Councilor Requests Changes to Accommodate Orchid Island Burial Customs

[Picture: T Di Genova, The Wild East Magazine]

A Taitung County Councilor has requested the District Prosecutor allow procedures, required by law to determine the cause of accidental death, be carried out by the local health clinic, and local police on Orchid Island. The change would better accommodate the traditional Yami custom of burying the deceased before sunset on the day of death.

Current procedures require that officials of the District Prosecutor’s Office have to travel to the island to determine the cause of death. Weather conditions often cause air and sea transport to the island to be cancelled, and delays of several days can occur before officials can travel to the location.

Currently, the practice is to bury the remains of the deceased and then exhume the body when officials arrive. Orchid Island resident and Taitung County Councilor Huang Tian-de (黃天德) explained that this causes unnecessary grief for the family, and inconvenience for officials who have to tolerate the odor of a decomposing body.

Councilor Huang requested that procedures be put in place that would allow police and medical staff at the local health clinic to examine the body, take samples, photographs, and collect other evidence to assist the District Prosecutor’s Office to determine the cause of death and issue a death certificate. The remains of the deceased could then be buried before sunset on the day of death, according to traditional custom, and there would be no need for exhumation.

The Taitung District Prosecutor’s Office responded that such changes in procedure would require changes to the law, and unless such changes are made, under current regulations, the body must be examined by the prosecutor’s office.

Taitung DPO Director Lian Si-fan (連思藩) said that while the burial customs of Orchid Island are very special, it is the district prosecutor’s responsibility to confirm the cause of accidental death according to the law, and the responsibility cannot be handed over to the local health clinic or police station unless the law is amended.

If the prosecutor cannot make it to the island on schedule, then the principle is to bury the body and exhume it at a later date when the prosecutor arrives.

Read more about the culture and history of Orchid Island at The Wild East Magazine.

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