Indigenous of Formosa
National Taiwan Museum
Taiwan is a small island that lies to the southeast of the Asian continent. Its special geographic position and natural conditions caused mammals from south China to migrate to the island in the Ice Age tens of thousands of years ago. When the last Ice Age ended about 6,000 years ago, Austronesian farming peoples migrated to Taiwan from south China or Southeast Asia. These people were the ancestors of the indigenous people of today.
Indigenous peoples in Taiwan converse in tongues classified as Austronesian. Austronesian peoples in Taiwan include the following tribes: Atayal, Saisiyat, Amis, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma, Bunun, Tsou, and Yami (Tao). pingpu groups, who originally lived in western Taiwan, also spoke Austronesian languages. Today, the number of indigenous peoples in Taiwan is about 450,000. Although they share the same roots, each tribe developed its own unique social and cultural system. The Austronesian groups in Taiwan are unique in their social and cultural diversity.
This gallery comprises two main themes:
I. Prehistoric Culture
This section introduces the prehistoric culture of Taiwan from the Paleolithic Age to the Iron Age, including the earliest human fossils so far found in Taiwan: “Tsuo-Chen Man” dating to about 20,000-30,000 years ago, cultural artifacts of various stages of the Neolithic Age from western Taiwan, and Neolithic Age culture from eastern Taiwan, especially Beinan Culture with its burial items, and the Shi-San-Hang Culture of the Iron Age.
II. Indigenous Culture
This section is divided by tribe into 11 parts: pingpu groups, the Atayal, the Bunun, the Saisiyat, the Tsou, the Paiwan, the Rukai, the Puyuma, the Amis, the Yami, and the Thao.
These indigenous people lived in northeastern and western Taiwan. After hundreds of years of interaction with Han people, their traditional culture and language have almost vanished. A large number of people who are outwardly Han Chinese in ethnicity have pingpu ancestry. This segment displays the special features of the culture of the Kavalan tribe of northeastern Taiwan, the Pazeh tribe of central Taiwan, and the Siraya tribe of southern Taiwan.
The Atayal are distributed over a wide area in the mountains of eight counties in central and northern Taiwan and are the second-largest tribe in Taiwan. The main features of their material culture are weaving and facial tattoos. A shell-beaded garment is the tribe’s most notable cultural feature, while facial tattoos are traditionally regarded as an indispensable symbol of adulthood.
The Bunun are distributed in the mountains of central Taiwan around Nantou County, and are the fourth-largest tribe in Taiwan. They live in mountainous areas around 1,000 to 2,000 meters in altitude. Traditionally, the Bunun engaged in slash-and-burn farming and hunting. Men’s traditional apparel was mostly made from leather. While Taiwan’s indigenes have no written language, the Bunun developed a unique carved panel calendar upon which to record annual agricultural ceremonies.
This tribe is distributed throughout Hsinchu and Miaoli counties and is divided into northern and southern sub-groups. It is one of the smallest Taiwanese indigenous groups. Saisiyat material culture is heavily influenced by the Atayal, especially with respect to apparel and facial tattoos. The Pasta’ay Ceremony is their most important ritual and also their most prominent religious festival.
The Tsou are distributed throughout Nantou, Chiayi, and Kaohsiung counties and are divided into southern and northern sub-groups. The Tsou live in the mountains. Traditionally, hunting was their main occupation, with slash-and-burn farming being secondary. They are a patriarchal clan society in which each clan has its own hunting and fishing grounds and the larger villages feature a “men’s house.”
The Paiwan are distributed mainly in Pingtung, Kaohsiung, and Taitung counties, and are the third-largest Taiwanese indigenous group. They are renowned for their stone-slate houses, clay kettles, multi-colored glass beads, and bronze knives. Also, they have developed a unique artistic tradition that expresses their social hierarchy and belief in ancestral spirits and snake spirits.
The Rukai live in several townships of Pingtung, Kaohsiung, and Taitung counties, such as Wutai, Maolin, and Peinan. They are hierarchical and emphasize family names and the family lines of the nobility, and have developed unique apparel and house carvings. The tribe is also renowned for its stone-slate houses, clay kettles, multi-colored glass beads, and carvings.
The Puyuma mainly live in Peinan Township and Taitung City and are divided into the Peinan and Chihpen sub-groups. Traditionally, boys aged 11 to 13 would take part in a monkey piercing ritual (mangamangayau), and then live in a home for young males where they would receive training. Following this, they would take part in an adulthood ceremony at age 19 or 20. This division by age formed the foundation by which the group secured a foothold on the Taitung Plain.
The Amis are distributed around eastern Taiwan. They are the largest indigenous group in Taiwan. They are a matrilineal society and practice uxorilocal marriage. The age-grade system for men is the foundation of their society, while women’s pottery-making is the distinctive feature of their material culture.
The Yami live on Orchid Island, which lies to the southeast of Taiwan proper, and have a population of around 3,000. They are the only indigenous group that does not live on Taiwan proper. They are typically fishermen, and the distinctive features of their material culture are their planked fishing boats, wood carving, pottery, and metallurgy. The Yami word for “people” is “tao,” so they have also been known as the “Tao” group.
The Thao live near Sun Moon Lake in Yuchi Township, Nantou County. Their population is quite small. They live by farming, hunting, fishing, and gathering. Living near the lake, they have developed “bamboo-raft bait” and other unique fishing methods and also build canoes to navigate the lake.
Renewal plan for the Permanent Exhibition on Indigenous Peoples
The Permanent Exhibition on Indigenous Peoples opened in 2002. Since that time, the number of recognized tribes has increased to 14. This necessitates an updating of this exhibit. Plans call for a renewed exhibit that will more accurately represent the historical continuity of the NTM collection and its unique features.