FEATURE/Rukai legend aids conservation at Taitung's Siiaoguei Lake Wetland
Taipei, Jan. 29 (CNA) The wetlands around Siiaoguei Lake (小鬼湖) in remote Taitung County sustain one of Taiwan's most pristine high elevation animal and plant environments, while also holding sacred status in the culture of the area's Rukai Indigenous people.
The wetlands are prized for their ecological diversity, and while that may be partly attributable to their remote location in a nearly inaccessible part of the island, they also benefit from a Rukai legend that made hunting near the lake taboo.
Known in the Rukai language as Taidrengere, Siiaoguei ("Little Ghost") Lake sits at an elevation of 2,050 meters on the border of Taitung and Pingtung counties, covering an area of 18 hectares and reaching a maximum depth of 1.5 meters.
In 1988, the area was incorporated into the newly established Dawushan Nature Reserve, and in 2018, in recognition of its importance as a wildlife habitat, the lake was designated as Taidrengere Important Wetland.
The most recent ecological survey of the wetland, conducted in 2020-21 by National Pingtung University of Science and Technology professor Wang Chih-chiang (王志強), recorded 23 mammal species, including the endangered Formosan black bear and Formosan serow.
Wang's survey also documented 41 species of birds, two reptiles, five amphibians and two types of fish, as well as 158 plant species, of which 10 were on the IUCN red list of threatened species.
As with many high-elevation lakes, Siiaoguei Lake was originally fishless, though it now has established populations of both common carp and pond loaches, Taitung Forest District Office chief Wu Chang-yu (吳昌祐) told CNA.
According to Wu, the common carp is the lone survivor of a 1979 Pingtung County government initiative that also tried to introduce catfish and grass carp to the lake, while the pond loaches -- which normally live at low elevations -- were likely first released by a visitor.
Princess Baleng and the Snake King
So what is the Rukai legend that has helped keep the area's environment pristine? It is the story of "Princess Baleng and the Snake King."
Versions of the legend abound, many of which were collected and preserved by the late folklorist and Taromak Village (also known as Dongsing Village, in Taitung's Beinan Township) chief Su Chin-cheng (蘇金成).
In the most widely circulated version of the story, the beloved daughter of a Rukai chieftain named Princess Baleng (巴冷公主) encountered and fell in love at the lake with a dashing young man named Adalio (阿達里歐).
On the day of their planned betrothal, however, Adalio arrived in the form of a hundred-pace snake at the head of a party of wild animals.
Baleng's family, recognizing that Adalio was an incarnation of the "Snake King" that protected the area, opposed going through with the marriage, but was also wary of offending the suitor.
Hoping to dissuade him, they demanded that the price Adalio put up for the bride be paid in seven-colored glass beads, which could only be obtained by descending the mountain and collecting them from the sea.
Surprising the princess' family, the Snake King managed to retrieve the beads and was allowed to marry Baleng. Immediately afterward, the two disappeared into Siiaoguei Lake, and were never seen or heard from again.
Protected by myth
Because of this legend, the Rukai people viewed Siiaoguei Lake as a sacred site, and enforced taboos against hunting or making excessive noise there.
According to Su, a belief later developed among the Rukai people that Siiaoguei Lake was the eternal resting place of their souls after their death.
Before his own mother's death, Su once recalled, she comforted her loved ones by saying that her soul "would go visit family and friends, and then return to Siiaoguei Lake to reunite with [their] ancestors."
Other versions of the story vary widely. In one telling, Siiaoguei Lake is a child born to Princess Baleng and the Snake King, while in another, the princess and a young man from another tribe commit suicide in the lake after their families reject their union.
Regardless of the version, however, the legend, and its important place in Rukai culture, have contributed to the conservation of the area's ecosystem.
In recent years, Rukai youth have made a practice of organizing regular expeditions to the lake with their elders in order to better understand their history.
The Taitung-based branch of the Rukai people -- the Taromak, or eastern Rukai tribe -- completed a survey of its traditional lands in 2018.
- 'Beyond expectations': Experts praise Taiwan's WBC swingWhen Taiwan lost to Cuba 7-1 on March 12 at the World Baseball Classic (WBC), it was an opportunity missed.03/17/2023 10:42 AM
- Ukraine example helps NGO civil defense programs gain tractionRussia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine officially entered its second year in late February 2023. Far from the expectations of Russian President Vladimir Putin and outside ...03/11/2023 02:10 PM
- Taiwanese student has query answered on International Space StationThe question was a rather simple one: Can water form a vortex without the pull of gravity?03/04/2023 09:43 PM
Sightings of non-native baboon reported in Taoyuan03/23/2023 03:32 PM
High court upholds death penalty for Malaysian student's killer03/23/2023 02:31 PM
Taiwan shares close up 0.66%03/23/2023 01:46 PM
Wu accuses China of bribing officials as Honduras switch nears03/23/2023 01:02 PM
U.S. House passes bill to strengthen support for Taiwan03/23/2023 11:41 AM