The Raknus Selu Trail winds for around 380kms along the foothills and up the valleys of Taiwan’s central mountain range, from Taoyuan, in the north, to Taichung, mid-way down the island. ‘Raknus Selu’ is a combined name honouring both the indigenous tribal word for ‘Camphor’, and the Hakka dialect for ‘Small Road’. In centuries long past the trail was an economic life-line, enabling both highly-prized camphor wood, and later tea, to be brought to market in the lowlands and from there exported overseas.
The trails’ importance to both the indigenous people, such as those of the Atayal and Saisiyat tribes, and Hakka people – an immigrant community originating from China who today account for around 20% of Taiwan’s population – was huge. Turf wars were fought, with the tribes generally retreating higher into the mountains, and the industrious Hakkas consolidating their hold over trade, and introducing improved techniques of agriculture, such as the cultivation of rice and fruits. As time progressed, marriages between the two populations became more the norm than fighting, a union celebrated in the joint naming of the trail.
Over the past few months Panos photographer Chris Stowers has been following the trail, accompanied by Hakka cultural expert and radio show host Danny Wen Shi-kai, and a TV documentary crew from AXN Channel. Along the way he has met with and photographed many memorable characters who help build, maintain and record the route, along with some who continue to live off its’ abundant bounty.
The documentary will premier on AXN, across Asia, on 27th September 2022.