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Taiwan's most remote tribe

By Josie Wu Translated by Ann Lee

Ever since I first learned about the Smangus, an aboriginal Atayal tribe here in Taiwan, I've been intrigued. Smangus is known to be the most remote tribe on the island. Finding its traditional center is a two or three hour drive along treacherous mountain switchbacks, many which are narrow and only have space for one car at a time--even the people from the tribe think it's pretty remote. After this sometimes nerve-racking car trip, you will see a sign that reads "Smangus" and know that you've finally reached Shangri-La.

As legend has it, the name "Smangus", came from a brave warrior named Mangus who lived more than a hundred years ago. Before the giant trees in the area were discovered, the Smangus tribe was completely cut off from the outside world. The fact that it is so far removed from "civilization" does nothing but promote an air of mystery about the area and the people who live there, which is why they've earned the nickname "Black Tribe".

As far as modern conveniences go, the tribe has had an interesting history of development. Less than 20 families live in the area, which didn't have electricity until 1979. Their homes are made mostly of wood or bamboo, in stark contrast to their city counterparts. Making the group even more remote is the fact that the only road to the outside world wasn't even completed until 1995. Before that, the closest road was about 500 meters away from the tribe's main area and people had to carry anything they couldn't make in the village on their backs. Children also had to walk three hours across the valley to go to school.

Now, much has changed for the tribe. The discovery of the old, tall Cypress trees in Smangus has helped alleviate many of their logistical problems and the road was completed so people could get in and out more easily. The biggest tree in the area is 20.5 meters in circumference, and would need more than 20 people holding hands to encircle it. The most popular spot for these massive trees is 5.2 km away from the village, a round trip taking four or five hours. On the way, you can enjoy the bamboo forest, a river, quaint wooden bridge, no shortage of birdsongs, and the mountain flora and fauna. In addition, the nearby waterfalls make for a good visit in the summer. In the autumn, you can watch the leaves change colors as you walk along the trails. It only takes one to two hours to finish the hike, but you'll need a permit (ID is required to apply).

If you want to overnight it, wooden cabins in the area start at NT$350; this way, you can enjoy the sunset and starry night. The restaurants around here also provide aboriginal dishes with fresh ingredients from the mountain. During millet season, a party is held to celebrate the harvest. Their freshly made millet dessert with honey is an unforgettable part of this event. If that's not enough, June to August is the peach season, with pink, ripe peaches just begging to be savored by eco-visitors.

Location: If you're coming from JianShi, take the industrial road via XiuLuan Village and enter Smangus. Most part of the road is unpaved and winding, so a four-wheel drive will be your best bet. Also, try to avoid visiting on rainy days.

Accommodation: 9 am-5 pm, Tourist Center: (03) 584-7688, 0928-804-983.

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