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Agricultural rituals are important to the Hla’alua people, and the Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is a ritual worshipping the Shell God derived from agricultural rituals. The Shell God is also the major totem of the Hla’alua people. Currently, the Hla’alua population has about 413people (as of January 2020).

Geographic Distribution

The Hla’alua people are formed by the Paiciana, Vilanganʉ, Talicia, and Hlihlara communities. They mainly settle in Gaozhong Village and Taoyuan Village in Taoyuan District and Maya Village in Namaxia District, Kaohsiung City. They call themselves “Hla’alua,” but the meaning of this term is unknown.

It is said that Hla’alua ancestors originally lived in Hlasʉnga in the east with the dwarves. The kavurua (dwarves) reckoned that the “Takiarʉ” (Sacred Shell) is where “Taizu” (Shell God) resides. Every year, they held a grand ritual to pray for peace, good harvest, good catch, and community prosperity. When the Hla’alua people left the place of origin, the short people gave them an urn of Takiaru (Sacred Shells). The Hla’alua people also held the “Miatungusu” (Sacred Shell Ritual) like that of the short people. “Marinating Sacred Shells in wine” was the most important part of the ritual. In this process, the Hla’alua people marinated Sacred Shells in wine and watched the change of colors. If they turned red, this meant the Taizu was dead drunk, suggesting the ritual was a success.

According to the records in the Chronicles of Taiwan, the Hla’alua people were called Neiyou Community or Meilong Community. In the late Qing Dynasty, the Han people called them “Dingsishe” (Top Four Communities). The Japanese adopted this term and called them “Shangsishe” (Upper Four Communities). Thereafter, the Hla’alua people were also collectively called the Four-Community or the Upper Four-Community. These four communities include:

1. Paiciana: The village is located on the table land at the mountain foot in the north of the drainage basin of the Laonong River and Putou River. Today, it is a school site. Village people mainly lived in three settlements: Village I, Village II, and Caoshui Checkpoint.

2. Vilanganʉ: The village is located on the table land across from the estuary of the Taluoliu River on the east bank of the Laonong River. Village people mainly distributed in the spacious drainage basin between the Laonong River and the Baolai River. In modern times, some village people migrated to Maya Village in Namaxia.

3. Tararahluvu (or Talicia): The village is located at the mountain top on the north bank of the Taluoliu River. As transportation is inconvenient, all villagepeople migrated to the Paiciana Village.

4. Hlihlala: The village is located in the river terrace on the west bank of the Laonong River. Kalʉvʉnga is its village name, called Hlihlala. During Japanese colonization, village people lived scatteredly on farmlands on the west bank of the Laonong River. Later on, they returned and lived in the original location and where the district office was.


1. Craft

The Hla’alua people are good at hunting and tanning and have developed leather crafts and leather products, with leather clothes and leather headgear as standard men’s clothing. Men’s formal dress includes red long-sleeved upper garments and chest coverings, black short skirts, and the goatskin headgear. Women braid their hair with headscarves and wear the cock’s feather as headwear. They wear black skirts with a long-sleeved blue or white upper garment with cross-stitch embroidered patterns as the front ornament. Other crafts are mostly for practical use, such as tools for daily life, hunting, rituals, and children’s toys.

Traditional men’s clothing includes shirts, headgear, and trousers made of the goat or muntjac leather. The Hla’alua people embed shells on the front of the leather headgear and sew five feathers on the side: two eagle feathers on each side and a white tail feather of the Mikado pheasant in the middle. Today, they have red fabric upper garments with five tri-color stripes on the back: yellow, green, white, green, and yellow from left to right, symbolizing familial and ethnic commitments.

Women braid their hair with traditional headscarves and wear the cock’s feather as headwear. They wear black skirts with long-sleeved upper garments, blue or white depending on the tribal origin. Women of the Hlihlala Community in Taoyuan Village usually wear blue upper garments, and women of the Paiciana, Talicia, and Vilanganʉ communities in Gaozhong Village often wear white upper garments. It is said that they make headwear with the cock’s feather and wear it to commemorate the cock helping the ethnic group to negotiate with the sun, according to the legend.

◎ Daily Life Implements The Hla’alua people make daily life tools with various materials in nature, such as rattan, bamboo, shell-flower leaves, flaxen/ramie fibers, and scooped trees. For example, they make back baskets and back racks with rattan; sieves with bamboo; mats with shell-flower leaves; cages with bamboo or rattan; bags and fishing nets with flaxen/ramie fiber; tanks, mortars, steamers, millet containers, feeds containers, sheaths, spoons, or farming tools from scooped trees. In addition, they make hunting tools and alarms, such as bows, arrows, traps, and signalers with bamboo and shaved wood.

◎ Children’s Toys Hla’alua children’s toys include spinning tops, swings, bamboo spears, small bows, and bamboo cannons.

◎ Musical Instruments Hla’alua musical instruments include the jew’s harp and bow harp.

2. Legends

◎Front Door and Rear Door Gods

In prehistoric times, the Hla’alua people had two main doors: the front door and the rear door. The front door called ararai is located at the cliff at 500m below the checkpoint in Gaozhong Village, Taoyuan District. The rear door called curuvaka sits on the sharp stone across from Qinhe Village, Taoyuan District. Each door is guarded by a Door God: Avisavulangahla at the front door and Hlipurimacu at the rear door. Both Gods have equally strong magic. Front Door God Avisavulangahla takes good care of people and stops enemies from invading the village.

One day when enemies launched a sneak attack to exterminate the tribe with knives and spears, Avisavulangahla used magic to confuse the enemies, lead them to the front door, and disarm them (putting their weapons on the door). All enemies were frightened and shaking, taking to their heels. Although they tried to figure out why they failed after returning to their village, they could not find a clue. Unwilling to let it go, the enemies launched a second attack with more people. When they arrived at the front door, the same thing happened again, and the situation was even worse. In addition to disarming themselves at the front door, they entered the Hla’alua village with bare hands, and all were captured. From then on, enemies were frightened and dared not invade the Hla’alua village again. This is the magical power of Front Door God Avisavulangahla to control the enemies and protect people.

Although Rear Door God Hlipurimacu is also strong, the Hla’alua people don’t like him much, because he likes to tease people. One day, Hlipurimacu kept complaining to himself and negotiated with Front Door God Avisavulangahla, “Why should I always watch the rear door? It’s not fair!” Avisavulangahla replied, “Fine, let’s try catching stones. If you can catch the stone from me, you can get the front door.” Hlipurimacu agreed, and both were ready for the match. Avisavulangahla was at the mountain top, while Hlipurimacu was at the mountain foot. Then, Avisavulangahla shouted, “Stone’s coming down! Catch it.” Hlipurimacu did catch the stone and even threw it upward to Avisavulangahla. Surprised by Hlipurimacu’s skill, Avisavulangahla heated the stone with magic and wrapped it inside a rock before throwing it down to Hlipurimacu. Avisavulangahla shouted again, “Stone’s coming down! Catch it.” When catching the stone again, Hlipurimacu was burned to death.

This legend continues even to this day! No one knows how hot the stone was, Hlipurimacu’s body was printed on the rock. About 70 years ago (the 1950s), the prints of a person and his hands and chest were still seen on the rock. Although the rock also stands there on the platform at the rear door on Southern Cross-Island Highway (Provincial Highway No. 20), the prints have been blurred by long-time weathering. The Hla’alua people still wanted to make the rock a Hla’alua monument, as it is the only surviving ethnic monument, whether or not the prints are still there. Thanks to the testimonies, claiming that they have seen them about 70 years ago, of elders including Yu Chung-Ching, Liao Shui-Sheng, Yu Chin-Tu, Yu Kuei-Yeh and Yu Mei-Nu to prove the existence of the those prints of a person and his hands, and chest, people still believe in the legend today.

◎ The sun-shooting story: The origin of rahli (the chief)

A long, long time ago, an orphaned girl went to the river to do the laundry, and a piece of damaged driftwood in the river kept floating across, getting in her way. After picking it up and throwing it away, she hurried to finish the laundry. Then, the driftwood came again, and the girl picked it up and threw it away. Again and again, she was annoyed. Finally, she picked it up impatiently and put it in her groin, and continued to wash clothes. When she wanted to threw it away after the laundry, the driftwood had disappeared. Then, she went home. A few months later, she found that she was pregnant. Other villagers laughed at her, “How can you get pregnant without getting married?” Feeling embarrassed to be seen, she locked herself up in the house, planning to take good care of the baby in her. Time flew by, and she gave birth to a boy later. He was a big and handsome boy. She named him Hla’ungali and raised him alone. Strangely, the boy grew as fast as the wind and was big enough to play with other boys in the village overnight. Envying the toys of other children, Hla’ungali told his mother about that. No matter how difficult it was, the girl (mother) would get anything that Hla’ungali wanted.

Eventually, Hla’ungali grew up. He was strong and handsome, and began to go hunting with adults. He was a good archer, and only he could catch animals every time. As time went by, adults began to become jealous of him, because only he could catch animals. When he went hunting with the adults as usual one day, the adults deliberately sent him to fetch water. He didn’t refuse this arrangement. Besides, as he was strong, he just did what he was told. In the meantime, the adults opened his bag to see what gear he used to catch animals easily. As they found nothing but a piece of bone, they just threw it away. When he carried water back and found that the adults had searched his bag, he felt very sad and told his mother. The girl (mother) comforted him and said, “It’s all right. Let them take it. They don’t know how to use it.” From that time on, Hla’ungali went hunting alone.

In that time, there were two suns, and it was very hot. As no plant could grow in such hot weather, people could only hunt. Hla’ungali was puzzled, reckoning that he should do something to end this so plants could grow. He wanted to shoot the sun, so he asked his mother to braided a rope for him. “Mother, please braid two piles of ropes for me.” Surprised by his words, “What do you want to do with so many ropes?” asked his mother. “What should we do? No plants can grow in such a hot weather, then what food do we have?” He told her that he wanted to shoot the sun down.

The girl (mother) was happy to hear that and encouraged Hla’ungali to do it. So Hla’ungali found a partner to prepare things for shooting the sun. He put a spear in front of his home and tied one end of the rope to the spear. Then, he told his mother, “We are going out to shoot the sun now, take good care of yourself. If the rope is pulled once after we shoot the sun, this means one of us has survived. If the rope is pulled twice, both of us have survived.” Then, Hla’ungali left with his partner.

They spent a lot of time to get to the place where the sun rose. There, they hid themselves immediately. Hla’ungali told his partner, “When I shoot the sun, hide yourself and don’t look.” Then, he hurried to the ambush position and waited for the sun there. When the sun rose, Hla’ungali shot right at the rising sun and immediately hid himself under the rock. In the meantime, the sun shed its blood over Hla’ungali’s partner who stuck his head out to see what had happened. The partner then fell in the pond and died. Then, the whole world was dimmed. Hla’ungali held tightly onto the rope they brought with them and pulled once. Getting the message of pulling the rope once, the girl (mother) felt very sad, wondering who would come home. With a heart full of sadness, she waited.

As the world turned dim, people cut and burned all the wood, including mortars and pestles, to get some light. What’s next? All the people gathered around, looking for a solution. Even all the animals joined them. All of them decided to make offerings, except the earthworm and the fish, who said, “We don’t need to make offerings, because we live in the water and the ground.” All were angry and said, “Never mind. If you get leave the water or the ground, you will die.” True, both the earthworm and the fish die when they come to the ground.

Every day people made offerings, sang, and danced to attract another sun to come out. For a long time, the other sun dared not coming out. A long time after that, it stuck its head out to see the environment and hid again.

When the people were worried, the cock found a method. It visited and discussed with the sun at the mountain where the run rose. As the sun was frightened to come out, the cock said, “If you are afraid, I will cry thrice tomorrow morning. If I cry for the first time, don’t come out. If I cry again, don’t come out either. Until I cry thrice, then you can come out.” The cock also guaranteed, “I will watch your back.” The sun agreed with the deal, and the cock left. Then, the cock hurried back to the village to find a very strong person to escort it to the place where the sun rose. The cock took this strong person to find a bear skin and tiger skin. After finding them, they prepared everything and went to the mountain where the sun rose. The cock told the strong person, “When the sun comes out after I cry thrice, you put on the tiger skin immediately and block the road where the sun comes out from quickly.” When the cock cried for the first time, it was still dark. When the cock cried again, the strong person got in position. When the cock cried for the third time, the sun really came out from the mountain. Quickly the strong person blocked its way, and the sun kept running down the hill. On the following day, the sun came out from there and ran down the hill again. From then on, the sun rose and set as it did before, and people began to farm again and regained a happy life until now. This is the end of the shooting sun story. When

Hla’ungali returned home, his mother was old. After knowing of Hla’ungali’s return, everyone in the village was very happy, gathered at his house, and elected him the Chief. This is the origin of the Chief of Hla’alua people.

3. Architecture

The Hla’ungali people were a settlement-based community. As many people were killed in an epidemic, they began to live on a separate basis, i.e. one or two households in one spot, to prevent massive death. Today, they live scattered over an area, known as the pararana style. Major building types include the family house and assembly hall.

◎Assembly Hall Built primarily with wood, the assembly hall has a domed roof. It is a stilt building about 1.3m above ground (from the bed’s surface) and about 6m wide. The bed is woven with linen ropes of about 6cm in diameter. There is only one stairway at the entrance. A stove at the center has a wooden bottom for containing ash for burning. The roof covered with thatch has vahlituru on two corners. Bamboo rods for hanging human heads or hair are installed on the four columns in the building.

◎Family House Traditionally, the family house is a rectangular building without interior partitions. The family house has a gable roof covered with thatch, with lower sides of about 2-3 feet tall. As the corners are round, the roof looks like a cone from the facade. The columns and beams are made of hard wood, such as the smoke tree, Taiwan zelkova, camphor tree, bishop wood, Taiwan incense-cedar, and camphor wood. Walls are made of vertically arrayed thatch stalks woven with fine flax. The left-hand side of the entrance is for men, while the right-hand side entrance is for women. There is a third door leading to the barn. Inside the house there are the stove, the bed, and the grave.


1. Political Activities

Politically, the community is a polity called miararuma in the Hla’alua language, and it is also the basic unit of rituals. The Chief is the political head called kapitanʉ or rahli. The chieftainship is inherited by the first son, who is attended to and mentored by the elders in the clan until he is capable of leading the community. The kapitanʉ’s power is to manage community affairs, adjudicate disputes among tribespersons, and give commands to punish tribespersons. However, the Chief’s power is not absolute. Most affairs must be approved by the elder’s council called makarikari. Militarily, the maliialualu is the highest command selected by the elder’s council from among great warriors. Religiously, the tribal priest ʉlʉvʉ is the religious leader selected from among the elders.

2. Economic Activities

Agriculture, mainly slash-and-burn agriculture, is the major industry of the Hla’alua people. They also engage in collection, fishing, hunting, and animal husbandry. The unique shared farming system called kiakucua has two implications. First, owners of adjacent fields farm the common area together to prevent disputes. Second, from the result of service marriage, shared farming is practiced at the groom’s field designated by the bride. These ways of land use have formed the Hla’alua agricultural tradition. Land is inherited by men. If a family has no man for inheritance, the clan will take over the property for farming by families with excessive labor.

3. Tradition and Clan Organization

◎ A family is the basic social unit called ucani pihlingi. Siblings can form their own families only after parents pass away. The family house is salia. It has thatch stalks and a thatch roof. Monogamy featuring patrilocality was strictly practiced in Hla’alua society, while polygamy or matrilocality was rarely practiced. Influenced by the migration of the Bunun and plains indigenous peoples, however, polygamy or matrilocality has increased (Liu, Pin-Hsiung, 1969:85). In addition to the agreement of the bride and groom, a marriage must be approved by the parents of both parties, who also host the wedding. Widows can marry again. However, the wedding must be hosted by the parents of the late husband. Sometimes, a widow may marry the younger brother of the late husband. Matrimony consists of three parts: discussion, engagement, and wedding.

◎ Clan (household)

Hla’alua society practicing endogamy is formed by patrilineal clans called lamaisa or hlipakuamia, with people of the same ancestors. In the 1950 survey, there were 24 Hla’alua clans. In the 1963 survey, only 20 Hla’alua clans of the entire ethnic group survived. During Japanese colonization, clan names were used as family names. Today, only 18 Hla’alua clans survive, including Salapuana, Hlauracana, Tavavulana, Savangʉana, Hlauvuhlana, Tavuiiana, Tumamalikisasʉ, Hlaiputana, Hlapa’ahlica, Iiangʉana, Piana, Tumahlahlasʉnga, Mu’uana, Hlalanguana, Hlatiurana, Hlakuluhlana, Kakuana, and Na’ʉvʉana.


The traditional deity belief of the Hla’alua people includes supernatural beings such as the life spirit, object spirit, and deities. According to past studies, the most important Hla’alua rituals are: Annual Rituals (Millet Farming Rituals and Rice Rituals), Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual), and Enemy Head Ritual. The Hla’alua people has one ritual that is quite different from the rituals of other ethnic groups: The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is held every two or three years. As Hla’alua people reckon that the holy shell is where the primogenitor lives, they hold the ritual to pray for peace, good harvest, and community prosperity, and to worship the spirit of the primogenitor.

Important Hla’alua rituals generally include: the Farming Ritual, Crop Rituals, Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual), and the Enemy Decapitation Ritual. These rituals are described as follows:

1. Farming Ritual

Farming is the important economic activity of the Hla’alua people. Upland rice and millet are the major crops. Traditionally, the Hla’alua people have a calendar based on crop growth. A year begins with millet plantation and ends with upland rice harvest. This set of complete and rigorous rituals are closely related to agricultural activities. Therefore, Agricultural Rituals include the Millet Farming Rituals and Rice Rituals. The millet farming rituals are held to pray for a good millet harvest. They include the Lumalʉmʉkʉ (Sowing Ritual) held before sowing, Maitatahlamʉ (Pre-Harvest Ritual), Maavavarua (Tasting Ritual), the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual), and the Apikaungu (Ancestral Spirit Tasting Ritual) held on the day after the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual). The Rice Rituals are held to pray for the good harvest of upland rice. Upland rice was introduced to Hla’alua people by the Plains Indigenous peoples. As a result of cultural adoption, upland rice growing has gradually become part of the Hla’alua daily life. The Rice Rituals are similar to that of the Millet Rituals, except for the Apikaungu (Ancestral Spirit Tasting Ritual) held on the day after the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual).

2. Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual)

The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is a major ritual held every two or three years after crop harvest (rice and millet). Worshiping the Takiarʉ (Shell, Shell God) is part of the ritual. It is said that it is a unique ritual of the Vilanganʉ Community. Aafter Japanese colonization, only one takiarʉ was held in 1951. Although the ritual was restored sin 1993, it has been changed. The ritual master must come from a family with ritual hosting history. The ritual is hosted by the Chief himself or his family member.

The Chief (Rahli) decides on the date of the family ritual in advance. Then, he will inform his subordinates to notify all people in the tribe. The “marination of the Holy Shell in wine” is the most important part of the ritual. In this process, the Hla’alua people marinate the Holy Shell in wine and watch its color change. If it turns red, this means the primogenitor is dead drunk, suggesting the ritual is a success. It is said that Hla’alua ancestors originally lived in Hlasʉnga in the east with the short people (kavurua), and the takiarʉ (shell) is the treasure of these short people. One day when the Hla’alua ancestors wanted to leave Hlasʉnga, the short people were very sad. So, they gave the Hla’alua ancestors the shell (takiarʉ) as a souvenir. They also reminded the Hla’alua people to worship these shells as their God. From then on, takiarʉ has become the God of the Hla’alua people and their totem.

According to An Investigation of the Aborigines in Taiwan and the oral history of seniors, ritual masters keep some takiarʉ from ancient times. There are white/brown, black, and pink colors, each about 5cm. Each village keeps a different quantity of shells: the Hlihlala Village has six, the Paiciana Village has 18, and the Vilanganʉ has 17-18 (sometimes 20).

3. Enemy Decapitatoin Ritual

The record of the enemy decapitation ritual is only found information written by Wei, Hui-Lin (1965). However, no one can clearly describe the process of head hunting and the ritual process, and there is no such information found in other documents. In general, it is a hearsay ritual.

4. Legend of Rituals

The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is a biggest ritual held every two to three years. It is a six-day ceremony held by each village. In the past, it was held annually. As the ritual requires many resources, the Hla’alua people have changed it to biennially or triennially. It was only held by the Vilanganʉ Village. Today, there villages: Hlihlara, Paiciana, and Vilanganʉ villages hold this grand ritual together.

Currently, there are 12 Takiarʉs, and each has a name, they are: (1) Pavaasu (Takiarʉ of Bravery) who can turn people into warriors; (2) Paumala Papa'a (Takiarʉ of Hunting) who can help people catch animals; (3) Pamahlatʉra (Takiarʉ of Health) who can keep people healthy; (4) Paumala Aanʉ (Takiarʉ of Food) who can bring people lots of food; (5) Hlalangʉ 'Ihlicu (Takiarʉ of Exorcism) who can keep evil spirits away from people; (6) Patama'iiarʉ (Takiarʉ of Diligence) who can keep people working diligently; (7) Pamavahlaʉvaʉ (Takiarʉ of Peace) who can keep people safe in everything; (8) Kupamasavaʉ (Takiarʉ of Sloth Exorcism) who can drive sloth away; (9) Paumala Ngahla (Takiarʉ of Optimum) who can bring people success; (10) Pamaiatuhluhlu (Takiarʉ of Protection) who can help people eliminate dangers; (11) Papacʉcʉpʉngʉ (Takiarʉ of Intelligence) who can make people intelligent; and (12) Sipakinivaratʉhlausahlʉ (Takiarʉ of Wind and Rainfall) who can bring favorable weather and keep disasters away.

As the most important ritual among all Hla’alua rituals, the Takiarʉ Ritual is held biennially from January 1 to 15. The Takiarʉ is usually kept by Rahli (the Chief) in a jar (urn) buried in the backyard. It is magical that even the Takiarʉ is sealed in the jar buried in the ground, it is not seen until the ritual.

It is said that the Takiarʉ has returned to Hlasʉnga. About ten days before the Takiarʉ Ritual, Rahli (the Chief) will check if the Takiarʉ has returned. It is magical that the Takiarʉ comes back every time. One night before the ritual, Rahli (the Chief) will put the Takiarʉ in a secure cave in the middle of the holy fire at the ritual venue and cover the cave with a piece of slate. Then, he will ask men to protect the place and keep women and animals from approaching or crossing. When the cock makes the first cry in the morning, Rahli (the Chief) will ask all men to the assembly hall to start the first procedure: Makuakuaihlicu (welcoming the God).

When the second procedure—Malalalangʉ (First Worship) begins, a ritual assistant will open the jar (urn), the ritual master (Rahli (the Chief)) will cut the animal meat, then the ritual assistant will pass the wine to all men in the ritual to drink. After receiving the cup, each will dip a finger in the wine, scatter the wine to the left- and right-hand sides, and shout “tamu’u” (tribute to the deity) before drinking the wine. Then, the Chief will pass a piece of meat for each of them to eat to finish the first worship. After the first worship, the Chief will ask all men to go to the ritual venue to welcome the Takiarʉ, while the ritual assistant will invite the Chief to host the ritual. The ritual begins with the wine offering. The Chief worships the Takiarʉ with wine to pray for good harvest and good catch in the next year. The Fire Ritual comes next to signifies the passing of fire-making skills to the next generation. After the offerings, the Chief will lead men and women to sing and dance at the ritual venue until everyone gets exhausted. In the past, the Hla’alua continued drinking and dancing for one week after the rituals. The feast ended slowly until all the wine and meat in the village were consumed.

Ritual Taboos

 On the day of the ritual, all animals must be locked and tied up properly to prevent them from entering the ritual venue.

 Children are not allowed to enter the ritual venues. Parents of the violators will be punished.

 All men and women must dress up tidily at the ritual. Clothes must be tightly fitted, not too loose. If clothes fall on ground, dangers will follow.

 Everyone must attend the ritual and shall not be absent.