In addition to diverse cultures and natural habitats, Taiwan is thought to be the founding place of the Autronesian culture by the International Academic Hawaiian Linguistic Expert Robert Blust, Australian archaeologist Peter Bellwood and American Human sociology scholar Jared Diamond.
The Taiwan indigenous tribes have preserved the ancient Austronesian language and its culture with their own language, folk culture, and tribal construct. The Abundance Festival and Ancestral Spirit Festival can best represent Taiwan's mysterious and diverse aboriginal culture with its various tribal totems.
There are currently around 520,000 (population dated from September 2009) indigenous people in Taiwan recognized by the Taiwanese government. The 14 recognized indigenous tribes include: the Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Rukai, Puyuma Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami (the Taos), Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya and Sediq.
The Amis Tribe
The Amis tribe is Taiwan's largest indigenous tribe with its main distribution throughout the Hualien and Taitung area with population close to 182,000 people. Although the traditional Amis society is the matriarchal in nature, tribal public affairs and important festive activities are still under the control of the male gender with a tightly-knit tribal organization arranged in accordance to the age of the men. The traditional Amis social system has served as a balance of power between men and women by creating a harmonious social relationship within the tribe.
The traditional Amis outfit is light in texture and buoyant in color in its demonstration of the tribe's passionate and cheery characteristic. The annual "Harvest Festival" is Amis;s New Year as well as a real representation of the Amis' cultural festive activity in their gratitude for the abundant harvest in millets and ancestral blessings. For this reason, Amis' most integrated and rich culture can be seen in the "Harvest Festival".
The Atayal Tribe
The Atayal Tribe is Taiwan's number three largest indigenous tribe with population around 79,000 people. Its traditional territory has covered the vast area between the altitude of 500m to 2,500m of the Central and Xue Mountain.
From a linguistic perspective, the language of the Atayal tribe can be divided into two major phylums: Seqoleq and Tseole. In terms of language and its origin, differences were found between these two major phylums. For example, if the Seqoleq tribe is today's Pin sbkan of Renai township of Nantou county then the Tseole tribe will be today's Papak waqa of Dabajian Mountain.
The Atayal tribe is a tribe with fear and respect for the ancestral spirit utux and a follower of the ancestral discipline gaga with its traditional faith in ancestral worship. Established by the Atayal ancestors as tribal regulation, the gaga has gradually evolved into a group with functions in bloodlines, sacrifices, geological relationships and food sharing. Members of the gaga will fully demonstrate the spirit of teamwork through collaborated work and share of punishments and rewards.
The Paiwan Tribe
The people of Paiwan has claimed their origin in the Dawu Mountain and are currently residing in the mountainous areas below 1,000m or low flat land area with Southern Taiwan as their active zone. The total Paiwan population is around 87,000 people.
A society both matriarchic and patriarchic with equal rights and adoption, the Paiwan society is a sprouting culture designed with its foundation in green peace and the repellence of corporal punishments. Asides from its strict taxation system, the Paiwan society is also a shared society in regarding the tribe as one home to create a society with no poverty or theft.
The Paiwan social caste system can be divided into 6 levels: chief, assistant officer, general leader, deputy manager, priest and civilians, each serving their responsibility in accordance to their social status. The delicate social system and integrated national factor has nurtured Paiwan's exquisite civilization of the Dawu Mountain culture.
The Bunun Tribe
Before Japanese occupation, Bununs who lived the lives of swidden cultivation were mainly found along the foot of the Central Mountain. Living at the altitude above 1500m, Bunun is a typical high-mountain tribe with its social organization centered around a large patriarchic family with its current population around 51,000 people.
Bunun's world-renowned Pasibutbut or "Song of praying for the abundance in millet harvest" 8-part harmonic singing will be heard during the "Millet Seeding Festival" taking place between November and December of each year in wish for abundance in millet harvest. Through beautiful voices, the Bununs believed that the gods will be pleased and in return grant abundance in millet harvest.
In addition, due to the emphasis on millet harvest, the Bununs had also developed a series of intricate and regulated seasonal festivals; even some traditional perspectives on year and month were divided in accordance to the growth of millet. For this reason, the time of agricultural affairs and hunting activities will also proceed in accordance to the growth of plants and the shape of the moon.
The mountain-dwelling Bununs are experts in hunting. Thus Malahtangia or "Ear-shooting Festival" held each year during crop break is intended in wishing for abundance in prey as well as family and community prosperity.
The Rukai Tribe
The current Rukai population is around 11,000 people with population residence along the foot of the Northern Central Mountain located in Wutai township of Pintung county, Maolin township of Kaohsiung county and Beinan township of Taitung county.
Rukai's social caste system is divided into 4 levels in chief, noble families, officers and civilians with title succession inherited by the eldest son or doughter. In order to display the social status and power of the current chief, elaborate home decorations can be seen in the traditional slate house with the set up of a gathering place, various wood or stone decorative art such as ancestral pole and shrine outside the slate house.
A special Rukai custom is to wear decorations made with lilies as a symbol of female purity and outstanding male bravery.
Rukai's skill in indigenous art is delicate and detailed as seen in bamboo baskets, shell-flower sheets, stone carvings and slate embossments. In addition, the image of the Chinese moccasin and totem are thought by the Rukais as the incarnation of the ancestral spirits as well as a symbol of the Rukais as the descendants of Chinese moccasin.
The Puyuma Tribe
Puyuma's population distribution is mainly found in Taitung city and Beinan village with total population of approximately 11,000 people. With regards to linguistic and cultural differences, the Puyumas can be divided into the Nanwang system of bamboo origin/Jhushen and the Jhihben system of stone/Shihsheng origin.
The Puyumas has earned its reputation as the "tribe of garlands." The traditional Puyuma society is matriarchic with its focus on the male age group organization. The "Gathering Place for Young Adults" or Trakuban is a Spartan educational training center whilst the "Gathering Place for the Elders" or palakwan has served as the center for making tribe affair decisions.
From mid-December to January of the following year, the Puyumas will hold series of festive rituals. The order of the rituals are: the "Annual Youth Ritual" or the basibas, the "Big Hunt Ritual" or the mangayaw and the "Welcoming of the Triumphant Return Ritual" or "Kirtrebung." Series of festivals such as "good news brought by young adults" taking place at the end of the year, "ancient songs sung by the elder to the grieving family" at the beginning of the year for the purpose of comfort and bad luck riddance and the "Male Adulthood Ceremony" can all be summed under Puyuma's "Annual Festivals." In addition to the "Annual Festivals," the 4 major Puyuma festivals also include mugamud, the "completion of weed riddance by the women," mulaliyabn, the "Sea Festival," basibas, the "Annual Youth Festival" and mangayaw, the "Big Hunt Festival."
The Tsou Tribe
With its main distribution in the rift valley areas of the Alishan mountain range, the Tsou tribe can be divided into South Tsou and North Tsou with total population around 6,600 people. Although in absence of a social caste system, the Tsous has formed a tight family structure. Under such system, marriage or offerings are under careful watch as well as the spread the concept to the entire tribe.
The social organization of the Tsou tribe is known for its strict patriarchic clan structure with focus on both large and small scale political organization affiliation. Tribal affairs and rituals will take place at the Kuba, or male meeting place.
Mayasvi or "War Festival" or "Triumphant Return Festival" is an event celebrated by the entire Tsou tribe. Held at the gathering place and its concourse, the War Festival mainly focuses on the worship of the God of Heavens and the War God. The significance of the War Festival is to inspire the tribe members in the protection of the tribe with their life and spirit as well as serving as a support for tribal morals, regulations and spiritual battle stamina.
The Saisiyat Tribe
There are around 5,700 Saisiyat people. Patriarchic in social structure, the Saisiyats had based their social organization by using territories and totem clans as foundation units for the society; in addition, the tribe is also known for its traditional Pas ta'ai or the "Short Spirit Festival."
The mysterious Saisyats are found mainly in the mountainous areas of the Hsinchu county and Miaoli county border. According to speculations by the philologists, the Saisiyat language is one of the most ancient Autronesian with its earliest appearance in Taiwan. For a long time, the Saisiyats had followed the footsteps of their ancestors by their aggregated search of methods to gather tribal consensus in the pursuit for autonomic development. Furthermore, the treasuring and conservation of the Saisiyat traditional custom by the order generation of Saisiyats has led to the preservation and representation of the tribe's unique traditional cultural and spirit.
The "Saisiyat Tribe and Shei-Pa National Park Management Office of Construction and Planning Agency Ministry of Interior Partnership Agreement" was also established by Shei-Pa National Park Management Office and the Saisiyats. It is the first Agreement in the Taiwanese history signed by government agency and its indigenous people.
The Yami Tribe (the Taos)
Founded on the Lanyu Island of Taitung with population around 3,600 people, the Yami tribe (the Taos) is Taiwan's most typical marine tribe. Each year between March and June, schools of flying fish will return to the waters of Lanyu with black tide. Prior to flying fish capturing or the "Flying Fish Festival," the Yamis will hold a festival known as the "Flying Fish Summon Festival" to summon flying fishes.
The Yami tribe is a peace-loving tribe with unique marine culture due to its geographical isolation. Among these cultural attributes, the flying fish season taking place during spring and summer of each year is the most well-known tribal attribute. The flying fish is a god-given gift to the Yamis as well as an important source of food. The holding of the year-round Age Festival often accompany the capturing of the flying fish.
As for songs and dances, Yami women's hair dance is an unique dance amongst the indigenous dances while men's dance of the brave has served as a demonstration of power and beauty.
Lanyu's hot and tropical marine climate in addition to frequent typhoon encounter had let to the development of semi-cave dwellings of the Yami tribe. The Yamis has created a vivid culture with its uniqueness forced by the harsh environment as well as the display man's greatness in endurance and spirit.
The Thao Tribe
There are around 680 Thaos in Taiwan with main population distribution within the barawbaw tribe of the Yuchi township of Nantou county and Tapina tribe of the Shueili township (Dingkan village).
The Thao tribe is a tribe created by joining of seven major clans. The traditional tribal organization is patriarchic with center around the chief. Also the chief of the tribe, the title of the head of the clan will be succeeded by his son while other occupational tasks will be completed by clan member collaboration.
Ancestral spirit is Thao's core faith. In accordance to the order of the seasons, every Thao households will worship ulalaluan or the cradle of the ancestral spirit during the Age Festival for household safety, abundance in harvests and fisheries. Thao's fear and respect for the ancestral spirits and compliance to ancestral discipline has enabled them in the preservation of their diverse culture.
The prestigious priests or shinsh chosen for conducting ancestral spirit festival are composed of the female gender with expertise in hosting festivals and mutual communication with ancestral spirits. The formal lusan festival is like the New Year for the Thaos in their prayer for ancestral blessings and a worry-free, safe and healthy life as well as to serve as a continuation of Thao's cultural heritage.
The Kavalan Tribe
Tha kavalan tribe has 36 units during the Manchurian period and is the earliest known indigenous tribe of the Lanyan plain. The current Kavalan population is around 1200 people and is a matriarchic society which practices uxorilocal marriage with all of its priests composed of the female gender. It is an equal society free of social caste system.
March and April of the early years are seasons for flying fish capturing and abundant harvest celebration. Kavalan men will gather by the seaside and hold sea festivals. The Kavalans' most precious and proudest feat is that they still retain Kavalan culture in daily lives such as the traditional Kavalan language, custom, important festivals, songs and dances, banana stem fiber weaves, and Abundance Festival, and so on.
Although in the past the Kavalan tribe had always hidden amidst the Amis tribe, its festivals or languages are vastly different from that of the Amis tribe. Therefore, after many years of effort, the Kavalan tribe was finally recognized as the eleventh indigenous tribe in the year 2002. the cultural heritage and preservation of the Kavalan tribe will now proceeds into a new era.
The Truku Tribe
The Truku tribe with a population of about 25,000 people was finally recognized by the nation as the twelfth indigenous tribe of Taiwan on January 14th, 2004.
The "Face Tattoo Culture" is one of the most symbolic traditional culture of the Truku tribe. As for the traditional Truku fashion, the "hero suite" (toward), using diamond shaped undergarment to resemble the bear and the "beaded clothing" made from shells, nuts, jade, and ivory into rainbow-colored necklaces is the most unique Truku clothing. Aside from experts in hunting, weaving, and knitting, the current Trukus has preserved their traditional techniques of knife-making small pucing and shaman sorcery msapuh.
Since the beginning of time, the Trukus believed that the existence of everything in the world and the good and bad of individual tribes all have to do with ancestral spirits. Therefore in every July, after the harvest of millets, is the important season of hosting the "Ancestral Spirit Festival." This is the Truku's way of thanking the ancestral spirits for keeping them safe and healthy and with an abundant harvest. The current festive ceremonies have incorporated many entertaining and competitive activities in enhancing the recognition and cohesiveness among the tribe people as well as to let the Truku traditional culture to be passed on and be rooted.
The Sakizaya Tribe
There are currently around 400 Sakizaya people. from long time ago the Sakizaya tribe has lived on the Chilai Plain (Hualien Plain). Then, in the Takoboan event, a major armed clash erupted between the Sakizaya tribe and the Ching army. The tribe scattered about and lived anonymously in order to prevent annihilation, thus erasing the Sakizaya tribe from the history for 129 years. During the early period, the Sakizaya tribe uses millets as the center of its festivals with its traditional clothing focuses mainly on the colors in early gold, maroon, and black with thorny bamboo and tear drops as decoration symbolizing the return to the homeland, in memory of the blood shed by the ancestors, and escape under the cover of the night. The mivakivaki of the Sakizaya tribe adulthood ceremony is a ritual where the elders bless the teenagers and is a tradition unique ti the Sakizaya tribe. The first Palamal Fire God Festival in a hundred years in memory of ancestors passed away in the Takoboan Event was held on july 1st of 2005. The Festival contains 7 sacred ritual processes with prayers for blessings chanted by 5 messengers in red, green, blue, white and black. To conclude the festival, floral coffin of the Fire God is incinerated in symbolizing the reincarnation of the Fire God's spirit and tribe member through fire.
The Sediq Tribe
There are around 6,400 Seediqs. In respect to the linguistic differences, the Seediqs can de divided into 3 major phylums: the Tgdaya phylum, Toda phylum and the Truku phylum.
The Seediqs call themselves Seediq Tgdaya/Sediq Toda/ Sejiq Truku, meaning "real man/brave men/women with talent and virtue/summary of indigenous tribes." The legend has told that the Seediq ancestor was born Pusu Qhuni/Rmdax Tasin or "sacred mountain," which is also the origin of Seediq's gaya/waya. The Seediqs possess a unique form of life and traditional custom. The faith in life perspective of Utux has led to the development of a strict daily life regulation system, or gaya/waya, as well as the development in many characteristic and diverse cultural practices such as: face tattoo, head hunt, weaving, hunting, music, language, songs and dances…etc. After many years of name-correcting movement, the Seediqs had finally gained its official recognition by the Taiwanese government as the 14th indigenous tribe on April 23 of 2008. This ancient tribe has finally found its rightful place under country's legislation.
- An Introduction to Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples. Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan
- Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan
- Taiwan Indigenous Culture Park
- Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines
- Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples
- Taiwan Ethnography Video and Audio Archive
- Formosan Aborigines Collections
- Digital Archives of Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica