Taiwan's cultural side is a sure hit with tourists

TAIWAN INDIGENOUS PEOPLE + FESTIVALS

Taiwan is a relatively small island, yet within its borders there are 16 colourful and captivating indigenous tribes. They have lived in Taiwan for more than 15,000 years and each of these tribes has their own unique culture and traditions. In fact, some believe that all Austronesian tribes scattered around the Pacific may have originated in Taiwan. Each of these groups celebrates their own significant festivals throughout the year and these give visitors a fascinating insight into the history of the region and how these peoples have shaped modern Taiwan.

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The largest tribe is the Amis with a population of around 150,000. They are known for their complex dancing and singing, which are mostly related to the land, farming, fishing, hunting and women. You can see these vibrant performances during the annual Harvest Festival, held in various villages during July and August. It’s a brightly coloured celebration that sweeps visitors into its buzzing energy.

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The Yami (also known as the Tao) are a small tribe with a population of just 4,000. They are the country’s only oceanic tribe and live on Orchid Island off the southeast of Taiwan. Their lives are intertwined with the sea and each year they celebrate the Flying Fish Festival, which thanks the gods for the ocean’s bounty. The ceremonies begin in the second or third month of the lunar year and last for four months, with prayers and blessings marking each stage of the fishing season.

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Once the most warlike of Taiwan’s indigenous people, the Puyama tribe now have a special New Year ritual that commemorates this ancient past. The festival marks the passage of boys into manhood with a series of trials and a hunt, after which he is ready for marriage. The Bunun people also have a festival that relates to hunting, called the Ear-Shooting Festival. The young men of the tribe go into the woods to hunt, cutting off the ears of their kill and attaching them to poles for the villagers to shoot with arrows.

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The Atayal tribe live in the mountainous north of Taiwan and are known for their facial tattoos. These markings represent a coming of age, however can now only be found on the faces of very old tribespeople. The Kavalan people’s economy centres around fishing and farming, so their annual harvest festivals are a small but significant part of life. A shaman leads the whole village in prayer to open the festival, followed by many days of dancing, singing and celebration.

Visitors can engage with Taiwan’s living history at a number of dedicated cultural attractions throughout the country. At the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village in Yuchi, in central Taiwan, nine model villages have been built, based on anthropological drawings from the 1930s and 1940s. People can participate in activities include dancing, arts and crafts, music and more. The village is at its most beautiful during cherry blossom season, between February and March, when the whole region comes alive with the lush pink blooms.

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Beinan Cultural Park in the southeast of the country is located on the site of the largest and most compete prehistoric settlement ever discovered in Taiwan. It is home to more than 1,500 slate coffins and 20,000 pieces of stoneware, ceramics and jade mortuary items, making it the largest burial complex of its kind in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. From the two-storey viewing platform, visitors get a comprehensive view over the site and can watch the active archeological project that continues to dig deeper through the layers of history.

Alongside Beinan Cultural Park is the National Taiwan Museum of Prehistory (NMP), which exhibits the relics excavated from the site. Themed exhibition halls lead visitors through different stages of Taiwan’s history, from ancient geological development and natural biology through to the cultural history of the indigenous people. These unique cultural experiences are an authentic way to connect with the real Taiwan and to see how the country’s past has created a rich cultural mix that survives today. 

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