Amis are a large community-based indigenous ethnic group with a large population. They have magnificent rituals, with the annual harvest being the most representative. Currently, the Amis population is about 213,514 people (as of January 2020).
Amis people call themselves “Pangcah”, which means “people” and “kinsmen”. Most Amis people in Taitung settled north of the Puyuma who called these Pangcah “Amis”, meaning “northerners” or “people in the north”. After the adoption and dissemination of the academic circle, “Amis” has replaced the term “Pangcah” for this ethnic group. The origin of Amis (Pangcah) includes two mythological systems: the “myth of origin” and the “legend of distribution”. According to northern Amis, the Pangcah came from the descendants of deities; while southern Amis believe that their ancestor was born from stone.
The Amis is the largest indigenous ethnic group in Taiwan mainly distributed in the east of the Central Mountain Range and the plains area south of the Liwu River, covering two eastern Taiwan counties: Hualien and Taitung, and the Hengchun Peninsula in Pingtung County. With a widespread distribution, Amis mainly fall into three main blocks by region and by custom: northern Amis (also called Nanshi Amis (Amisay a Pangcah)), central Amis (including Amis settling in the Xiuguluan River basin (Siwkolan Amis) and in the coastal area (Pasawalian Pangcah)), and southern Amis (including Amis settling in Taitung: Farangaw Amis and on the Hengchun Peninsula (Palidaw Amis)). The earliest record regarding Amis contact with outsiders can be traced back to some four hundred years ago with a Dutch gold mine exploration team. However, the proactive and close outsider contact of the Amis did not come until the last 20 years of the Qing dynasty.
The Japanese Punitive Expedition to Taiwan (Mudan Incident) in 1874: To prevent foreign powers from intervening with the indigenous regions, the Qing government implemented the “mountain cultivation and indigenous appeasement” policy. Apart from building roads linking eastern Taiwan to northern, central, and southern Taiwan, the Qing government encouraged Han people to cultivate eastern Taiwan. To build these roads, the Qing government over-recruited indigenous people, giving rise to conflicts due to poor communication. In 1877, the Cepo’ Incident (Karawrawan a demak no Ca’wi) broke out between Amis settling in Ca’wi and Cepo’ and the Qing troops. Due to the immigration of Han people in the late Qing dynasty, Amis people acquired rice growing from the Han people and learned about their culture and customs after frequent contact with the Han people.
During Japanese colonization at the turn to the 20th century, the colonial government set barrier defense lines at the foot of the mountain to resist the Truku and Bunun peoples and requested assistance from the Amis living in the neighborhood. As the colonial government was aggressive, the Amis began to resist. For the mass development of eastern Taiwan, in 1908 the colonial government staged a genocide of Amis settling in Cikasuan claiming that there were deserters and had derelicted their duty. This is called the “Cikasuan Incident” in Taiwan’s history. In 1911, Madawdaw and Turik tribes on the eastern coast started a resistance event due to the colonial government’s long-time unfair treatment and slavery. Historically, it is called the “Madawdaw Incident”. After clashes and adaptations, the tribal community of the Amis began to maintain a balance with foreign powers. As job opportunities increased in the cities in the 1960s, many Amis migrated to the cities to form urban Amis communities in Taipei City, New Taipei City, Taichung City, Kaohsiung City, Hualien City, and so on, making the urban Amis a new branch of the ethnic group.
1. Industry Agriculture and fishery are the traditional industries of the Amis, and technical labor industries have been added recently. The Amis started with foxtail millet (Setaria italica, and hafay in the Amis language) and turned to rice (Oryza sativa, and panay in the Amis language) in the Qing dynasty. With increasing popularity, rice became one of the Amis’ staple foods during Japanese rule. Apart from switching from millet to rice as the core concept of the annual ritual, the Amis have adjusted the Harvest Festival to after the rice harvest due to the rise of rice culture, displaying rice’s important influence on the Amis cultural change. As the job opportunities of technical labor have increased after the social transformation from agriculture to industry and commerce, many Amis people have changed their jobs from farming and fishing to labor work, such as inshore and deep-sea fisheries or the service industries in the Taipei and Kaohsiung metropolitan areas.
2. Architecture Traditional Tafalong Houses: Traditionally, Amis people live in a community neighboring one another with the tribal assembly hall as the center and farmlands, hunting grounds, or fishing areas around the community. In addition to the assembly hall, each community has a watchtower to maintain tribal security. A traditional Tafalong house is composed of a residence, a barn, and a pig shed or cattle housing. Traditional Amis houses are cottages. Each is a single rectangular building with a front door. Amis people will replace the grass roof in autumn every two to three years. Inside the house, Amis partition the kitchen, the living room, and bedroom with wood or bamboo, with the stove (paruod in the Amis language) make with three stacked stones as the center. Due to socioeconomic changes in the 20th century, reinforced concrete buildings have increased and become the main type of Amis building today.
3. Food In addition to rice obtained from farming, Amis people gather wild edible plants and catch animals and fish for food in the daily life. Although rice (panay) is a staple food, glutinous rice plays an important role in Amis’ weddings, funerals, and celebrations. After steaming, they pound glutinous rice (hakhak) to make a sticky rice cake (toron). Both the hakhak and the toron are the specialty indigenous foods of Hualien and Taichung respectively. With rich knowledge in farming and plant gathering, the Amis are good at cooking with wild edible plants, thus being jokingly called as the “herbivorous” tribe. Common wild edible plants of the Amis include the betel nut (‘icep), velvet persimmon (kamaya/kafohongay), and the breadfruit (apalo/facidol). Meat and fish from hunting and catching are the major protein sources of the Amis. The unique hot stone pot and cured meat (siraw) is highly culturally special. The hot stone pot is characterized by cooking fish and shrimp in a pot made with betel nut leaves called cifar/kadong by putting hot stones inside, which is a highly indigenous cooking style. The cured boar meat (siraw) for meat preservation is representative of the Amis for its unique aroma and flavor. In addition, the Amis people grow betel nut trees around their homes and consume betel nuts as a kind of snack and an important food in wedding, rituals, and between lovers, it is called ‘icep in Amis.
4. Clothing In the earliest record, Amis people made clothes with cloth knitted with bark and banana threads with bamboo needles. Besides tree bark, early Amis people used wear-resistant linens and pelts for clothes and rattans to make headgear. As material trade (barter) became popular, handcrafted clothes eventually phased out. In the first half of the 20th century, cotton acquired from barter became very popular. Traditional Male and Female Clothing of the Amis in Hualien: The styles of traditional Amis clothing include the Hualien style and Taitung style. Both styles are identifiable from the head scarf, the chest covering, and the skirt. Red, black, white, blue, and green are their favorite colors. By matching the form and the color, Amis clothes are sharp in color and vivid in image. As the chief and the priest enjoy a special social status in the Amis society, they wear robes with a betel nut bag and headgear in important functions and ceremonies. The betel nut bag for carrying the betel nut, limestone, betel, and smoking pipe is made by the mother for their children or a girl for her lover, which is also called the lover’s bag (alufo). The alufo is a very useful and common accessory in both ordinary times and rituals. The headgear is also a symbol of social status. The chief and people of different age classes distinguish their status and social class with headgear.
5. Craft—Betel Nut Bag (‘alufo) With plants in nature, the Amis have developed a range of daily life implements through crafting. Wooden implements include musical instruments like the wooden drum and wooden clapper and utensils like the spoon; bamboo implements include the bamboo water container, bird repellant, and bamboo cannon; rattan implements include the fish cage and fish trap; the shell-flower leaf and alligator weed can be used for weaving mats. In addition, Amis pottery is rather famous. After slapping with wood and cutting with knives, the shaped pottery implements are baked in the open air. The pottery of the Tafalong tribe in Guangfu, Hualien County, is the most famous among the Amis.
6. Singing and Dancing Songs and dances co-exist in Amis culture. Songs are presented in responsorial singing, direct aria singing, and counterpoint in religious ceremonies, friendship-making occasions, and recreation. Alongside the changes in the dance moves and formations, there are plentiful changes. The “Elders Drinking Song” by Amis singer Difang Tuwana became an internationally famous Amis song when it was used in a television advertisement to promote the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
In the Amis language, tribes are called “niyaro, meaning fencing. This suggests that Amis defend their geographical space with fences and gratings. Vertically, Amis maintain political relations by means of the chiefdom and age hierarchy. Horizontally, they link family relationships through matrilocality. 1. Matrilineal Affiliation: Apart from the chiefdom and age hierarchy, matrilocality is another part of the Amis social system. Matrilocality in Amis society is characterized by matrilocal residence and the inheritance of property and clanship from the mother to the daughter. In the Amis tradition, women play an important role in matrimony. Before marriage, the husband must work voluntarily at the wife’s home for months and even years. After marriage, the husband must live at the wife’s maiden home.
After the 1960s, patrilocality gradually replaced matrilocality after the increasingly frequent contact with the outside world. As family property has since been inherited from the father to the son, patriarchy was thus formed. 2. Chiefdom: In Amis culture, the chief is the supreme leader of the tribe. A chief is elected from among local chiefs, representatives of each age class, and the representative of the priests. Kolas Mahengheng is the most famous Amis chief in the history of contemporary Taiwan. Kolas Mahengheng was a Farangaw Amis born in 1852. He was called Mahengheng because he was tall and had a powerful voice.
In the late Qing dynasty, Kolas Mahengheng traveled frequently among Amis tribes in the Huatung Rifted Valley and the eastern coast to mediate many tribal disputes and resistance incidents, such as the Cikasuan Incident and the Madawdaw Incident during Japanese colonization. In recognition of his achievements, the Taitung County government named the outer beltway toward the Taitung Railway Station Mahengheng Boulevard in 2000. 3.Age Hierarchy (Selel/Kapot): Amis males are divided into different classes by age to plan and implement tribal affairs.
At 13-14 years of age, Amis boys attend the assembly hall (sfi) to receive knowledge, service, and military training and education. During training and education, they are assigned to different age classes, each with an interval of 2-5 years, to live and learn together. Different types of tribal duties are also assigned to different age classes. The age hierarchy is designed to take up military, administration, and political functions, and each class has a specific name. The Amis have a large population and wide distribution. The age hierarchy of each tribe falls into the “name succession” and “name creation” systems. Mainly adopted by the Amisay a Pangcah, the “name succession” system uses the fixed class names that have been used by ancestors. Mostly used by the Farangaw Amis, the “name creation” system names an age class based on an important event of a year, such as “ra Japan” means the era of Japanese rule, “ra Minguo” means the era of ROC rule, “ra Diannao” means the computer era. This suggests that the Amis maintain important tribal events with the class name. Age hierarchy and matrilocality show the gender role difference and social division of labor in family affairs (private) and tribal affairs (public) in Amis society.
Traditionally, the Amis believe that all things have their own spirits. Based on the concept of spirit (kawas), there are the deity, ghost, animal, and plant classes. Due to the class differences, there are spirits in the heaven and spirits on earth. Spirits in heaven include the god of the heaven, the god of the sun, and the god of the moon. Spirits on earth include the river god, the sea god, the land god, the animal god, and so on. Therefore, the Amis are an ethnic group of polytheism believing that everything has a spirit. In Amis culture, the priest (cikawasay or sikawasay) communicates with spirits through divination to ease mishaps and cure diseases for kinspeople. Apart from helping individual kinspersons to pray for auspices and expel bad luck, the priest practices benediction and thanksgiving in agricultural ceremonies and various rituals before and after hunting. When Christianity was disseminated to the Amis in the postwar ROC period, most Amis became members of the Presbyterian Church, Catholic Church, Taiwan Holiness Church, and True Jesus Church, and pastors of the Christian church and fathers of Catholic church have replaced the tribal priest in benediction practices and services and become the most popular and important clergypersons in Amis culture today. In addition to the traditional religion and Western religions, there are Amis tribes that believe in Han folk religions in Taitung and Hangquan, bringing about a polytheistic phenomenon.
1. The Harvest Festival (ilisin/malaikid/malikoda/kiluma’an/zukimisai/siukakusai)
This is a thanksgiving ceremony held after the millet harvest. Different tribes have different terms for the “harvest festival”, including the malalikid, malikoda, and kiluma’an. Later, new terms, including the moon-night festival (zukimisai) and the harvest gathering (siukakukai), arose under the influence of the Japanese language. Today, the Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving is the most common. The Amis used to hold the festival after the millet harvest. As the growing area of rice increased massively, they have changed the time to after the rice harvest. Starting in July every year, each tribe arranges the festival for one to seven days from southern to northern Taiwan according the time or rice harvest.
Although the Harvest Festival is titled a “harvest”, it is also an occasion for thanksgiving, friendship making (communion), socialization, age class promotion, and military training examination. Therefore, it is an event integrating economic, religious, social, political, and cultural functions. As a multifunctional event, the Harvest Festival of Thanksgiving is characterized by its multiculturalism. Alongside the huge number of participants, the festival is a mass event. Even many Amis that have migrated to the cities join the festival to pass on the traditional culture and concepts, making the festival an important event for new-generation Amis to identify with the Amis culture.
2. Catch Festival
Cooking Fish with the Traditional Betel Petiole Bento The Amis’ Catch includes the sea ritual and the river ritual held between May and June every year to thank the sea and river deities. With this festival, the Amis pray for peace on the sea/river and a high catch. Rituals under the festival have different names. Rituals held by the seaside are called “mia’adis” by the Amisay a Pangcah, misacepo by the Pasawalian Pangcah, and mikesi by the Farangaw Amis. The ritual held by the river for catching freshwater fish is called komoris by the Siwkola? Amis.
The Turik tribe interrupted the festival in 1981 and restored it in 2011, renaming it pafafuy. The chief leads kinspeople to worship ancestors. The Catch is also an event show respect for the elderly and the sage. The ceremony begins with the worship of the river deity or sea deity with fish, crabs, and millet wine presented by youth. Then, kinspeople of different age classes fish in the river. When it is near noon, young people gather and cook the catch and distribute it to participants according to their seniority to show respect for the elderly. In return, the elderly will share the catch with young people with outstanding performance to express the ethical concepts of sharing and respect for the elderly.