Reframing Indigenous water rights in 'modern' Taiwan: reflecting on Tayal experience of colonized common property

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There is a widely accepted stereotype that Indigenous Taiwanese have lost their connection to country as a result of colonization and thus the Indigenous presence is often omitted in representations of ‘modern’ Taiwan. By asserting a modern/traditional binary that privileges the colonizer as modern these representations demean Indigenous cultures as ‘primitive’ or ‘traditional’. This paper challenges those biased dichotomies by exploring the experience of Tayal people in northern Taiwan, drawing on both field and archival research to demonstrate the resistant and persistent Indigenous presence in common property resource governance, specifically water governance. The research found that Tayal systems for common property governance persist in the management of water. It also demonstrates that in those governance systems, non-human agencies such as water have active agency in Tayal culture. By recognizing water as actively engaged in the common property governance, the paper argues that governing common property in the Tayal context is about contemporary and adaptive governance relations among non-human and human agencies in a more-than-human world, as well as communally sharing the custodianship. It is misguided to understand these governance systems as primitive, traditional or inauthentic – all common representations within dominant Taiwanese discourses. The paper also argues that recognizing and engaging Tayal people’s communal custodianship offers a foundation for building culturally appropriate, just and resilient common property governance frameworks in Taiwan’s contested cultural landscapes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)378-401
Number of pages24
JournalInternational Journal of the Commons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Bibliographical note

Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Common property resource governance
  • Customary water interest
  • Indigenous presence
  • More-than-human
  • Taiwan


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