Pei-Lin Yu, an associate professor of anthropology, currently is in Taiwan to study ancient crops cultivated by indigenous Taiwanese farmers. The six-month research project is funded through a Fulbright research fellowship. You can follow Yu’s travels through Taiwan on her blog.
For thousands of years, Taiwan has been home to farmer-hunter-fisher tribes who trace their ancestry back to the Neolithic era. Their ancestors were hardy seafarers who, like astronauts, sailed into the unknown carrying crops that enabled them to colonize vast stretches of the Pacific Ocean.
Today, Taiwan’s tribal farmers face a globalized economy, the flight of young people to cities of the west and north, and the appropriation of traditional lands by developers and tourists. Yet they are fighting to gain recognition from the Taiwanese government, and their language and religious practices endure.
One such tribal community, the Amis, eat wild plants every day and intentionally cultivate them among market crops. Amis farmers are masters of natural fertilization through composting, hand techniques of weeding and harvest that eliminate the need for chemical methods, and site and crop selection that minimize the need for artificial watering. Tribal crops like “kowal” are hailed as new superfoods. These and other factors that affect everyday decision making among these resilient farmers form a rich body of evolutionary knowledge that has endured through colonization, warfare, disease and cultural loss.
“This week at a Fulbright gathering I was honored to sit at the table with the President of Taiwan, Her Excellency Ing-Wen Tsai, and the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs,” Yu said. “It was a tremendous honor to represent Boise State University. I hope to continue this work of engaging the power of international educational exchange to bridge cultural understandings among the peoples of Taiwan and also between our two countries.”