The Yami (Tao) people settled on Lanyu (lit. Orchid Island) in Taitung County. This ethnic group has a range of legends and annual ceremonies and a significant maritime character. Currently, the Yami people have a population of 4,684 people (as of Januray 2020).
The Yami (Tao) people settled on Lanyu (lit. Orchid Island), Langyu Township, Taitung County. In the Yami (Tao) language, Yami means “us”. Japanese anthropologist Ryuzo Torii (1870-1953) called this ethnic group “Yami” in his report at the end of the 19th century. However, the ethnic group calls themselves “Tao”, meaning “man”. Today, both Yami (official use) and Tao (colloquial) are used in studies and reports about Lanyu.
There are two origins of the Langyu people: stone and bamboo. The stone origin comes from the Imaorod tribe: After creating Xiaolanyu and Lanyu, the God of the South hit a gigantic rock on his return to Lanyu Island. When this gigantic rock fell into the sea, it broke into two halves. A god called Nemotacolulito walked out of the crack to the mountain and shook a gigantic bamboo. Then, another god called Nemotacoluga wuly appeared. One day, a man and a woman were born from the knees of Nemotacolulito. The same also happened to Nemotacoluga wuly. The children of both gods became two couples and subsequently developed Yami (Tao) society and culture.
Archaeologically, the artefacts found on Lanyu Island, including nephrite, jar coffins, glass beads, and agate beads, suggest that the ethnic group had cultural and lineal connections with Taiwan Island in the west and the Philippines in the south in the prehistoric period. According to the Yami (Tao) migration legend, their ancestors resided on the Batanes in the northern Philippines in the south of Taiwan. After migrating to Lanyu Island a few centuries ago, people living on these islands have developed individual cultures due to the differences in ecology and society and interaction with other ethnic groups. The exchange of fish skills and culture between people from Lanyu and Batanes began to reduce only since the 17th and the 18th centuries. When a US merchant ship was damaged by a typhoon and drifted to Lanyu in 1903, the Yami (Tao) people on the island welcomed the crew with their traditional ritual: waving hands with spears. Although the Yami (Tao) people tried to rescue the ship, the crew thought that the Tao people were robbers and began to shoot them due to the language barrier. After receiving a protest from the US government, the Japanese colonial government sent the police to besiege Ivalinu, Iratay, and Iranmeilek tribes and to arrest some Yami (Tao) people. This was an important incident in contemporary history.
Western medicine, education, and monetary economics were introduced to the island in the 20th century, and significant population growth began after the popularization of sanitation and medical concepts. Lanyu was opened to the public after the ROC government lifted mountain controls in 1967. From that point onwards, Lanyu was ready to welcome tourists with open arms; investements started being poured into Lanyu, more new hotels, shops and marketing campaigns were also observed. The Yami (Tao) people began to engage in the service industries, and many young Yami (Tao) people have left the island to work in Taiwan. In addition, the Taiwan Power Company began to build a power plant and nuclear waste repository on the island, leading to strong resistance of the Yami (Tao) people and becoming an important issue for repeated appeals to the government. In recent years, the Yami (Tao) people started cultural exchanges and mutual visits with the people of Batanes due to cultural and linguistic homologies. In Lanyu Township, there are six Yami (Tao) tribes, including Hongtou (Imowrod), Yuren (Iratay), Yeyou (Yayo), Langdao (Iraraley), Dongqing (Iranmeylek), and Yeyin (Ivalin). Due to the workforce demand of Taiwan Island, the Yami (Tao) people have begun to migrate to Taiwan in recent years and settled mainly in urban areas like Taitung, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Taipei.
The Yami (Tao) people make their living on agriculture and fishing, with mainly women practicing agriculture. Major crops include the soli (taro), keytan (upland taro), wakey (sweet potato), and kadayi (millet). There are different types of taro and different ways of growing. In addition to being a Yami (Tao) staple food, the taro is an offering for important rituals and Meyvazey (inaugurations) or a souvenir for meeting someone. Women practice agriculture and have rich experience and great skills, while men engage in fishing, mainly catching the migrating flying fish. The Yami (Tao) people also keep goats and raise pigs and chickens. During the Inauguration (Meyvazey), Flying Fish Festival, or other rituals, they eat and share them.
Taro and sweet potato are the staple foods, and fish, crabs, snails, and algae are non-staple foods of the Yami (Tao) people. Due to the close relationship between daily life and the ocean and fisheries, the Yami (Tao) people have developed fish eating taboos in their dietary culture. For example, they classify fish into “oyoda among” (good fish) and “ra’ et a among” (bad fish ). Women have a higher priority to each “oyoda among” (good fish), while men should consume “ra’ et a among” (bad fish) first. The Yami (Tao) people also have different restrictions for eating fish in different situations. These fish-eating taboos have marked out the close relationship between the Yami (Tao) dietary culture and society. In addition, the betel nut is an important favorite of the Yami (Tao) people. In addition to being a leisure food, it is a refreshment for treating guests.
The Yami (Tao) people make plain-colored clothes with the fiber of the flax plant and banana leaf. Yami (Tao) males used to wear a thong for better air permeability and catching fish. Women wear the bosom or vest on the top, and square-cloth skirt with a tying strap. For important festivities and occasions, Yami (Tao) males and females wear white formal wear with blue patterns. Males also wear a silver or rattan helmet, while females wear coconut bark headgear or octagonal headgear with gold or silver headwear. These are formal wear for festivities to mark out the cultural characteristics of the Yami (Tao) people.
◎ Gold and Silver Craft Men’s Silver Helmet Lanyu (or lit. Orchid Island) does not have gold or silver, and both the materials and metalworking skills are imported from the Batanes of the Philippines. Apart from curing illness by traditional wizards/witches with its supernatural power, gold is used to make men’s chest wear. Silver sheets acquired through exchange are used to make bracelets and helmets for men and bracelets, earrings, and chest wear for women. Silver wear is used in very important occasions.
Shipbuilding The Yami (Tao) people are an islandic indigenous group, and ships are indispensable to fishing activities. The Yami (Tao) people have boats called tatala for 1-3 passengers and ships called cinedkeran for 6-10 passengers. When a ship is old and a new ship is required, or when a fishing group expands and requires a bigger ship, such as from 8 passengers to 10 passengers, a shipbuilding plan begins. The Yami (Tao) people begin to build ships at the end of autumn and beginning of winter, around November to December. It takes about 3-5 months to build a ship. No pattern will be carved on new ships. Pattern carving will begin in summer, around July to August. Then, the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual) will be held after carving is completed around September to October. The Yami (Tao) people usually build a large ship with 15-27 pieces of wood. After the hull is completed, they will carve patterns on the surface and color the ship simply with red, black, and white colors. Common patterns include concentric circles, human sketches, ripples, and crosses. The Yami (Tao) people call the concentric circle the “mata-no-tatara” (eye of the ship). It appears on both sides of the bow and the stern, like the eyes of the ship. These eyes can expel evil, show the way, and maintain peace. The human sketch symbolizes the mamooka (earliest man) in the legend with long and fine arms and legs to catch fish in the sea. Ripples are geometric patterns representing sea waves. The cross is the result of the recent influence of Christianity. It also helps expel evil. The concentric circle known as the eye of the ship is also called the ship’s eye pattern. It expels evil, maintains peace, and shows the way.
Tradition A Yami (Tao) family house (asa ka vahay) is composed of a vahay (main house), a makarang (workshop), and a tagakal (elevated kiosk). Building materials include wood, stone, bamboo, and thatch. The vahay (main house) is built in an underground cave in the form of a stair according to the slope gradient. The soil excavated from the cave is placed around the premises, leaving only the roof exposed on the ground. Overall, it is a semi-underground building. Originally, the main house is a small room with one door built by a single man or a young couple after the wife becomes pregnant. With better financial ability, they build main houses with three doors or four doors. The workshop is a two-story building also called a tall house. The upper floor is a workplace in the day time and the lower floor is storage for firewood and fishing gear. The elevated kiosk is a detached rectangular elevated building with guardrails and a thatch roof. In addition to a place for a rest, making fish nets, and weaving rattan baskets, people can sleep there in summer.
Dongqing (Lranmeylek) When the ROC government planned new public housing for the Yami (Tao) people in the 1970s to improve their living quality, traditional spatial needs were also adjusted. The roof has replaced the elevated kiosk for sea-watching, and the passage in front of the house becomes the place for meeting friends, relatives, and neighbors.
1. Bilateral Lineal Relationships
Traditionally, the Yami (Tao) people called their clan a zipus. This clan is a support group that takes care of the children of every family member and help one another in weddings, funerals, building houses, shipbuilding, land cultivation, logging, pollical alliances, and war. Zipus develops parallel relations with each parent’s lineage, with the closest relations maintained among the siblings and sibling-in-laws; and then the children and their spouses of the parents’ siblings.
2. Marriage System and Family
The Yami (Tao) people are patrilineal, and parents live with their unmarried children. They practice monogamy, and the girl will move to the boy’s family after they fall in love. After adapting to each other, they develop a steady relationship. Tao people usually marry within the same tribe. Today, in addition to cross-tribe marriage, the number of cross-ethnicity marriages have increased.
3. Co-working Group
While members help one another and share resources at work, the co-working group is an important group in daily life. In Yami (Tao) society, there are three co-working groups: the Fishing Boat, Millet Farming, and Irrigation. As time has gone by, the traditional Millet Farming Group has been extinguished, and the Fishing and Irrigation Groups have declined, giving rise to the Fishing Net Working Group. The Kakavay (Fishing Group) is formed based on a 10-passenger ship, and includes Fishing Boat Groups of 8-passenger and 6-passenger ships. Members of a Fishing Boat Group are clansmen who build ships and make nets together. At the Flying Fish Festival, they hold the ritual together and share the catch. Although not many Yami (Tao) people catch the flying cod with traditional big ships today, the fishing boat group is still respected and continues to exist. Tsitsipunan, the Millet Farming Group, was formed to grow millet. Each Millet Farming Group included all male adults within the same patrilineal group. Members of the Millet Farming Group grew millet and held rituals together and shared the yield (harvest). Today, millet fields are grown by individual families, and the Millet Farming Group has declined. The Irrigation Group is formed by owners of the irrigation canals. They work together only when they need to dig or repair canals. Today, irrigation canals are built with durable cement or plastic pipes, reducing the frequency of canal building and repairing and the time and opportunity for members to get and work together. In recent years, the Yami (Tao) people have formed the Fishing Net Group to share fishing nets and the catch.
4.The Yami (Tao) people call a tribe an “ili”. The “ili” is formed by people with geographical and lineal relationships. However, they do not have a specific chief or political leader. Public issues are discussed by the elders of all families, and decisions are made through the directorial system. The village head established according to the present system is called the panikudan in the Yami (Tao) language.
The traditional religion of the Yami (Tao) people is a trinity composed of deity, ghost, and people. The deity blesses families and people and brings good yields and catches; the ghost brings illness, death, and disasters. The Yami (Tao) people are very cautious about the anito (ghost) to avoid any bad influence. Many traditional religious rituals are related to exorcism, such as the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual). To the Yami (Tao) people, the traditional religion is closely related to daily life. It is still very important today.
Since Christianity was introduced to Orchid Island in the 1960s, churches have been built everywhere, and this Western religion became the principal religion of the Yami (Tao) people. Yami (Tao) people have various annual rituals held according to the calendar system and seasons. Larger rituals include the Alibangbang (Flying Fish Ritual), the Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival), and the Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual). In addition, the Mivazai (House-Warming Ritual) and the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual) amongst the Yami (Tao) life rituals represent individual achievements and have important social and cultural significance.
1. Ceremonies Relating to the Flying Fish Festival
To the Yami (Tao) people, flying fish is a food source as well as the origin of daily life and rituals. The Flying Fish Festival is related to the legend of the blue-fin flying cod (mavaeng so panid). Legend has it that after eating the flying cod, snails and crabs gathered by the seashore, ancestors of the Yami (Tao) people became ill and had sores with mysterious reason. When they met the blue-fin flying cod one day, the fish told them that they must not cook the flying cod with other fish and food. From then on, the Yami (Tao) people have never gotten ill by eating the flying cod alone. In addition to the eating instructions, the blue-fin flying cod also told the Yami (Tao) people must treat the fish with respect, catch it by the calendar system, and follow the taboos in order to attract and catch more flying cods. Ceremonies relating to the Flying Fish Festival include the Meyvanwa (Calling Fish Ritual), the Flying Fish Storage Ritual (Mamoka), and the Fish Cleanup Ritual (Manoyotoyon).
◎ Calling Fish Ritual (Meyvanwa): To pray for a rich catch, the Yami (Tao) people hold the Calling Fish Ritual (Meyvanwa) with a group of ships from February to March to call the flying cod to the tribal offshore waters. During the ritual, the captain grasps a chicken by the shore for his crew members to get the chicken’s blood or the pig’s blood on their index fingers. While swearing to invite the flying cod, the crew members spread the blood on black pebbles and make the gesture of calling the fish stock. Then, the crew members spread the blood on the large ship for catching the flying cod to pray for a rich catch. After the ritual, the elder will remind the crew members of the taboos. Then, everyone will dine at the captain’s place or the home of a crew member with a spacious place.
Flying Fish Storage Ritual (Mamoka): The ritual is held at the end of the last month of the flying fishing season. Before the ritual, the Yami (Tao) people cook the flying fish jerky with taro and serve the meal to the family. Before serving the meal, all family members have to sing a song to wish a happy next life for the fish. After the ritual, they remove the fins and the tail before storing the flying fish jerky in a pottery jar.
Flying Fish Cleanup Ritual (Manoyotoyon): The ritual is held around the Mid-Autumn Festival every year. It is the last of the series. In addition to a family reunion and benediction, it is the last time of the year to eat the dried flying cod. Then, they will discard the remaining dried fish.
2. Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival)
The Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival) is held after the millet harvest and at the end of the fishing season. Every household will kill a chicken, pig, or goat for an additional dish, pound the millet, and prepare the flying fish jerky. Young couples with their own families will bring the flying fish jerky to their family of orientation to reunite with brothers and their father. Then, each family will send dried taro and the flying fish jerky to friends and relatives as a gift. At noon, every family has a reunion meal at home. In the afternoon, the millet pounding activity begins. It was practiced by the millet farming group in the past. Today, every family growing millet joins the activity. Participants will go to the wooden mortar, raise the pestle above their head in an exaggerated manner, pound the millet, and make a bow before leaving. When there are many participants, the activity will be held by group. People will also store the big ship in the dock to represent the end of the fishing season. In the evening, relatives will visit one another and sing together until midnight.
Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual) This ritual is the one of a few opportunities for the Yami (Tao) people to discuss about deities. In addition, they can discuss about deities only during the singing of the ritual songs in the evening of the Meyvazey (Inauguration). Therefore, some young people will listen to the songs of knowledgeable elders at the concert throughout the night. The Iraralay tribe usually holds the Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual) at the beginning of Kapitowan (October) on the Yami (Tao) calendar. A few families hosting the ritual decide on the actual date. The Iraralay tribe usually starts the ritual in the afternoon, while most Yami (Tao) tribes start it in the morning. On the ritual day, some families kill pigs and goats as offerings. In the morning, they will exchange presents with friends and relatives. Besides the sweet potato, taro, pork, and mutton, they will prepare offerings for families that did not kill a goat. In the afternoon, the head of the host family takes three boys to the seashore with the taro, Chinese yam, sweet potatoes, betel nuts, betel leaves, millet, and black pebbles. The host says a prayer by reading the text: “Akey Dolangarahen (Dear Heavenly Grand Father), we present to you these offerings and pray for good harvest, health, and longevity for our people.” Then, the boys raise the bowls containing the offerings above their heads and put them down on the ground before turning back their heads and returning to the tribe. On seeing the host completing the ritual, every household puts the offerings on their roof to present them to the deity. Then, they can leave the offerings by the seashore or on their roof. Within five days after the ritual, they cannot log in the mountain, sing, or hold an Meyvazey (Inauguration).
The Meyvazey (Inauguration) is held before the use of a new house or a new ship. As it needs lots of taro, pork, and mutton, the ritual is also a representation of the family member’s work performance. A few years before the ritual, people need to cultivate new taro fields and raise pigs and goats to accrue materials. Each Yami (Tao) person can hold about 3-4 inaugurations in his/her life and receive social recognition for each Meyvazey (Inauguration).
Hair-Shaking Dance (Maligni)
Before the ritual, friends and relatives of the host will prepare for the ritual one week before and harvest taro 4-5 days in advance.
◎ Mivazai (House-Warming Ritual) The size of the Yami (Tao) house is rated by the number of doors from one to four, and people hold a House-Warming Ritual only for houses with three or four doors. Day 1: Store taro in the new house. Relatives and guests from different villages visit the house in the afternoon. The host, relatives, and villagers sing the responsorial ritual song to express welcome and appreciation. After the welcome, guests from other villages can stay for dinner or visit relatives and friends in the village and dine with them. When night falls, everyone will return to the host’s house and sing throughout the night until dawn. Day 2: The host will give the guests and relatives taro and pork or mutton as a gift.
◎ Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual)
Day 1: Fill the ship with taro. In the afternoon, relatives and guests from different villages visit the host. The host, relatives, and villagers sing the responsorial ritual song to express welcome and appreciation. After the welcome, guests from other villages can stay for dinner or visit relatives and friends in the village and dine with them. When night falls, everyone will return to the host’s house and sing throughout the night until dawn. At midnight, the ship owner sends young people to the shore to catch fish with a net. The caught fish can be used to tell the fortune of the new ship and the crew. Then, they put the fish in the net, tie the net on a bamboo rod, and insert the rod next to the new ship.
Day 2: The host will give the guests and relatives taro and pork or mutton as a gift. Then, the crew puts on formal wear and boards the ship. The captain knocks the stern keel and the first deck to pray for good luck for the ship. Then, the captain makes a hole on the stern keel, letting out water, millet, and gold foil from inside, then seals the hole to pray for the health and longevity of the crew and good luck for the voyage. Then, the captain and the female dependent of the ship’s first rower hold the taro digger and dig the aerial root of the thatch screwpine (Pandanus tectorius) that has been put at the bow and the stern to wish for the good health of the crew and the smooth voyage of the ship.
Then, the Launching Ritual begins. First, the ship owner and young people perform the exorcism by the ship. After throwing the ship up in the air several times, they expel the evil and carry the ship to the shore together. The ritual ends when the new ship is in the water. After the Ritual, they worship the ship spirit with chicken viscera and taro to pray for good fishing. Then, they share the chicken viscera and taro with the crew. Day 3: Gift Presentation and the First Catch Rituals The wives of the helmsman and first rower fix the millet on two beaches for the crew to collect the gifts and return. After getting onshore, the crew gets the hooks and lines for the first catch. The caught fish can be used to predict the fortune of the voyage. After returning home, the captain will salt the catch and dry it on the zazawan (fish rack). Later, the captain shares the fish with the crew.