keel had to be hard wood to prevent damages, while the upper hull had to be lighter and softer wood that can keep the boat in balance (Chen 2004: 164; Syaman-Rapongan 2004).

  6. 6.

    For example, the builders had to be able to raise sufficient numbers of pigs and goats for ceremonies and recruit enough crew members in advance. Building a boat was thus considered an important social event that most young men dreamed of doing at least once in a lifetime. For further details, see Cheng (2004).

  7. 7.

    See http://www.sinica.edu.tw/~video/main/tribe-art/festival/ym/ym-all.html (in Chinese, checked on October 2008)

  8. 8.

    While the average annual yield of flying fish nationwide in the 1990s was about 810 tons, the number has dropped to 520 tons over the past decade. It was only 147 tons in 2006 and 71 tons in 2007. For the statistics, see Annual Reports on Fisheries information Service Site at http://www.fa.gov.tw/chnn/statistics_publish/statistics/year_book/ (in Chinese).

  9. 9.

    Despite this challenge, coastal fisheries are not doomed for depletion. While some aborigines are known to have depleted their local resources for short-term consumption (Aswani 1998), others have developed ingenious institutions to preserve their coastal fisheries (Schlager 1990).

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Acknowledgements

We thank Su Pei-Rong for assistance in data collection and the National Science Council of Taiwan for funding the research for the paper.

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Correspondence to Ching-Ping Tang.

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Tang, CP., Tang, SY. Institutional Adaptation and Community-Based Conservation of Natural Resources: The Cases of the Tao and Atayal in Taiwan. Hum Ecol 38, 101–111 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-009-9292-8

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Keywords

  • Taiwan
  • Institutional change
  • Community-based conservation
  • Forests
  • Fisheries