Taiwan Aboriginal Peoples - Central Mountain Groups

Features common to all mountain groups include their great reliance on millet and their extensive acculturation.

Paiwan-Rukai. The 51,000 (in 1966) Paiwan and Rukai live in the southern reaches of Taiwan's central mountain area. They are known for their monumental wood and stone artwork and their bronze dagger handles.

The Paiwan-Rukai traditionally lived in close-settled villages of from 100 to 1,000 people on hillsides. Because relations with other groups were hostile and alliances rare, the villages were protected by bamboo and stone walls and by guard patrols. Villages were autonomous and independent. Houses were semisubterranean.

These peoples were swidden horticulturalists and hunters and fishers. All land belonged to chiefly lineages, although commoners had rights of usufruct.

Descent was ambilineal and residence ambilocal. Divorce, usually attributable to adultery, was common. Inheritance was by primogeniture without regard to sex.

Social control was primarily legal; chiefs adjudicated disputes and levied fines. The amount of fines varied inversely with social class, and aristocrats were immune to prosecution for many offenses, including theft. Tattoos indicated noble status, with the exception that young men gained the right to have tattoos through successful head-hunting. They also blackened their teeth as youngsters and pierced their earlobes.

The deceased were buried under their houses; all members of one family were buried in a single grave.

Bunun. A full article on the Bunun is included in this volume.

Tsou. The 3,100 (in 1966) Tsou traditionally lived in the western central mountains near Mount Ami. In the 1930s, the government relocated them to lower elevations and encouraged the farming of wet rice. The Tsou traditionally lived in hamlets of three to ten households, although at one time there were core villages with men's houses at the center of several hamlets. Tsou houses were unique in Taiwan, being oval in shape and having thatched roofs that reached nearly to the ground. Nuclear-family houses were considered complete only if they had a shelf for the bones of animals killed in hunting, a millet field, and a storage basket for sacred millet. The wall-less men's houses once had shelves for heads taken in battle.

The Tsou are known for their strict enforcement of gender roles. Men hunt, burn fields, and make baskets, nets, and weapons. Women make cloth, pottery, and embroidery, take care of pigs, and weed the fields. According to traditional belief, to touch the tools used by, or the goods made by, members of the other sex was to risk supernatural sanction (such as scarcity of game) for oneself and for the group.

The Tsou are patrilineal, and lineages own hunting territories; people who are not members of the lineage may use these lands by paying a tribute.

The functions of political leader, ritual leader, and war leader were usually performed by one man.

Atayal. The Atayal occupy nearly a third of Taiwan's mountainous area, in north-central Taiwan. They speak two languages, Atayal proper (with dialects Seqoleq and Tse'ole') and Sedeq.

The Atayal traditionally lived in hamlets or isolated huts above 1,500 meters in elevation. They lived in almost entirely subterranean houses that one entered by climbing down a ladder from the door. There was a shelf for the heads of enemies, and the bones that were trophies of hunting hung from rafters. Pigs lived in their own huts in fenced yards. Japanese and Han Taiwanese forced the Atayal to move to lower elevations in this century, and now they live in typical Chinese-style houses.

The Atayal subsisted mainly by horticulture, but they also hunted (often in groups) for boars, deer, goats, bears, bats, squirrels, and monkeys. Fishing was done with poison.

The preparation for marriage could be a lengthy affair. First, the prospective groom would have a male relative propose and negotiate on his behalf. Then came the haggling over the bride-price, which could take as many as four years. The bride-price was paid in the form of shell money, pigs, and embroidered clothing. Some practice sister exchange, but since this practice violates taboo there must be an accompanying pig sacrifice and ritual feast. The incest prohibition extends to fourth patrilateral and third matrilateral cousins, though one may marry a third patrilateral cousin upon payment of a fine. There are no lineage groups. Inheritance is patrilineal and by primogeniture.

Traditional political organization lay in hamlet groups that were patrilineally related and that observed the same rituals and taboos. Social control was by law and by taboo. In some types of case, headmen imposed fines. In others, violations of taboo required confession and a pig sacrifice, in which the injured parties would eat the meat of the pig.

Although all Taiwanese aboriginal peoples practiced head-hunting, the Atayal were the most feared. The group's reason for warfare was usually to gain or defend territory, but the individual's reason to fight was for honor and prestige. The use of an enemy head was crucial to ancestor worship, and the skull, teeth, and hair were used for personal protection from spirits.

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