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Save Orchid Island! - Voice of Yami

The Reverend Shiyman Feaien

Orchid Island is a small island situated in the Western Pacific off the south-east coast of Taiwan. It is approximately 45 square kilometers in area and has abundant rainfall. Almost one hundred protected rare plant and animal species live in the island's tropical forest. Of these one, Otus Scops, is threatened with extinction.

 The island not only has rich natural resources, but is also the area in which the Yami tribe lives. The Yami people's distinctive culture is an even more valuable example of one of the most well preserved ocean cultues. The Yami population numbers about 3,100 people living scattered over the island's low land. Within the Yami society there are no clearly defined class distinctions. They are a peace-loving, optimistic and gentle people. Among all the original tribes of Taiwan they are the only one that did not practice head-hunting. Their social life is based on the observance of natural principles and is against the use of force. It also includes great respect for elders. This system rests on the strict observance of working together for the mutual benefit of all. This spirit of working together for the mutual benefit of all is of great advantage to people. When a Yami person builds his own house, the whole tribe will co-operate in order to help him do this. Everybody works together in the fields to produce food and everybody co-operates in the catching of fish. The economic life of the tribe is the result of joint discussion. The tribe's fate and general affairs are decided by mutual consultation. Yami culture is extremely rich and complex.

 After the take-overs of Orchid Island by the Taiwan Government in 1946, the island's natural resources and human culture have suffered serious changes. The first intrusion of the Taiwan Government occurred in 1958 when about 2,500 convicts were sent to Orchid Island to serve their sentences. They were guarded by retired servicemen of the KMT (Kuomintang, the Nationalist Party). In order to build accommodation they took the land that the Yami used to produce their principal crop, taro. They were permitted to roam the island and took advantage of this to rape the Yami women and smash the people's possessions. They did not leave until 1979. In 1960 the Taiwan Government completely cut down Orchid Island's tropical forest, destroying the habitat of many rare species of plants and animals. After this they established schools in all the tribal areas to teach Han Chinese culture, history, language, etc. All of this was in order to influence Yami children, so that they would lose their mother tongue, and cause the transmission of the Yami cultural heritage to come to a halt. Yami culture was replaced by Han culture and traditional Yami buildings were torn down and replaced by ugly concrete block houses. Within ten years the concrete buildings began to crumble. The beautiful, traditional housing thus disappeared. The traditional celebration on the completion of a new house was also lost in the process. The Yami's proud culture has thus been extensively wiped out by the intense efforts to impose Han culture.

 In addition in 1977 the Taiwan Government carried out an even more malevolent plan by making Orchid Island into a nuclear Waste dump to store poisonous nuclear waste from Taiwan's nuclear power plants. In the 13 years since 1982, the amount of nuclear wasted stored exceeds 100,000 barrels. Due to the lack of care in storage more than 30,000 barrels have started to rust and leak. The workers on the nuclear waste sites eve permit the dumping of radioactive and poisoned earth and water into nearby seas, seriously polluting the water in which the Yami tribes do their fishing. This has caused an increase in the number of cancer-related deaths and children with learning disabilities for those who have to eat contaminated fish. Today there are over 50 children, who have been born with birth defects. It is very possible that the effects of nuclear waste are the cause of these cases. The Taiwan Power (Taipower) Company's plan to increase the number of nuclear waste disposal trenches clearly shows the Taiwan Government's callous misconduct of affairs in Orchid Island. This could really spell the final extinction of the Yami people. The Taiwan Government's contemptuous misconduct and malicious behavior towards the Yami people seriously infringe human rights and should be condemned by the international community.

 Because of this all the Yami people have risen up to defend their homeland. From 1988 until now, we have already carried out almost 10 protest marches in order to curb the Taiwan Government's inhuman policies and infringement of human rights. Because we are a weak ethnic minority people, the Taiwan Government's callous attitude has given us a sense of hoelessness and filled us with sorrow. In June President Lee Teng-hui of Taiwan visited America and gave a speech in which he raised the idea, "The wishes of the people are always in my heart." The Yami people hope very much that he can really carry out "the wishes of the people" by ridding Orchid Island of nuclear waste in accordance with our demands. We hope and sincerely request that more international friends support our anti-nuclear waste movement to save Orchid Island. Moreover we earnestly request you to write to Lee Teng-hui asking him to stop the genocidal policies toward Orchid Island's Yami people.

This was a speech given by the Reverend Shiyman Feaien on the Third No-nukes Asia Forum, 1995. It was translated by Katharine Harwood. 
 Yeh Chien-liang, 29 September 1995.

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