With external threats and internal divisions, the villagers realized they needed to band together in order to survive. Yuraw remembers all-night meetings where they discussed creating a communal system based on the early church in Acts 2. Traditionally the Smangus also lived communally: When one man caught a boar, he’d split it with other members of the tribe. So in 2001, the eight families created a common kitchen and combined their guesthouses.
In 2003, nine tribe members traveled to Israel to visit several kibbutzim and adapted many of their communal policies. After they returned, the Smangus voted to combine ownership of their land, livestock, and agriculture and to share work responsibilities. The transition was difficult: Those with much land struggled to share it with those who had little. Some complained that each member would receive the same salary regardless of his abilities.
“We had many rough patches, and there were disagreements and discussions,” said Masay’s son, Benux. “We had to go back to the Bible’s teaching about sharing with one another and giving to those in need. I believe our faith is the reason we can sustain this system until today.”
As the tribe became a profitable tourist destination, former members who had moved to the cities decided to return, and the number of families in the village grew to 35. Today, each member of the commune receives $650 a month plus benefits: healthcare, retirement benefits at 60, education, and stipends for each baby. While Taiwan has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world—1.13 children per woman as of 2017—most Smangus families have at least three kids, and last year the tribe welcomed 13 new babies.
In the village, the day begins at 8 a.m. with a time of prayer and devotions at the village coffee shop. Speaking a mix of Mandarin and Atayal, the leader assigns each person a job for the day—during busy holiday seasons, it’s all hands on deck at the guesthouses and restaurants. Before the group breaks up for the day’s work, a member of the tribe shares thoughts on a passage of Scripture, and then the pastor leads a prayer.
The Smangus have fought for years to keep their land out of the hands of Taiwan’s forestry bureau, believing the tribe is best suited to care for the land. The Smangus cap the number of visitors at 250 a day. Villagers plant trees and flowers, prevent illegal logging, maintain trails, and educate tourists about local plants and animals. At the village’s elementary school, children learn the tribe’s history, language, and traditional skills like wood carving, weaving, and planting millet.
Commune members follow strict rules: Drinking or smoking on the job, illegally cutting trees, taking too many days off, or skipping church results in docked pay. The tribe will also suspend a student’s funding if he skips classes or earns low grades. Not all tribe members have opted to join the commune: About 20 percent have held on to their own land in order to run private guesthouses and campsites. Students who graduate from college and want to work in the cities are allowed to leave, but they must work for a year to pay back their education costs, and men lose their rights to the land.