SMANGUS – Aboriginal Communal Village in the Mountains of Taiwan

Looking down the valley…

If the name itself doesn’t entice you to visit, then you’re following the wrong blog. Smangus (司馬庫斯 – sīmǎkùsī) is the most remote aboriginal tribal village in Taiwan. With a population of just over 200, it sits at an altitude of 1500 meters in the Jian­shi Township of Hsinchu County. It takes about five hours by car from central Taipei with good traffic. About three hours of the drive is a rugged mountain road of endless curves and potholes. It’s best to take it slow and enjoy the mountain scenery. Once you arrive, the fresh air and views are quite literally, breath-taking.

Untouched, Unseen and Unknown

It was the last place in Taiwan to receive electricity in 1979. And it wasn’t until 1995, that the one and only road to the sacred mountain village was completed. The long and winding road, which is constantly under construction and renovation for safety, facilitated a connection to the outside world. It also led to many complications that you might expect to come with the world we live in, especially tourism.

Before the road, the tribe was essentially isolated from the world. The children had to trek three hours to a neighboring tribe on the other side of the valley each week to attend school. Anything else not built or grown on their land would require a long hike down the mountain and up again. The chief recounted when he personally carried the first refrigerator up to the village not wanting to risk the younger members of the group. These days, they get regular shipments of goods to sustain their business and community. That being said, they still mostly rely on the land and themselves for much of their basic needs. They have even built their own schoolhouses.

One of the school ‘buildings’

Learning to Live Together

Smangus is also the only successful cooperative community based on the idea of communalism in the country. As tourism grew, so did competition among the community members. The former tribal chief saw their community and their values degrading. They decided to implement the idea of a communal cooperative at the turn of the millennium. Over the past 20 years, it has grown to include all aspects of their community. Currently, about 80% of the residents have opted into the coop. Each member receives the same monthly salary. The residents rotate responsibilities and job duties including cleaning the guest rooms, cooking in the restaurant, and farming. The collective shares the cost of healthcare and education. There are also subsidies for child-bearing. In 2019, there were 7 children born in the village, a new record!

Of course, it’s not to say there are aren’t problems within the village. We were told stories of poaching and logging on their land. Alcohol is strictly forbidden during work hours. We didn’t see any alcohol for sale in the shops (except for traditional millet and peach wine). With internet access and wifi (4G is surprisingly strong), almost everyone has access to a wealth of information and content, good and bad.

Hiking through the bamboo forest

Mostly people come to see the giant cypress trees, get away from the city, and unwind in a beautiful setting. We did all that. But what we experienced was a feeling of community in the fullest sense. For any community, it will be hard to please everyone. But they have shown that this type of collaboration can bring peace and contentment. And what they have created is a close-knit community centered on family, gratitude, and respect for nature and their history.