TAIWAN’S ABORIGINAL GROUPS: THEIR CULTURE, LIFE AND FACIAL TATTOOS

TAIWAN’S ABORIGINAL TRIBES

The Taiwanese government recognizes 14 aboriginal ethnic groups. Their numbers range from several thousand members in the smaller groups, to the Amis group at nearly 190,000. Their total population is about half a million and growing overall. The 14 different tribes are the Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, and Sediq. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia , edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company]

In 1991, aboriginals numbered about 338,151. The major aboriginal groups and their numbers at that time were: 1) the Amis tribe (147,000), who reside near Hualin, the largest city on the east coast and at the southern tip of Taiwan; 2) the Atayal tribe (91,000), who live near Taipei, and around the Tapachien Mountain; 3) the Paiwan tribe (70,000), who come from southern Taiwan and live around Daladalai, a village that can be reached on foot from Santimen; and 4) the Bunun (41,000), who live in the mountains of central Taiwan. Smaller officially recognized groups include 5) the Puyuma (10,000) from southeast Taiwan; 6) the Rukai (12,000), from south-central Taiwan; 7) the Saisiyat (7,000) from northern Taiwan , near Taipei; 8) the Tsou, from central Taiwan; and 9) the Yami (4,000), who live on an island in the Philippine Sea. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: East and Southeast Asia , edited by Paul Hockings (C.K. Hall & Company]

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities mainly live in the middle mountain area, the flat valleys running along the east coast of Taiwan Island, the eastern Zhonggu Plain and on Lanyu Island of Taiwan. Based on differences in geographical location, language, and culture, they are divided into several sub-groups, including the Aimei, Taiya, Paiwan, Bunong, Lukai, Beinan, Cao people (Zou people), Saiya, Yamai people as well as Pingpu people living scattered all over Taiwan and already basically assimilated with the Han Chinese there. In China there are about 4000 people classified as Taiwan’s ethnic minorities scattered in Fujian and Zhejiang Provinces on the mainland and Beijing.

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities speak languages that belong to the Indonesian group of the Malay-Polynesian language family. The differences between the languages of the different groups and subgroups is relatively great and these groups generally can not communicate with each other using their own languages. These days 15 kinds of languages are recognized, which can be roughly divided into three subgroups, Qinhuai, Cao and Paiwan. Most people classified as Taiwan’s ethnic minorities also speak and write Chinese, with those in Taiwan using the Taiwan dialect while those in China using Mandarin or southern dialects. Because different groups have lived in different natural conditions and their interaction with the Han culture has varied, their level of development is different, with higher levels of development among those living with Han people in the plain and lower levels among those living in mountain regions. Some groups practiced headhunting until the early 20th century. The economy relies mainly on the rice cultivation, supplemented by fishing and hunting. Millet, rice, potatoes and taro are their staple foods. They like drinking.

See Separate Article on 1) TAIWAN’S ABORIGINAL GROUPS, THEIR HISTORY AND HEADHUNTING; 2) PROBLEMS SUFFERED BY TAIWAN’S ABORIGINAL GROUPS AND EFFORTS TO KEEP THEIR DYING LANGUAGES AND CULTURE ALIVE; 3) AYATAL; and 4) TAIWAN’S MAJOR ABORIGINAL TRIBES: AMIS, BUNUN, PAIWAN, PUYUMA, SAISIYAT, TSOU, YAMI

Culture and Customs of Taiwan’s Aboriginal Tribes

Most Taiwanese aboriginals speak Austronesian language, languages related to the languages spoken by Aboriginals in Australia and people in the south Pacific not the languages spoken by people in China or Southeast Asia. The groups that live in the mountains speak one branch of languages. The groups that live in the coastal areas speak another branch of languages.

About 75 percent of aboriginals are Christians, the result of missionary activity. Most of the groups have been absorbed to varying degrees into Han Chinese society. Headhunting was practiced by several the groups until the 1930s.

Some Taiwanese aboriginal women wear headdresses decorated with cowry shells (fertility charms), boars tusks (symbols of strength) and silver that are reminiscent of headdresses worn by hill tribes in Thailand, China and Burma. Men have abandoned the practice of wearing facial taboos but many still smoke tobacco from a pipe and chew betel nut. They used to trade firewood and medicinal herbs they picked for food. [Source: Noel Grove, National Geographic, January 1992]

Religion of Taiwan’s Ethnic Minorities

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are animists who believe in immortality and ancestor worship. They hold sacrificial rites for all kinds of occasions including hunting and fishing. The dead are buried without coffins in the village graveyard. There are vestiges of the worship of totems -- snakes and animals -- and certain taboos still remain. [Source: China.org China.org ]

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities retain many shamanist beliefs that emphasize a universe filled with spirits and mysterious supernatural powers. Holidays and rituals—including the seeding ceremony, safety ceremony, weeding ceremony, the fifth anniversary ceremony, ancestor's spirit ceremony, fishing hunting ceremony, short spirit ceremony, ship ceremony, harvest ceremony, bamboo pole ceremony, hunting ceremony, flying and fish ceremony— usually feature some kind of sacrificial offering. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The religious beliefs of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are complicated and include elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity. Several kinds of religions have developed among the different Taiwan’s ethnic minorities groups. Deities worshipped by Taiwan’s ethnic minorities vary from place to place and group to group, but include a heaven deity, universe-creating deity, nature deity, Sili deity and some other spirits and ghosts. Sacrifices include agriculture sacrifices (cultivation sacrifice, sowing sacrifice, weeding sacrifice, harvest sacrifice), hunting sacrifices, fishing sacrifices, and sacrifices and offerings to ancestors. Shamanism and folk religion are still strong in some places. Methods of fortunetelling, soothsaying and divining include bird-fortunetelling, dream-fortunetelling, water-fortunetelling, and rice-fortunetelling. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Totems

According to historical documents, folk myths and legends and the scholarly research, nine Taiwan’s ethnic minorities tribes all have their own totem customs. There are various totem things. Some are animals and plants, such as the chicken, dog, ox, monkey, deer, lion, snail, tortoise, worm, bird, snake, fish, trees, bamboo or calabash tree; some are inanimate objects and natural phenomena such as huge stones, floating clouds, rosy clouds, lightning, mountains, rivers, lakes and seas. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Paiwan people are particularly well-known for their worship the totem of snake. The Paiwan have many mythical stories of snakes laying eggs and giving birth to their ancestors. They have traditionally believed that they are blood relatives with snakes and that snakes are their patron gods and possessors of supernatural powers and can protect the Paiwan from difficulties, sufferings, and misfortune. ~

In order to maintain good relations with their totem god and keep getting their help and protection, Paiwan people can not kill, eat or harm snakes. Also, they carve and paint snake images on their houses, ancestors' spirit posts, weapons as well as on various kinds of utensils such as wineglasses, spoons, tubes, and pots. Things carved or painted with the snake images are considered to be holy. When facing or using them, one is expected to be respectful and refrain from profanity. ~

Festival of Taiwan’s Ethnic Minorities

Taiwan’s ethnic minority festivals typically feature feasting, singing, dancing, games and sports. The harvest festival is celebrated by all Taiwan’s ethnic minorities excluding the Yamei people. Regarded as the grandest festival among Taiwan’s ethnic minorities ethnic group, their equivalent to Chinese New Year, it is celebrated in the harvest season, in the seventh or eighth lunar month and lasts six to 10 days. Because different tribes live in different areas, where different crops are harvested at different times, the festival is celebrated at different times. However, most of the festivals have some common features: namely when each link in the harvest chain (gathering, tasting the new crop and stpring) starts or finishes, rituals are held that feature offering sacrifices and prayers to thank the ancestor gods for this year’s harvest and get their blessing for next year’s harvest. After the rites, Taiwan’s ethnic minorities eat, sing and dance together, play games and hold bonfire parties. ~

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities like having feasts and enjoy singing and dancing during festivals or important occasions. The feats typically involve slaughtering pigs and cattle, and preparing and drinking lots of wine. To mark the the end of the year, Bunong people use the leaves from the “Xinuo” plant to wrap glutinous rice, then steam it and eat it. Other foods eaten at by Taiwan’s ethnic minorities at festive occasions include cakes and Ciba (cooked glutinous rice pounded into paste) made of various kinds of glutinous rice, which are not only eaten as desserts and snacks, but also offered as sacrificial ceremonies. Glutinous rice is a fixture meals to entertain guests. Offerings and sacrifices are also a big part of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities gatherings. These include ancestor offerings, grain deity offerings, mountain deity offerings, hunting deity offerings, marriage offerings and harvest offerings, among which, the Wunianji (Five Year Offerings) of the Paiwan people is the grandest. Festivals also often feature many sports and recreational activities. At wedding feasts lots of wine is prepared and guests are expected to get very drunk. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com ]

Popular Festival of Taiwan’s Ethnic Minorities

The customs and traditions of Taiwan's indigenous people, such as the Harvest Festival (Smatto), the Worship of Hunting (Mabuasu), spiritual rituals, totemism, and snake worship, give an extra dimension to Taiwan's culture. The indigenous tribes of Taiwan form the most northern branch of the Austronesia language group, and ethnically belong to the Malay race. Most indigenous tribes have retreated into the mountains; but although many are faced with assimilation, still some 14 different tribes that have their own languages, traditions, and tribal structure can be distinguished: the Amis, the Atayal, the Paiwan, the Bunun, the Puyuma, the Rukai, the Tsou, the Saisiyat, Yami, the Thao, the Kavalan, the Truku, the Sakizaya, and the Sediq. [Source: Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan) ~]

The Mayasvi is the holiest of all the religious ceremonies of the Tsou tribe. In the early years, it was held before a battle or hunt; today, it is held annually in February and is alternately organized by the communities of Dabang and Tefuye in Chiayi County. The ceremony is held at the tribal gathering house for men (Kupah). The tribe's war ceremony includes the rites of triumph, rites for the heads of the enemies, and welcoming rites for the gods. ~

The Ear-shooting Festival is the most important celebration of the Bunun people. Held atfrom the end of the April andto the beginning of the May, the celebration is divided into sowing rites, hunting rites, and ear-shooting rites; pig roasting, apportioning the meat, and storing the meat; work celebrations, witch inductions, and other major activities. The traditional ear-shooting ceremony starts well before the celebration itself when the young men of the tribe go into the mountains and hunt. Then they cut off the ears of their kills, sticking the ears on a pole or a tree branch for the village men to shoot with arrows. Little children, accompanied by their fathers and older brothers, also practice shooting arrows, hoping that this will enable them to become good hunters. ~

The Sacrifice to the Short Spirits is the most important traditional rite of the Saisiyat tribe, with a smaller ceremony every two years and a large one every 10 years. The festival is held around the 15th day of the 10th lunar month, at the end of the harvest season, and lasts for four days and three nights. The first day of the festival starts with welcoming of the spirits, when tribal elders offer wine and meat and then, facing to the east, pray to welcome the Short Spirits. The second day is for entertaining the spirits, which is the centerpiece of the entire festival. The tribespeople engage in festivities and dancing to commemorate the Short Spirits. On the last day, rites for sending off the spirits off are performed. At the appropriate time, the tribes throw sheaves of grass and hazelwood sticks toward the east, signifying that the Short Spirits have already departed. After that, the rice wine, pork, and rice cakes that were offered to the spirits are given to the participants, bringing the festival to an end. ~

The Monkey Ceremony and Hunting Ceremony are together referred to as the Annual Festival of the Puyuma tribe. The Puyuma were traditionally the most warlike of Taiwan's indigenous peoples. Every year toward the end of December, the tribe holds the Monkey Ceremony, a unique ritual that serves as a rite of passage that marks the entry of tribal boys into adulthood. Many call it the Monkey Piercing Ceremony as young men of the tribe go through a series of strict trials, the most important of which is the piercing of a monkey (today, the monkey is made of straw) with a bamboo staff. This is thought to build courage and cooperation among the young people. Participants have to complete four levels of trials, after which they are allowed to take part in the hunting ceremony. This requires a young boy to be able to hunt down a wild animal within five days. After this, the young boy is considered a man eligible for marriage. ~

The lives of the Yami (sometimes called Tao) people are closely intertwined with the Flying Fish Festival. Each year the flying fish come with the Kuroshio Current from January to June, and this brings a rich harvest of fish for the Yami living on Orchid Island. That is why the tribepeople believe that these fish are gifts from the gods, and why they treasure this natural resource. Some of the tribe's social customs and taboos are also closely associated with the coming and going of the flying fish. The Flying Fish Festival consists of ceremonies that begin in the second or third month of the lunar calendar and run for approximately four months. The festival is divided into different parts, including the blessing of the boats, praying for a bountiful catch, summoning the fish, first-fishing night ceremony, fish storing ceremony, and fishing cessation ceremony. The men of the tribe wear loincloths, silver helmets, and gold strips, and face the sea to pray for a bountiful catch. Participation is restricted to men. ~

The Harvest Festival is the largest festival of the Amis tribe. Different villages hold separate festivals during July and August; the festival has three stages, including welcoming the spirits, feasting the spirits, and sending the spirits off. In modern times, the ceremony has been shortened and the religious ceremonies simplified. Several activities have been added, including a race, tug-of-war, and arrow shooting competition. The festivities, once limited to tribal participation, are now open to the general public. ~

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Marriage and Funeral Customs

According to the Chinese government: “Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are monogamous and patriarchal in family system, though the Amei tribe still retains some of the vestiges of the matriarchal practice. Commune heads are elected from among elderly women and families are headed by women, with the eldest daughter inheriting the family property and male children married off into the brides' families. In the Paiwan tribe, either the eldest son or daughter can be heir to the family property. All the Amei young men and some of the Paiwan youths have to live in a communal hall for a certain period of time before they are initiated into manhood at a special ceremony.[Source: China.org China.org ]

Burial ceremonies vary. Taiya people, Bunong people and Cao people usually bury the dead under their bed inside their room. Paiwan people and Dawu people bury the dead in the forest. Amei people generally bury the dead in the open ground in front or behind the house, but for people who died a violent death, their bodies are buried at the places where the person died. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Life, Society and Taboos

There are many kinds of traditional houses, such as log cabins, bamboo huts, thatched cottages and slate building—most of which are rectangle or square. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The "She" is the basic social organization unit of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities ethnic group. It began as a clan organization based on blood relationship, and later gradually developed into a social organization made up of several clans, which live together in compact communities and are unified by blood relationship and geographical region. The name "She" started to be used during the Ming and Qing dynasties. At that time, Taiwan’s ethnic minorities villages were called "Fan She" or "She". The Taiwan Province Survey counted 409 "She" in the Qing Dynasty. Later on, they merge into 30 "mountain villages", under the jurisdiction of 12 counties respectively. Today, the name "She" has largely disappeared but its function and influence in village life is still very much alive. ~

The boundaries between "She" are clearly demarcated. Every "She" has its own name, and elects its own head. Within one "She", people share the common living customs and economic benefits and work together as a group towards common goals. People are bonded together with their common faith and practice of offering sacrifices. The members are under obligations to work as a unit and help each other. The size of "She" varies, from dozens of household to several hundred or even thousands of them. Sometimes big "She" have jurisdiction over smaller "She".

Taiwan’s ethnic minority taboos: 1) It is considered inauspicious to see someone who died a violent death and their burying place, or animals mating. 2) It is inauspicious to touch a fetish or stuff of the dead. 3) Women cannot touch hunting equipments and weapons that men have used, such as bow, arrow, gun or spear. 4) Women cannot enter a men’s place or sacrificial venues except at special times. 5) Men cannot touch the loom or raw hemp that women have used. 6) When people are out fishing, hunting or attending sacrificial ceremonies, the fire set up at their home should not be extinguished. 7) During sacrificial ceremonies, it is not allowed to eat fish or sneeze. 8) Taiwan’s ethnic minorities in the southern region of Taiwan believe that the spirit goes out of the human body while sneezing, which will attract evil spirits, increasing the chance of disasters. 9) Giving birth to twins is viewed as inauspicious as is believed that the twins are wild beasts which predict the coming of disasters. In the past, they would kill one of the twins to ward off the disaster. 10) Illegitimate children have traditionally been strictly forbidden and in the past were abandoned to the wild. 11) Fathers should not touch their babies, because Taiwan’s ethnic minorities believe that the babies are fragile and their fragility will infect a father and cause him to lose strength and affect his ability to hunt. This very unusual taboo is a “policy” to ensure that the custody of children belongs to mothers in matrilineal society.

Food and Drinking Customs of Taiwan Ethnic Minorities

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities mainly eat grains and root vegetables, including chestnuts, rice, potato and taro, accompanied by coarse cereals, edible wild herbs and in some cases wild preys. In mountainous areas, the staple foods include chestnuts and upland rice. In plain areas, the staple food is paddy rice. Except for Yamei people and Bunong people, Taiwan’s ethnic minorities subgroups eat rice as their daily food, accompanied by potatoes and coarse cereals. Yamei people living in Lanyu Islet mainly eat taro, millet and fish. Bunong people mainly eat millet, corn and potatoes. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are fond of smoking, drinking and chewing betelnut. With the exception of the Yamei people, Taiwan’s ethnic minorities generally like drinking. They have traditionally made their own wine and drank it celebrating weddings, baby births, happy events, house building and as part of farming, fishing and hunting ceremonies. Traditional drinking vessels include wooden dippers, bamboo tubes, wooden spoons, wooden cups, pottery jars and pottery cups. The joint wooden cup of Paiwan people is particularly characteristic.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Garments and Shellfish Clothes

Among Taiwan’s ethnic minorities there are many varieties of traditional clothing, including pass- through-head clothing, no-sleeves Jiaoling clothing, corselets, undershirts, long sleeve jackets, and skirts. Shellfish, animal bone, fish bone, and feathers are favorite ornaments.

The clothes of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are beautiful and colorful. Traditional clothing styles include pass- through- head clothing, Jiaoling clothing, corselets, undershirts, long sleeves jackets and skirts. Ornaments worn by both men and women includes head ornaments, forehead ornaments, ear ornaments, neck ornaments, chest ornaments, waist ornaments, arm ornaments, hand ornament and foot ornaments. The ornament materials are mainly natural things, such as shells, shellfish pearls, pig teeth, bear teeth, feathers, animal skins, bamboo tubes and flowers as well as glass balls and beads. Among these things, shellfish are perhaps the most extensively used. They are not just stringed together into ornaments, but, among the Taiya people and Saixia people, they are also sewn onto jackets in clusters to make precious shellfish clothes.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities clothes are generally made of hemp and cotton. In some places clothes made with home-weave linen with color stripes are still worn. Men's wear includes capes, vests, short jackets and pants, leggings and turbans decorated with laces, shells and stones. In some areas, vests are delicately woven with rattan and coconut bark. Women wear short blouses with or without sleeves, aprons and trousers or skirts with ornaments like bracelets and ankle bracelets. They are skilled in weaving cloths and dyeing them in bright colors and they like to decorate sleeve cuffs, collars and hems of blouses with beautiful embroidery. They also use shells and animal bones as ornaments. In some places, the time-honored tradition of tattooing faces and bodies and denting the teeth has been preserved. Some elderly Taiwan’s ethnic minorities women, though having lived on the mainland among the Han people for many years, still take pride in their distinctive embroidery. [Source: China.org China.org *|*]

In northern Taiwan’s ethnic minorities areas, people usually wear sleeveless jackets, top and belts. In the central part, people have traditionally worn deerskin waistcoats, waist band and tops and black-cloth skirts. In the southern areas, people usually wear long-sleeved coats with buttons down the front, skirts, leggings and black head cloth. Women wear long coats with short skirts or short coats with long skirts. Yamei people’s clothes are very simple. Men wear sleeveless sweaters and a piece of cloth to cover their private parts. Women wear sleeveless sweaters and tight skirts. In winter, they cover the body with quadrate cloth. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Shellfish clothes are made up of two pieces of cloth, sewn with bunches of shellfish pearls. To make them: 1) cut the shells into small thin slices; then grind them carefully into the pearl shape; 2) after that, string every grain of small shell pearl together and sew them onto the front and either side of cloth garment, sometimes even the whole thing. Depending on the materials used, they are called shellfish clothes, shellfish pearl clothes or pearl clothes. Each piece of shellfish clothes requires tens of thousands of to hundreds of thousands of shell pearls. The process of making a piece of shellfish clothes is complicated and difficult, and requires lots of time and energy. As a result, they have traditionally been symbols of power and wealth only possessed by tribal chiefs and rich people. There are fine examples of such clothes at the the national museum of the Central University for Nationalities and the anthropology museum of the Xiamen University. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

Taiwanese Minority Tattooing

According to the Council of Aboriginal Affairs, tattooing dates back to about 1,400 years ago. Six of the island's 10 tribes--including the Atayal, Saisiyat, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma and Tsou--used tattoos. The Atayal and Saisiyat, however, were the only two to apply whorled designs on faces. While Saisiyat women were tattooed merely on the forehead, the Atayal applied tattoos on their cheeks and chins as well, exemplifying the most comprehensive application of tattoos of the island's aboriginal tribes.

Lars Krutak wrote in his blog vanishingtattoo.com: “The earliest account of the tattooing custom was given in the History of the Sui Dynasty, dating to the 7th century (A.D. 607). But with the coming of outsiders in the 17th century (Dutch, Spaniards, Chinese, and later Japanese), tattoo rapidly lost its traditional meaning and began to disappear altogether. By the terminal period of the Ch'ing Dynasty (1644-1911), tattoo was extinct among the coastal tribes and by 1914, under order of the ruling Japanese, tattoo became rare among the mountain peoples. By 1950, only traces of the indelible art remained. [Source: Lars Krutak, vanishingtattoo.com]

The Atayal are famous for their facial tattoos. It was also done by the Truku and Seediq who were traditionally known as branches of the Atayal, and was only very recently recognized as the 12th and 14th of Taiwan’s fourteen officially recognized indigenous tribes. Thus the pan-Atayals are actually the only tribes among all the indigenous tribes in Taiwan to have carried on the inherent custom of facial tattooing.

See Separate Article on the Atayal

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Culture

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are also highly skilled in handicrafts. Their rattan and bamboo weaving, including baskets, hats and armors, pottery utensils, wooden mortars and pestles and dugout canoes are unique in design and decoration. In the mountains, the Cao and Bunong tribes are experts in tanning hides, while the Taiya tribe makes excellent fishing nets. Other crafts include weaving, carving and pottery making. [Source: China.org China.org *|*]

The folk literature of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities ethnic group includes fairy tales, legends, odes to ancestors, folk songs, myths, legends and stories. Songs and dances are very much a part of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities life. On holidays, they would gather for singing and dancing. They have many ballads, hunting songs, dirges and work songs. Their folk songs touch on a variety of subjects including farming, fishing and hunting, wars and bravery in fighting. Instruments include the mouth organ, nose flute, and bamboo flute. One musical form unique to Taiwan’s ethnic minorities is a work song accompanying the pounding of rice. *|*

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities art includes a great deal of carving and painting of human figures, animals, flowers and geometric designs on wooden lintels, panels, columns and thresholds, musical instruments and household utensils. Hunting and other aspects of life are also depicted, and figures with human heads and snake bodies are a common theme. *|*

"Hair Swinging Dance" of Taiwan Ethnic Minorities

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities enjoy singing and dancing. Almost all feasts, get-togethers and festivals feature lyrical songs and dance. Some dances simulate the movements of fishing, hunting, and farming. Group dances are especially exciting and popular. The number of participants varies from a few dozen to several hundred, even thousands of dancers. Often with the bonfire as the center, people drink, sing, and dance. Forming a circle hand in hand, dancers stamp their feet, jump, shake their bodies, and wave their hands rhythmically. The "hair swinging dance" is particularly representative of the “bold, unstrained, and optimistic spirit” of the Gaoshan. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, kepu.net.cn ~]

The "hair swinging dance" is a unique dance of Yamei women. Generally, the number of participants is not restricted, but long hair is required. When dancing, the women form a line and wave their bodies and hair slowly, with their arms held together, their hands placed on their chest, their steps moving back and forth. With the quickening of the music, the swing range of the body and head grows larger and larger, and the dance gradually enters into climax: with the women stepping forward, bending their knees and waists, swinging their long hair forward, stepping backwards, straightening their waists, swinging their hair rapidly. The movement goes on like this again and again, with the hair frequently striking the ground, ~

Taiwan Ethnic Minority Agriculture

Taiwan’s ethnic minorities are mainly farmers growing rice, millet, taro and sweet potatoes. Those who live in mixed communities with Han people on the plains work the land in much the same way as their Han neighbors. For those in the mountains, hunting is more important, while fishing is essential to those living along the coast and on small islands. Taiwan’s ethnic minorities traditions make women responsible for ploughing, transplanting, harvesting, spinning, weaving, and raising livestock and poultry. Men's duties include land reclamation, construction of irrigation ditches, hunting, lumbering and building houses. For transportation in rugged terrain, Taiwan’s ethnic minorities have built bamboo and rattan suspension or arch bridges and cableways over steep ravines. [Source: China.org china.org *|*]

According to the Beijing government: “Flatland inhabitants entered feudal society at about the same time as their Han neighbors. Private land ownership, land rental, hired labor and the division between landlords and peasants had long emerged among these Gaoshans. But, in Bunong and Taiya, land was owned by primitive village communes. Farm tools, cattle, houses and small plots of paddy field were privately owned. A primitive cooperative structure operated in farming and the bag of collective hunting was distributed equally among the hunters with an extra share each to the shooter and the owner of the hound that helped.” *|*

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Bureau, Republic of China (Taiwan), Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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