Fishermen in Hengchun, a township in southern Taiwan whose name means literally Eternal Spring, were bitter.Flying fish were traveling in school near Botel Tobago, a small island known as Lanyu or Orchid Island, but the fishermen were forbidden to cash in on them.
Flying fish abound in tropical and warm seas.They have long pectoral fins suggesting wings.They are capable of leaving the water and moving some distances through the air chiefly by the motion of the tail before they entirely leave the water.As a matter of fact, they don’t fly like birds in the strict sense of that word.“Flying fish” is a misnomer.
As Hengchun fishermen cannot go to the waters near the Philippines or the Spratly Islands, they wanted to catch flying fish near Orchid Island, a mere 44 nautical miles southeast of Taitung on eastern Taiwan.They had a row with Thao fishermen, and the National Coastguard Administration was called on to mediate.Those from Eternal Spring on the west coast of Taiwan proper were told they couldn’t fish in the Thao waters.“Why can’t we?” complained irate fishermen.“The Thao and we are equally citizens of the Republic of China on Taiwan.That’s discrimination.We are discriminated against.”
Yes, they are.But they forget one thing.To them, flying fish are the catch they have to make for a living for a brief fishing season.For the Thao, the fish are part of their culture.
Some 5,000 Austronesians on Botel Tobago, who used to be called the Yami, believe their ancestors came out of stone and bamboo at certain places on their island.The “stone” descendants were the first to build their elaborately decorated dugout canoes, while their “bamboo” fellow islanders were not seaworthy.It was to a “stoneman” that the black flying fish gave the instructions how to proceed with the catch of its kind and how to deal with that catch.The Thao live on tubers and fish.There are of course many fishes the Thao catch, and they assign different fishes for consumption separately by children, men, women, and old people.Flying fish alone can be eaten by all.
So, a flying fish is no ordinary fish to a Thao.Call it the divine fish, if you will.
There should be no dispute over who should catch flying fish over the waters around Orchid Island.The fish should be reserved for the gentle, peace-loving Thao, the only group of Taiwan’s long maltreated indigenous people to whom headhunting was unknown.They have made no alcoholic beverages.There is no chieFTAinship.Taiwan owes the Thao their exclusive right to catch their flying fish.It is only transitional justice the ruling Democratic Progressive Party never tires of talking about.