The Truku (Taroko) people value their weaving and face tattooing culture, believe in ancestral spirits, and follow gaya, the ancestral rules. The ceremony of ancestral spirits is very important to them. Currently, the Truku people are mainly settled in Xiulin, Wanrong, and Zhuoxi townships in Hualien County, and in Qingfeng, Nanhua, and Fuxing villages in Jian Township. The present Truku population has about 32,333 people (as of January 2020). In 2004, it was officially recognized as one of the Taiwanese indigenous peoples called the Truku people.
It is said that the Truku (Taroko) ancestors arrived in southwestern Taiwan in boats (rowcing, literally driftwood, meaning boat) from South Asia in the prehistorical period. After landing onshore, they settled in the plain area around Taichung to Tainan. Defeated by plain indigenous peoples in a conflict, the Truku people were forced to migrate to the mountain areas in central Taiwan, first from a place called Ayran in the west of Puli and gradually moved toward the mountain areas in the east. Through generations, they have migrated to 17 places. Eventually, they arrived at what is today’s Hezuo Village in Renai Township, Nantou County. The Truku people called this place Deluwan (Trukuo Truwan). It is a platform formed by three river valleys: Ayug Lqsan, Ayug Busi, and Ayug Brayaw. At Trukuo Truwan, the Truku people gradually developed their “collective historical memories” and “communal life experiences”.
Deluwan (Trukuo Truwan) is located in what is today’s Hezuo Village in Renai Township, Nantou County, covering three river valleys, known as Tru Ruku (three living places) in the Truku language. After combining the two “ru” sounds, it became the sound “Truku”. After settling in Truwan for a while, some Truku people moved to the platforms around Chunyang Hot Spring in Jingying Village, Renai Township, Nantou County, as the population grew and the farmland and hunting sites were limited. This group of people called themselves Tgdaya (from the upper area Truku Truwan). Another group moved to what is today’s “Pingjing (alang toda) Village” in Jingying Village, Renai Township, Nantou County. This group of Truku people called themselves “Toda” (meaning passing by or the only way). After moving from Truwan to Tgdaya and Toda, Truku people eventually turned into three group identities: Truku, Tgdaya, and Toda. As Truwan is the root, Truku is the common identity of all three subgroups.
During the 17th to the 18th century, the Truku (Taroko) people penetrated Qilai Mountain, Nenggao Mountain, and Hehuan Mountain in the Central Mountain Range to Hualien in eastern Taiwan to build their new homeland. Due to the domination of the Taroko people in eastern Taiwan, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the Dutch people, Japanese people, and the Republic of China (Taiwan) government called the place and the people Daruko or Truku. Under the Kanji influence, the name is Romanized as “Taroko (Truku)”. After the eastern expansion, the Truku people formed villages on the banks of the Liwu River and Truku River in Hualien. In the late 19th century, the Truku people began to move toward the midstream and downstream of the Liwu River to reach the Heping River drainage valley in the north and the Sanjan River, Mugua River, and Qingshui River drainage valleys in the south.
During Japanese colonization, the territory of the Truku people was determined as government land, limiting their space and freedom of living and leading to various resistance incidents, such as the “Xincheng Incident” in 1896, the “Weili Incident” in 1906, and the “Truku Incident” in 1914. After the Truku Incident, all groups of Truku people were controlled by the Japanese military. Those living deep in the mountains were forced to migrate to the mountain foot and distributed into different villages to decentralize their cohesion.
The Truku (Taroko) people practiced slash-and-burn agriculture, with major crops including foxtail millet, corn, and sweet potatoes. In addition to agriculture, other economic activities include fishing and hunting.
To the Truku people, foxtail millet, corn, and sweet potatoes from farming are the staple foods, while the food from fishing and hunting is the non-staple food.
The Truku people prefer white clothes with a variety of diamond patterns. The diamond pattern represents the eye of the ancestral spirit, symbolizing protection. The over sleeves and shell clothes are the characteristics of Truku clothing. The over sleeve embroidered with diamond patterns is worn to protect the hands at work, and the shell clothes and shell skirts are decorated with cylindrical shell ornaments. Shell clothes are the formal clothes of the chief, clan chief, or warrior.
4. Tminun (Weaving)
The Truku people make clothes from linen. After spinning and bleaching, the Truku people weave the flax into cloth of different colors, mainly green, red, yellow, black, and white, to make clothes, accessories, and bedding. In the Truku language, weaving is “tminun”, it’s a major work for women in the village. Weaving tools include the loom, clippers, spinning machine, reel, yarning machine, and warping machine. Weaving begins after flax collection, spinning, bleaching, and warping. As it takes quite a while to weave a piece of cloth, most families weave relentlessly. Weaving is very important to women. They must acquire weaving skills before they can have a facial tattoo, get married, pass the rainbow bridge challenge, and reach the homeland of the ancestral spirit. In addition to techniques in making clothes, weaving means maturity and ready for marriage to women, as well being recognized by the community. To Truku women, weaving is an important technique.
5. Patasan (Facial Tattoo)
The Patasan (facial tattoo) plays an important role in traditional culture and is the most characteristic body ornamentation. Truku boys and girls can tattoo their faces at age 14 or 15. Girls must pass the elder’s recognition of their weaving techniques before they can tattoo their faces. The Truku people’s face tattooing tradition was banned during Japanese colonization, and the tradition has since been disrupted.
The Truku people and Sediq people are culturally homogenous. 300-400 years after the eastward migration, each group gradually developed its own style of family houses, including the sunken wooden house in Nantou indigenous townships and the bamboo-walled house in the present locations in Hualien. The Truku sunken-bottom wooden family house is characterized by the horizontally-stacked log walls and the slate roof.
◎ The sunken-bottom house is built primarily with wood. After excavating the ground, Truku people build the walls by stacking logs horizontally and finished off with a slate roof on top.
◎ The bamboo-walled house is built primarily with bamboo from the ground up, with a thatch roof.
◎ The xylophone (tatuk) is a unique Truku musical instrument made from the ailanthus-like prickly ash (Zanthoxylum ailanthoides, sangas in Truku language), sumac (Rhus chinensis, prihut in Truku language), Taiwan cypress (Chamaecyparis formosensis, qulit/byugu/plux in Truku language), tung tree (Vernicia fordii, bruqil in Truku language), and maple (Acer, dgarung in Truku language). Sumac makes the crispest sound and the Tung tree makes the solidest sound. Before making the instrument, wood must be dried in the shade for a long time to ensure no deformation. Truku people play the xylophone to call friends and relatives “to the table” or as the accompaniment to singing and dancing. Men play the instrument by sitting on the ground; while women play it kneel down. Percussionists can play the instrument with a single hand or both hands. The instrument is tuned upon a four-note (Re, Mi, Sol, La) scale: D (Re, 5.5cm round block), E (Mi, 6.5cm round block), G (Sol, 5.2 cm round block), and A (La, 4.8cm round block) from the first to the fourth blocks.
◎ The Jew’s harp is a lamellaphone made with a Makino bamboo slice hollowed in the middle where a metal reed is embedded in the hollow, or a Makino bamboo slice is incompletely hollowed in the middle, leaving a thinned sheet of bamboo as the reed. A fine string is attached on both ends of the Makino bamboo slice. When playing the instrument, the player grips the string on the left-hand side to secure the instrument and puts the instrument in front of the lips, using the mouth and the cheeks as the sound-box. Then, the player pulls the reed with the right hand to make resonance. In Truku culture, the Jew’s harp is used to express emotions and love.
Traditionally, a village (galang/alang) refers to a group of people living in the same area; sharing rituals, hunting, and responsibility/redemption together; and maintaining common survival and property. In short, it refers to a family group living in a specific territory, covering the living environment, slash-and-burn agriculture area, and hunting area. Although the term galang/alang has different implications, such as “community”, “village”, “settlement”, and “village, in different times, it always refers to the minimal unit forming a Truku society. Traditionally, a community erects stones as the boundary to indicate the territory. When a community relocates due to population growth, they will find other space near the hunting ground or the territory to form other communities. As a result, the structure is a big tribe with small villages formed by families. Such a distributed society formed by a lineal organization is the main characteristic of a traditional Truku community.
Originally, the term galang/alang implied an organization formed by consanguinity or by affinity, including the sharing of offerings, hunting, and responsibility/redemption. Due to environmental adaptation and contacts with other ethnic groups after migration, and the management policy of rulers in different times, the nature and organization of villages have changed gradually. To facilitate ruling and management, the Japanese colonial government adopted the “family dispersion and group migration” policy to disintegrate a village by mixing a community of different families. As a result, the traditional tribal concept of the Truku people eventually collapsed. This policy has also impacted the politics, economy, society, religion, value, and operation of the traditional community. In addition, the ethnicity concept eventually declined due to the ethnic heterogeneity among families in a village, bringing forward a new group identity. After restoration of Taiwan, Truku (Taroko) has become the ethnic identity of the group. Nowadays, increasingly more Truku people leave their hometown, and the implication of the term galang/alang has evolved from lineal and territorial connections into “township”, “town”, and “county”, i.e. the administrative district.
The bukun (chief) is the leader of a Truku tribe. He is the smartest and most righteous person elected by members of the community to represent the community in foreign affairs, including connections and negotiations and to settle or adjudicate internal disputes to maintain tribal harmony, such as Chief Holok-Naowi of the Hehesi (Xoxos) village. As he was smart and brave, generous and righteous, articulate and helpful, he was elected as the chief in the late 19th century (late Qing dynasty) and earned respect from people for settling disputes among villages. Later, he became the joint chief of the Skadang region and the grand chief of 40 villages in the outer Truku area. When the Japanese troops occupied Hualien during Japanese colonization, Holok-Naowi joined this Han friend Li, A-Long to resist the Japanese troops to defend self-determination over the tribal territory. With the assistance of chiefs Wadan-Awei and Bisha'ao-Bawan, Naowi resisted the Japanese troops for 18 years. The resistance ended after the Truku Incident in 1914.
4. Gaya (Ritual Group)
In the Truku language, gaya means daily life norms passed down from ancestors. These norms have become the code of conduct and code of ethics of the Truku people. A gaya group is mainly formed by one or two close relative groups and other distant relative groups and in-law groups. Members of a gaya group farm, hold rituals, and follow taboos together, suggesting a relative, economic, religious, and regional functional group. The Truku people believe that they will be punished by their ancestors for violating gaya. If a member breaks gaya, he/she will be requested to make blood redemption by sacrificing pigs, chickens, or ducks based on the severity of offence of the taboos. This tradition is still practiced by Truku people today.
Based on the utuxrudan (ancestral spirit) belief, the Truku (Taroko) people have developed a unique folk religion, whereby disasters, illness, societal wellbeing, blessings, paranormal phenomena, and occurrences of unknown origins are either explained or resolved. In daily life, the Truku people believe that the family ancestral spirit is the drive for observing the norm of life (gaya), which implies the cleansing of the unclean and rebuilding of order. From the everyday societal rituals, involving ppangan (removal), peeru (sensing), sedal (adhesion), and qdheriq (separation), it is not difficult to understand the interaction and complementary nature between people and ancestral spirits.
According to the oral description of tribal seniors, ancestral spirits live the same as humankind, the only difference is ancestral spirits and people live in two different worlds in parallel, forming a complementary relationship. By offering sacrifices, people comfort ancestral spirits, express their wishes, and pray for accomplishment. Due to the faith and sincerity of descendants, ancestral spirits do not disturb people anymore but bless them with spiritual power. This kind of human-spirit relationship is still seen in the modern hunting sacrifice ritual, when people sacrifice the pigs or chickens they raise to the ancestral spirit to express people’s diligent nature (domesticated pigs—men’s power), praying to catch wild boars in the assistance of spiritual power; and by catching the wild boar (wild boar—spiritual power), it is a proof of the blessing of the ancestral spirits.
Today, although many Truku people go to church, follow the doctrines of Christianity, and “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy”, they still believe in the existence of ancestral spirits. During weddings, funerals, and celebrations, masuw (pig sharing) and sacrifices for qnselan (ancestral spirits) are still important rituals to the Truku people. The Mgay Bari (Ancestral Spirit Ritual) is held after the millet harvest, and the exact date is determined by the chief or elders through discussion. Offerings of the ritual include wine, glutinous rice, crop, fruit, and fish. During the ritual, people tie offerings on bamboo, and elders call the ancestral spirits to enjoy the offerings. After the ritual, offerings are shared by people. When leaving the ritual place, people leave the food waste there and cross over a fire to symbolize separation from the ancestral spirits. On the way home, they do not look back.