Introduction to the Tribes

Currently, there are 16 officially recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan: Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Sediq, Hla'alua and Kanakanavu. Every tribe has its own distinct culture, language, customs and social structure. Six of them call Hualien County home, including the most populous Amis, Truku, Sakizaya, Kavalan, Bunun and Sediq.


The Amis, the most populous indigenous tribe in Taiwan, primarily dwell in Hualien County and Taitung County. They are found on the east side of the Central Mountain Range and south of Liwu River in the Huadong Valley along the Pacific Ocean and the eastern rift valley. Most of them live on flatland, with just a small number in the mountains. Being the indigenous tribe most assimilated by the Han Chinese, they are experienced in farming and irrigation. The Amis have a matrilineal society in which children take the mother's surname and the husband moves in with the wife after marriage.

There are roughly 140,000 Amis in Taiwan, with just 0.5% living in the mountains and all the rest on flatland. They may be categorized based on geography, customs and speech. The Northern Amis, also called Nanshi Amis, live to the north of Fenglin, Hualien County up to Hualien City (e.g. Shoufeng Township and Jian Township). The Central Amis are split by the mountains into the Coastal Amis (e.g. Fengbin and Dagangkou) and the Xiuguluan Amis along Xiuguluan River (e.g. Ruisui and Qimei). The Southern Amis, also called Taitung Amis, live in and around the Taitung plain (e.g. near Taitung City, Malan and Dulan).

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Three to four centuries ago, the Truku scaled many mountains in search of new farmland and hunting territories before settling in Eastern Taiwan near the Liwu, Mugua and Taosai rivers. They are found in three mountainous townships in Hualien County (Xiulin, Wanrong and Lishan Village in Zhuoxi Township). The Truku are known for their bravery and strong character. The men are skilled hunters, and the women are deft weavers who produce work with outstanding colors and patterns.

The Taroko area got its name when the Truku settled in the area (the Mandarin for both Taroko and Truku is tailuge). In the Truku language, the word means "platform at the waist of the mountain", "livable land", or "lookout platform" against enemy ambush. Today, the area falls under the jurisdiction of Taroko National Park. Truwan, another original Truku settlement, comprises five indigenous villages: Sadu, Bushi, Truwan, Brayaw and Bushi Daya. Collectively, they fall under the jurisdiction of Pingsheng Indigenous Area, Hezuo Village, Renai Township, Nantou County.

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The Bunun, a mountain people divided into five major social groups (Zhuo, Jun, Dan, Ka and Luan), are found in the mountains of Nantou, Hualien, Taitung and Kaohsiung County. They are a gentle people living in harmony with nature and creators of the unique, world-famous 8-part harmony chorus. The Ear-shooting Festival in April and May is an important Bunun ritual. The Bunun pursue millet farming in the mountains and hunting and supplement their livelihood with creek fishing and livestock; fruit and vegetable gathering also remains common among some Bunun. Key skills and craft include bamboo cutting, rattan and bamboo basket weaving, fishnet weaving, hemp weaving and hide tanning.

The Bunun are found in the Central Mountain Range at altitudes of 1000 to 2000 meters, mainly in Nantou County but also as far as Namaxia Township in Kaohsiung County and Hairui Township in Taitung County. Taiwan's Bunun population of about 40,000 are distributed in Renai Township in Nantou County, Sanmin and Taoyuan townships in Kaohsiung County, Wanrong and Zhuoxi townships in Hualien County, and Yanping and Haiduan townships in Taitung County.

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Legend has it that the Sediq originated in Mudanyan in the Central Mountain Range and after several waves of migration came to settle in Truwan in today's Renai Township, Nantou County. They then moved again to Tgdaya, Toda and Truku when they ran out of land to live on and farm. Over three centuries ago, a portion of the Sediq people moved several times until they settled in today's Hualien, developing a distinct culture and language.

The Sediq tribe is made up of people from three language groups: Seediq Tgdaya, Sediq Toda and Sejiq Truku. They are found mainly in central and eastern Taiwan and the Yilan mountains, including Renai Township in Nantou County (their ancestral homeland), Xiulin, Zhuoxi and Wanrong townships in Hualien County (new homeland), and Datong and Nan-ao townships in Yilan County.

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The Sakizaya have resided on Hualien’s Qilai Plain for centuries. Their tribal territories extend from Liwu River to the north, Mugua River to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the east, and are bounded on the west by the Qilai Mountains. In earlier times, the Sakizaya people established as many as ten major settlements in this region. Historical records of the Sakizaya in the 17th century during the Dutch and Spanish occupations, as well as references by Han immigrants to Hualien as “Qilai” both testify to the strong presence of the Sakizaya people in northern Hualien several hundred years ago.

In 1878, mainland Qing forces entered rural Taiwan and attempted to Sinicize the indigenous peoples by instigating the Takobowan Battle (historically known as the Karewan Incident). The Sakizaya allied with the Kavalan peoples against the Qing forces but to no avail. After the conflict subsided, the Qing applied a policy of “mandatory relocation and dispersionly known as the , forcing remaining Sakizaya to be subsumed into Amis tribes or other regions across Taiwan. From that day, the Sakizaya “vanished” from history and became a wandering people.

On January 17, 2007, after 129 years of displacement and a 17-year campaign for rectification of their tribal status, the Sakizaya were finally granted official recognition and once again reinstated as one of the island's 13 (currently 16) indigenous tribes. October’s “Palamal” (Worship of the Fire God) is one of the Sakizaya’s most important annual rituals; the tribe is also known for their unique tradition of "Hamaybaki” (Blessings of the Elders); and “Misapunis” (village hike and picnic) which unifies tribes people against danger and disaster. Other distinctive traditions that are practiced only by the Sakizaya include an age-class system (sral), the planting of thorny bamboo as fortifications against invaders, and the interpretation of split thorny bamboo branches as ancestral oracles.

Tribal clothing consists mostly of golden yellow and carmine red with decorative sea blue, charcoal black, mud brown, pearly white, and vibrant green trimmings. Women adorn headdresses that symbolize “thorny bamboo fencing” and “mothers’ tears,” while the men wear headpieces of “triangular divine imprints” and “triumphant plumage.” All headpieces have long trailing sashes that symbolize fertility and prosperity. The Sakizaya uphold the belief that the mandate of the gods is expressed through “Wind, Rain, Earth, and Fire," while it is the duty of man to “worship divinity, work with diligence, respect the self, and love others.”

Reference Source: Tuku Sayun


Among Taiwan's pingpu (lowland) tribes today, the Kavalan boast the strongest cultural and ethnic identity. They originally lived on the Lanyan Plain (in Yilan County) but were forced southward by Han Chinese settlers. The last pingpu tribe to be Han-assimilated, today they live in Xinshe Village, Fengbin Township and Jiali Village, Xincheng Township in Hualien County. The Kavalan fish and farm for a living and are among the earliest indigenous farmers in Taiwan. They used to weave clothing and everyday articles out of banana fiber. Today, they are known for using banana fiber to produce creative clothing, hats and accessories.

The Kavalan began migrating to Hualien roughly between 1803 and 1840 when Han Chinese occupied their land. Some Kavalan from the Jialiyuan Settlement migrated south to Beipu (Hsinchu County) and reestablished themselves under the same name, while others moved to Nanao. In 1878, Kavalan in the new Jialiyuan Settlement joined forces with the local Sakizaya to fight against Han Chinese, who again invaded their territories in Hualien. The "Jialiyuan Revolt" failed and the Kavalan involved fled far away to the east coast to live alongside the Amis.

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