Translator: Sakenge Kazangiljan
The Indigenous Tayal man named Pan, who buried his mother in the traditional territory of his community, was prosecuted for violating “the Forestry Act”, since the tomb was located in the national forestry land. Taipei District Court stated that the funeral and burial culture of the Tayal Peoples is to bury the deceased around the ancestries. It is the tradition of Tayal people, including Pan, have to obey. Therefore, he was declared not guilty.
Of all judicial history, this case is by far the first one for Indigenous Peoples to be acquitted for building tombs in national land. During the trial process, Pan had complained that over the past ten years, people from his community had buried their late families in the very place, yet he was the only one to be prosecuted. “Maybe we should just let the District Office to deal with the dead bodies!” he said in a rage. And he hoped that the prosecutors not to appeal the case, or else he had to pay the fee of the lawsuit which he could hardly afford.
“If I had studied harder, I could comprehend better now”, Pan said. Receiving the hearing notification letter, he can only partly understand the meaning of it. Before the hearing, being told that judges are fierce and tough, he was uneasy and fidgety. Then he found out that the trial judge was polite and kind, and didn’t give him any hard time.
This 57 year-old Indigenous man, Pan, is from the Xia-pen community (also known as Tunlu community), Wulai District, New Taipei City. Last February 25, he buried his mother near the community. Nineteen days later, the officers from the Forestry Bureau found him building the tomb in the national forestry land. The prosecutor prosecuted him for violating the Forestry Act and in the charge of embezzlement.
He claimed that according to the Tayal traditional custom, after death, people have to go with the ancestries and be buried together with them. Therefore his father, younger brother and his son were all buried in the same place, and that’s why he built the tomb of his mother there.
Huang, a 65 year-old man, the eldest person in the community testified that traditionally people have to be buried together after death, instead of being apart. Tsai, another Tayal person in the community, also testified that it violates the taboo if one passed away without burying with his/her ancestries, and nothing would ever go smoothly.
The collegiate bench found that since 1965, people from Xia-pen community had buried their late families in the very place. Besides Pan’s late mother, there are 19 Pans resting here in peace, which convinced the judge that they do have this custom. The Judge also found out that, 12 years ago, the local government was planning to alter the place where Pan buried his mother into a national cemetery. However due to an administrative oversight, the process is still ongoing. Every community in the area has their own public cemetery, except Xia-pen community
The collegiate bench indicated that traditions are the fundament of the Indigenous society and the core of the culture. The right of Indigenous Peoples to utilize their traditional territories should be respected. In addition, Pan buried his mother in his people’s traditional territory without abusing or damaging the conserved forestry resources. Therefore Pan was declared not guilty.
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