Accepted Paper:

Emissaries of the Ancestors: Ethno-ornithology of Taiwan's Truku People   


Scott Simon (Université d'Ottawa)

Paper short abstract:

Knowledge of birds constitutes important ecological knowledge. This paper, based on research in Taiwan, examines Truku cognitive and symbolic avian worlds. How do the Truku understand birds? How can this knowledge contribute to sustainable development, especially in an era of climate change?

Paper long abstract:

Knowledge of birds, whether they are appreciated for their beauty, hunted and eaten, or consulted as oracles, constitutes important ecological knowledge. Birds can be critical indicator species, signs of overall ecological health. The Truku, in particular, use the Taiwan Fulvetta (Alcippe formosana) as an oracle bird in hunting and trapping. This may be similar to ways in which human hunters have hunted with ravens for millennia. In fact, throughout Southeast Asia and Oceania, the use of different species as oracle birds and emissaries of the ancestors is very common. Indigenous avian knowledge may thus be useful to sustainable forestry, and may even contribute to knowledge about climate change.

Taiwan is ideal for ethnoecological research due to high ecological and ethnic diversity. Taiwan's 500+ bird species account for 5.4% of the world's bird species, despite the island's small size. Taiwan's Austronesian peoples are classified into 14 indigenous peoples, all of whom have local knowledge about birds and other living things. Like indigenous peoples everywhere, Taiwan's Austronesian minorities possess myths about birds, use decorative feathers, hunt birds, and consult bird oracles.

This paper, based on fieldwork in two Truku villages in the highlands of Taiwan, examines Truku cognitive and symbolic avian worlds. How do the Truku understand birds? What symbolic meaning do birds have? What is the relationship between the utilitarian and symbolic dimensions of their rapport with birds? How can this knowledge contribute to the goals of sustainable development on forest land, especially in our era of potentially devastating climate change?

Panel BH04
Indigenous knowledge and sustainable development (IUAES Commission on Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development)