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    IVALINO. LANYU, TAIWAN   





The loudspeakers in the village of Ivalino are calling out the news of a caught culprit behind the robberies around the village - a pig. In celebration of its butchering, the households are called to gather, to share, once more showing the bond and teamwork between the communities of Ivalino and the island as a whole.

Lanyu, a 45km² island off the southeastern coast of Taiwan, houses one of Taiwan's many, but in numbers scarce, indigenous groups called Tao. Although small in size, this land of a few thousand inhabitants faces enough challenges to keep it worried about its survival on the island that pulsates with tranquillity. 1945, when the control of Taiwan, including Lanyu, fell under the control of the Republic of China, was the year that began decades of forced assimilation that endangered the identity of the Tao people. Formal education limited to the use of Mandarin, unjust assignment of Chinese names and construction of “modern” housing to which locals were forcibly relocated to, were just some of the measures taken to “civilise” the remote island. Although recent governments have been backtracking on its past actions and the president Tsai Ing-wen has apologised for Taiwan's treatment of aboriginal tribes, one critical battle is still yet to be won.

1980 marked the start of the construction of a nuclear waste facility by the Taiwan Power Company. Completed in 1982 on Lanyu's southeastern coast, at first, it wasn't all that it seemed. Government representatives informed the islanders that underway was a fish cannery, which would also provide employment. They were intrigued. What followed were years of disappointment that turned into anger. Understandably so, with the stored 100,000 barrels of nuclear waste, the stakes are high. Even a single barrel spilling would mean grave consequences for the local livelihood, which mainly consists of taro agriculture and fishing, as well as highly-prized pigs who find their freedom while roaming the streets. With accounts of increased radioactivity already reported as early as 1998 and the barrels corroding, the fight for the removal of the waste reached new highs after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. With questionable safety standards and the lack of measures taken against a possible natural disaster, the possibility of a Fukushima case scenario would mean the end of life on Lanyu as we know it. The island would become uninhabitable.

The years of cultural erasure didn't strip the Tao of the pride they hold for the land from where their roots stem. It acts as a stimulus for their purpose, and in the past 30 years, it only seems to be increasing with the new generation not only joining in but also standing at the forefront of the fight. Public protests have become a frequent occurrence that has lead to promises by the government to relocate the waste to another, uninhabited, island. With resistance gaining momentum and changes still awaited, for now, it is the century-old Tao spirit that is to be celebrated. One must hope that it wouldn't come to being tested in case of the worst-case scenario. The indigenous Tao are yet to hear concrete plans for a way to deal with this looming issue, and in this case, time is not a luxury they can afford.  
Mark

© 2018 Jānis Žguts