How the Paiwan Pow-wow

The festival was in full swing when we turned down the road and entered Chia Ping village (家平部落). Paiwan and Rukei people wearing traditional costumes danced in a circle around the Chief’s house. Every so often, someone would go around giving the dancers millet wine.

Paiwan dancing in front of the Chief’s house at Chia Ping Village.

A view of the circle from the side.

Girls in traditional dress watch the circle dance.

A Paiwan family at the festivities.

Earlier, I had noticed a large statue of Formosan wild lily near the building where the kids were being given a lesson, which jogged some distant memory that the wild lily was a symbol for many indigenous people. The wild lily, of course, was also used by student activists during the protests of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Now, here in the village, I saw many women wearing wild lilies in their headdresses. I wondered if I could somehow tie the Wild Lily Movement with the indigenous people.

I want a hat like this for my birthday.

I asked these ladies about the wild lilies in their hats and they said that wild lilies are a Rukai symbol. But when I asked them if they were Rukai, they said no, they’re Paiwan. It was loud with all that shouting and singing and I thought maybe something was lost in translation.

Sakinu joined in the dancing, along with the five women from the School for Hunters who had come along to the festival. The reason why I came to Taiwan during its most unbearably hot month was to film either Sakinu or Pinuyumayon attending an indigenous festival, so I raced around shooting him from as many angles as I could.

Starting from the left: Ah-Bi, Xiao Wai, and Sakinu join the circle and sing.

After a while, Sakinu and the girls stopped to get a cup of tea. I followed them to something that looked like a gazebo next to a teashop. Sakinu introduced me to his older sister, Zule Zule Qapalu, who is chief of his Paiwan village. He had told me in my last visit that the Paiwan are one of the several matriarchal tribes in Taiwan, but he hadn’t said that his older sister was the Chief. But then the Paiwan refer to everyone in their village as brother and sister so I’m not sure if she really is his sister.

I asked her why the Paiwan wore wild lilies if they are a Rukai symbol and what the wild lily symbolized. She said that wild lilies symbolize purity and are worn by women in both the Paiwan and Rukai tribes. However, the Rukai wear the entire flower, while the Paiwan only wear petals. She indicated the white oblong pieces around the edge of her headdress. I hadn’t realized until then that they were wild lily petals, stitched on with red yarn.

Paiwan chief Zule Zule Qapalu speaking with the Paiwan teashop owner.

Detail from Zule Zule Qapalu’s amazing outfit.

The gazebo was at a teashop owned by a villager who also brought us some traditional food. It was called chinavu and looked like a zhong zhe but with couscous. A long-haired cat looked at me plaintively and I fed it the pork at the center of the chinavu. The teashop owner’s little girl said that the cat hadn’t been fed all day and I wondered how she could be so stony about a hungry creature, especially when it looked at you with such sad yellow eyes. I asked the little girl what the cat was named. It sounded like she said the cat’s name is Mo Men Chi Miao, which means something like Weird. The teashop owner told me that the cat is a good mouser.

Chinavu. It’s wrapped in bamboo leaves and at the center are pieces of pork.

How can you say no to this face?

We were also joined in the gazebo by  Sasala Taiban, who is a professor at I-Shou University in Kaohsiung. He said that he studied at a university in Washington state. With his dark skin and round eyes, Sasala definitely did not look one iota Chinese. I looked around the table and thought how beautiful were all the vastly different faces of Taiwan.

Sasala Taiban, a Rukai professor of indigenous studies at I-Shou University in Kaohsiung.

Sakinu moaned that they had made him drink eleven cup of homemade rice wine and he had a headache. Everyone took turns giving him a massage. The light rain turned into a thundershower. The cat curled up next to me and we watched the rain together. Then it was time to go back to the School for Hunters.

Sakinu trying to recover from eleven cups of rice wine.

Sakinu a little perkier with Ah-Bi, one of the group leaders of the School for Hunters.

Everyone passed out in the ride back to the campground except me.

We returned to Chia Ping village later that night for the finale of the festival. The entire village was gathered in the roofed public square, where local musicians performed a mix of traditional and pop music. A man chewing betelnut kept telling me that he would film me and I should go and dance. I kept telling him that I’m from New York and I don’t know the dances. He seemed rather disappointed in me  – and I confess I was jealous that I couldn’t really be part of it. Everyone, down to knee-high three-year olds, seemed to know the moves.

The night ended with a stop at a teensy little night market, where I tried not to worry about sanitary conditions and the sad dogs that rooted through the garbage and looked hopefully at every person. I bought some guava to share and ate some dried tofu. Sakinu bought everyone some beer from the 7-11 down the road and we toasted a great weekend at the School for Hunters.

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