Decolonizing property in Taiwan: Challenging hegemonic constructions of property

Indigenous Tayal experiences of dispossession in Taiwan reflect a familiar pattern of state-sanctioned property rights precluding recognition of Indigenous rights. This paper examines Tayal customary institutions and how they have governed, and continue to govern, land interests in customary domains. In an agricultural economy encompassing patterns of mobility and long-term movement between areas, Tayal people maintain continuing rights in land that is not currently or permanently occupied or used. However, following Second World War and Taiwan’s occupation by the Chinese Nationalist Kuomingtang party, a new system of individually registered property titles was established, only allowing registration of individual land in settled fields that were occupied and cultivated. Interests in fallowed land were not registrable and such land was reclassified as State property. The system’s enforcement in the 1950s was central to the dispossession and non-recognition of Tayal rights and parallel discourses making Indigenous people invisible. We argue that unpacking the ontologies behind hegemonic understandings of property in Taiwan offers ground for recognizing the plurality, messiness and openness that articulate contestations over time, space and property. In the context of Taiwan’s 2016 Presidential Apology to Indigenous citizens, we conclude that contested constructions of temporality and spatiality are fundamental to challenging Indigenous dispossession.

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Volume 36 Issue 6

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