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TAIWAN FUN MAGAZINE,
ENCOUNTERS IN NORTHERN TAIWAN
By Cheryl Robbins Translated
by Sharon Yang
Photos provided by David Greenberg, Rachel Chiou, Malas, Shung
Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines and Taiwan Folk Arts Museum.
thousands of years, Taiwan was the exclusive domain of
the Aborigines. With the arrival of the Chinese 400 hundred
years ago, some of the tribes were gradually assimilated,
resulting in the loss of many traditional customs.
there are 10 recognized aboriginal tribes in Taiwan and,
in recent years, there has been renewed interest in preserving
their arts and culture. In Taipei city and county, there
are plenty of opportunities to explore indigenous culture,
including aboriginal museums and exhibitions, shops, restaurants
Probably the best place to start is at the
Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines (282, ChihShan Rd.,
section 2; tel: 02-2841-2611; hours: 10 am-5 pm Tues-Sun,
closed Mondays; general admission NT$150), located across
the street from the National Palace Museum. Another good venue
is the Taiwan Folk Arts Museum (32, YuYa Rd., tel: 02-2891-2318;
hours: 10 am-7 pm Tues-Fri; 9 am-7 pm Sat-Sun, closed Mondays;
general admission NT$100) in Peitou. Shung Ye is a relatively-new
museum, founded in 1994, but is the first in Taiwan completely
dedicated to the island's Aborigines. Its mission is to preserve
Taiwan's indigenous culture and enhance understanding among
the different ethnic groups.
museum is divided into four floors. In the first-floor
entrance area, interactive computer programs provide basic
information about the Aborigines in Chinese, Japanese
and English. The second floor features miniature and life-size
models of aboriginal dwellings and a village meeting hall.
Also on display are pottery, baskets, hunting tools, weapons
and musical instruments. The third floor includes exhibits
of aboriginal costumes and ornaments, while the basement
area describes the Aborigines' belief systems. There are
also short films in the theater that introduce aboriginal
culture, weaving, pottery and songs and dances. Most of
the exhibits and films are in English and Chinese. There
are also English guided tours that can be booked in advance.
Call the museum for information and reservations.
The complex that now houses the Taiwan Folk
Arts Museum was built in 1921 and served as an officers club
for the Japanese military. When war broke out in the Pacific,
this is where Japanese kamikaze pilots came for "R &
R" (rest and recreation) before carrying out their missions.
In 1984, it became a private museum devoted to the collection
and display of objects related to Taiwanese folk customs and
Taiwanese aborigines. The aboriginal exhibits area features
a variety of clothing and accessories. This area also displays
earthenware pots, pottery figurines, utensils, house posts
and lintels, weapons and baskets, as well as a canoe. All
of the explanations are in English and Chinese. Next to this
museum is a small gift shop selling a wide range of aboriginal
is probably one of the most visited destinations in Taipei
County, thanks to its plethora of hot springs and beautiful
hillside scenery. However, it is also home to the Atayal
tribe. The Atayal tribe is probably best known for its
weaving and embroidery. Traditionally, a woman's social
position and skills were evaluated by the quality and
complexity of her weaving. Since Wulai is now such a popular
destination, much of the aboriginal culture has been diluted,
but there are still a variety of shops and attractions
Wulai is more or less divided into two areas.
The first is Wulai Street which features a variety of small
restaurants serving aboriginal delicacies, such as sticky
rice served in a bamboo pot and venison. One good place to
try traditional Atayal barbecue is at 48, Wulai Street (Tel:
02-2661-6133). There are no seats as everything is sold for
take-out. At meal times, people line up sometimes for nearly
an hour. Fortunately, it is easy to pass the time as the owner
grills meat, such as wild boar, on a stone slab grill using
rice wine as flavoring, while hungry customers and passers-by
look on. An order costs NT$100. For a sampling of other aboriginal
restaurants in Taipei City and Taipei County, see this month's
There are also a number of shops selling mochi, a favorite
aboriginal dessert made from glutinous flour and filled with
red bean, peanuts, taro root or sesame. This area can become
very crowded with tourists on holidays and weekends.
second main area is around the Wulai Waterfall. From Wulai
Street, take the Lan Sheng Bridge. From this bridge, Waterfall
(PuBu) Street veers off to the left. Along this street
are several attractions, including the Wulai Aboriginal
Culture Village (31, PuBu Rd., Wulai Hsiang [township],
Taipei County; tel. 02-2661-6635; 2661-6633). This cultural
center is owned and operated by local Atayal residents
and features aboriginal handicrafts and dance performances.
At the Chiou Chang (Chieftain) Cultural Village gift shop
(5, PuBu Rd., Wulai Hsiang, Taipei County; tel. 02-2661-6551;
2661-7725), it is possible to watch a staff member weaving
complex patterns on a manual loom.
In February and March, the trees along Waterfall
Road and Huan Shan Road (off of Waterfall Road) are adorned
with cherry blossoms. For the Atayal tribe, this is the start
of the millet-planting season and ceremony. Those responsible
for leading the ceremony and their family members visit their
fields before dawn. They spread millet seed while facing the
rising sun and cover them with soil. Food offerings are buried
near where the seeds are planted. Also, during the cherry
blossom season, the Taipei County government holds a month-long
festival with aboriginal music and dance performances, weaving
classes and aboriginal cooking classes. For dates and information,
contact the Taipei County Bureau of Aboriginal Affairs at
great aboriginal handicrafts shopping destination is Malas
(83, GungMing [KungMing] St., 1F, Danshui Town, Taipei
County), located just a stone's throw from the Danshui
MRT Station. Owned by Nabu, a member of the Bunun tribe
and managed by Kacaw, a member of the Amis tribe, this
store sells items produced by aboriginal craftspeople.
Malas has its own design department to develop items that
preserve aboriginal motifs and meaning but, at the same
time, are modern enough to be accepted by the general
public. These new ideas are then sent to workshops in
aboriginal villages to be produced. The finished products
are then returned to Malas, where they are retailed in
its store, and offered wholesale to outlets islandwide.
According to Nabu, the purpose of Malas is
to bring aboriginal culture to the masses and to allow aboriginal
artists to earn money while remaining in their villages. Most
popular are smaller items such as bracelets and earrings.
However, there are a number of embroidered bags, the now-very-popular
bandana caps, clothing, statues, dolls and wall hangings.
There is also a selection of books (mostly in Chinese), as
well as aboriginal music CDs, some of them self-produced by
Malas. If people would like to know more about aboriginal
culture, the store¡¦s staff is more than willing
to answer questions.
city and Taipei county offer a variety a ways to learn
about the island's indigenous peoples and their cultures,
making northern Taiwan a great place to enjoy aboriginal
museums, restaurants, stores and festivals.
Special thanks to the Wulai Hsiang government office for
information on Wulai and to the National Museum of Natural
Science for help with cover photography.