National Chengchi University
CTPILS Combines Academia, Civil Society and Government to Serve Society
- Establishment of the Science and Technology Innovation Center for Taiwan-Philippines Indigenous Knowledge, Local Knowledge and Sustainable Studies (CTPILS)
- Community's Common Good and Mutual Prosperity
High up in the misty mountains of the Philippines, Ifugao tribesmen carefully tend their rice terraces. In 2018, under the coordination and leadership of Professor Kuan Ta-wei of the Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University (NCCU), NCCU, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Ifugao State University joined forces to establish the Science and Technology Innovation Center for Taiwan-Philippines Indigenous Knowledge, Local Knowledge and Sustainable Studies (CTPILS). Through seminars and forums, along with field work and academic research, the CTPILS has promoted a rich new tradition of indigenous research and, in the process, strengthened academic and community collaboration and promoted local community development.
In 2015, Professor Kuan Ta-wei visited the Ifugao area for the first time with Mr. Stephen Acabado, Professor at the UCLA Department of Anthropology, who was a friend of Professor Kuan’s when the latter studied at the University of Hawaii. Ifugao had recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and the two scholars launched a long-term research project and collaborated on fieldwork in the area. The project was incepted not only by Ifugao’s advantage as an international hotspot but also to promote concepts of a “community’s common good and mutual prosperity” in terms of academic research. This initial academic exchange gradually expanded to include non-governmental organizations, inviting Taiwan indigenous NGOs to visit Ifugao, and culminating in the establishment of the CTPILS at the end of 2018.
Since Professor Kuan’s initial 2015 visit, the NCCU Department of Ethnology and the UCLA Department of Anthropology have maintained regular exchanges with Ifugao State University, eventually leading to the establishment of the CTPILS to focus on research in local knowledge, indigenous knowledge and sustainable development. The Center’s focus on humanistic-oriented scientific research allows it to leverage NCCU’s expertise and resources in the humanities field to develop a platform for communication between local organizations and indigenous peoples. The Center also collaborates with experts in a wide range of disciplines. “After all,” says Professor Kuan, “sustainable development is also related to natural science.”
Professor Kuan noted that the CTPILS goals dovetail with those of the Taiwan government’s New Southbound Policy, which promotes economic and trade development built on a humanistic foundation. The Center’s work contributes to a deeper, more humanistic understanding of the two countries. “Robust and mutually beneficial economic and trade cooperation must be based on a humanistic understanding, which is also an extension of humanistic literacy,” Professor Kuan said.
The indigenous languages and cultures of Taiwan and the Philippines overlap considerably. Both belong to the Austronesian language family and similarities can be found in textiles, clothing, social organization, and human-land interaction. For example, both peoples are adept at agriculture in mountain forests, with Taiwan’s indigenous tribes growing millet, while those of Ifugao have created terraced rice farming systems.
In addition to these linguistic and cultural similarities, the indigenous peoples of Taiwan and the Philippines also face similar contemporary challenges. Both have a long history of being colonized by external forces, and of surviving as ethnic minorities in their own land. Both also face considerable challenges in negotiating national, political and economic changes, and in ensuring conditions for the survival and thriving of their communities through adjusting their political relations with the ethnic majority. Professor Kuan suggests that indigenous assimilation into the dominant development model is not necessarily an ideal solution. “Is it possible for indigenous peoples to build on their own culture and identity to pursue a better life?” he asks.
During a recent visit to a joint UCLA/Ifugao archaeological project, Professor Kuan found that this collaboration between the academic researchers and the local community can effectively leverage the academic team’s resources to assist local development. For example, working with the UCLA team, local indigenous people are unearthing archaeological cultural relics that form the foundation for a center of indigenous knowledge that will not only serve to educate local children, but also create an important educational resource for foreign visitors.
As a researcher of indigenous studies, Professor Kuan believes that research and community development are inseparable, because local knowledge is derived from the community. Therefore, the academic team must establish a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with the community. Talking about the legacy of indigenous farming and hunting knowledge, and interaction with the land, Professor Kuan said: “As researchers, we can use our academic training to present and translate the meanings of indigenous knowledge and serve as an interface between indigenous people and modern science.” He hopes that the work of the CTPILS will extend beyond academic reports to promote actions that “improve the conditions for indigenous peoples.”
“Social scientists should hope not only to understand and explore society, but ultimately to contribute to the care of the people in society,” Professor Kuan said. The CTPILS research mission fully demonstrates this commitment of social science research to the caring for society.