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The Kavalan (Kebalan) people settled in Yilan for generations, they lived freely over hundreds of years near the river and by the sea and they have sovereignty across the Lanyang Plain. Living along the coast, early Kavalan people lived in stilt houses with strong Southeast Asian characters. They engaged in bartering trade at sea. After the “Lanas na Kabalaen (Jialiwan Incident)” in the late 19th century, they hid among the Amis people for over a century. Currently, the Kavalan population has about 1,492 people (as of January 2020). In recent years, the Kavalan people began name rectification movement and were officially recognized as one of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples called the Kavalan people in 2002. In terms of crafts, the Kavalan people managed to maintain the unique banana fiber weaving techniques.

Geographic Distribution

The Kavalan (formerly Kebalan) people call themselves “kavalan”, meaning mankind living in the plain area, and identify themselves differently from the Atayal people living in the forest. It is said that the earliest Kavalan people came from islands in the South, passed by a place called Sanasai before migrating to Taiwan and settling in the Lanyang Plain. In the early 19th century, they began to migrate to the Hualian and Taitung coastal areas. When the Kavalan people first settled in the Lanyang Plain, there were over 30 communities. In the late 18th century, the Han people began to move to the Lanyang Plain. In the 19th century, the Qing government established an administrative district there called “Kavalan (Kebalan) Prefecture” and implemented the “indigenous land preservation” policy. However, due to socioecological changes, many Kavalan people sailed to the Hualien Plain in the south, forming six communities of different sizes led by Jialiwan (Kaleon) group. By implementing the “mountain cultivation and indigenous amnesty” policy, the Qing government expanded its power to the Hualien Plain, disturbing the life of the Kavalan people.

In 1878, the Kavalan people and Sakizaya people launched a resistance against the Qing government. After the “Jialiwan Incident (known as the Lanas na Kabalaen to Kavalan people or the Takubuwa a kawaw to Sakizaya people)”, the power of both ethnic groups reduced significantly, some Kavalan people escaped to the eastern coast or hid themselves with the Amis people. Currently, the Kavalan people are mainly distributed in Qiliban (Kilipan) and Maoliwuhan (Varivuhan) villages of Zhuangwei Township and Jialiyuan (Kaleon), Liuliu (Laulau), and Lizejian (Hedekanan) villages of Wujie Township in Yilan County; Jialiwan (Kaleon) in Jiali (Kaliyawan) Village of Xincheng (Alang paru) Township, and Xinshe (PateRungan) in Xinshe Village, and Lide (Kudis) in Fengbin Village of Fengbin (Bakung) Township in Hualien County; and Sanjiancuo (Sadipongan) in Sanjian Village, Zhangyuan (Kladut) Village, and Dafengfeng (Polo’t, also called Dajianshi) of Changbin (Kakacawan) Township in Taitung County. Since the 1980s, the Kavalan people began to urge the government to face the subjectivity of their existence. In 2002, the government thus announced the Kavalan people as one of the Taiwan indigenous peoples.


1. Industry and Food

Agriculture and fishery are the major economic activities of the Kavalan (Kebalan) people. Traditional crops include sweet potato, taro, rice, and upland rice. In addition to agricultural products, they collect seaweed and shellfish. Hunting is a male-only activity which takes place from October to March. Before hunting, hunters worship the mountain god with betel nuts, tobacco, wine, and animal giblets to pray for a good catch.Primarily, they hunt for masked palm civets, Formosan sambar deers, and wild boars. When Indian coral trees (Erythrina variegata) begin to bud in spring, the Kavalan people will fix up their fishing boats and gears; and they fish for flying cod from April to September when Indian coral trees begin to blossom.

2. Trade

The Kavalan people are good at sailing and trade. Before the 19th century, the Kavalan people living in the Lanyang Plain shipped rice by boat to Keelung and Taipei in the North to trade for supplies; as well as to Hualien Plain in the South to trade for gold Or they sailed to trade for textiles, metal pots, and ornaments with foreign ships. The traces of these trading activities are found in prehistoric archaeological findings.

3. Clothing

Traditional Kavalan Men and Women’s Clothes

Unique Banana Weaving Technique

When missionary George Leslie MacKay spread Christianity to the Lanyang Plain in the late 19th century, he collected some Kavalan traditional clothes, including linen, cotton, wool woven gowns, skirts with pending beads and bells, and headscarves. They are bridal clothing and accessories. These 19th century Kavalan wedding gowns feature diamond, star, twist, and eight-pedal flower knitted (pick and knit technique) patterns in red, blue, and yellow. Currently, traditional Kavalan clothes feature the “square cloth system” for the upper garment. This system refers to clothes made up of two pieces of cloth. The lower garment is wrapped with one piece of cloth, usually black or white. Seniors often wear black. Clothes made with the Kavalan’s unique banana weaving cloth are suitable for men to wear in hot weather. The banana weaving cloth can be used to make accessories like backpacks and betel nut packs.

4. Architecture

Traditional Kavalan Family House

Early Kavalan houses are characterized by an elevated semi-open space called the stilt house to block out hazards, such as snakes, mice, and miasma. The stilt house is commonly found in Austronesian villages, making this structure an architectural feature of ancient Southeast Asia cultures. The stilt house is a common style of the assembly hall and barns of the Amis, Tsou, and Puyuma communities. However, the Kavalan and Ketagalan (Plains Indigenous Peoples) are the only indigenous ethnic groups in Taiwan to use the stilt house as theie family houses. The Kavalan people settled and nestled by the river and formed small villages; they are often surrounded and enclosed by bamboo to prevent wind and intruders. This kind of village settings are still found in Liuliu (Laulau) and Jialiwan (Kaleon) villages, Wujie Township, Yilan. In addition, the Formosan nato tree (Palaquium formosanum, qasup in Kavalan language) previously seen in old villages in Yilan have been relocated to the new villages in Hualian and Taitung as a symbol of nostalgia.

5. Songs and Dances

In Lanyang Plain, Kavalan folksongs are characterized by two main styles: Kavalan and Torobioan. Due to the close contacts with Amis people, Amis influence is seen in Kavalan folksongs when the Kavalan people migrated to Hualien Plain. The influence of Japanese and Mandarin pop songs can also be obserived. Kavalan folksongs can be divided by functions into three types: ceremonial, leisure and labor, and community songs.

◎ Ceremonial songs are mainly sung by wizards/witches to cure people. The solemn and major ritual for curing young girls is called kizais. The whole ritual includes a set of ceremonial songs to call the ancestral spirits, to cure, and to send off the spirits. These songs include the “Song of Calling the Ancestral Spirits”, “Grasp the Magic Silk”, “Practice”, “Cure”, “Worship the Spirits”, and “Sending Off the Spirits”, characterized by the strophic form. In the slow and repeating tune, the verse of the meaningful spell is sung.

◎ Leisure and labor songs are songs sung at work and in leisure, including the “Harvest Celebration”, “Cradle Song”, “War Song”, and “Celebration Song”. These are ancient Kavalan-styled folksongs. There are also improvised folksongs integrated with Amis and Japanese styles and Kavalan lyrics, such as the “Homesickness”, “Fishing Song”, and “Vegetable Harvesting Song”. Although leisure and labor songs changed according to the audience and situations, they are improvised by the singer according to his/her mood, they feature rich appoggiatura as passing notes.

Social songs

Songs are usually accompanied by dances

◎ Social songs are based on Amis songs, Japanese songs, or composed songs with Kavalan lyrics to express emotions, to encourage people, or to show the spirit of time. When the Kavalan people from the new village in Hualien returned to Yilan in 1984 and 1989 to visit the old village, they transcribed Amis songs into “Ancestral Community” and “Return to Yilan”. And they also transcribed Japanese songs into “Welcome Song”, “Love Song”, and “Leaving Hometown”. Mr. Pan, Chin-Jung composed modern folksongs, such as “Qasengat Pa Ita Na Kebaran” (Kavalan People Shall Rise); as the song contains elements to encourage Kavalan cultural identification, it has become a significant song for the Kavalan people. By combining the musical styles of different ethnic groups and eras to reflect daily life and social events with lyrics, social songs have meaningful significance in modern times.


1. Matrilocality

The traditional Kavalan (Kebalan) society is a matrilocal society, in which the groom must live with the bride’s family after marriage and obey the female elders in the bride’s family. During the Japanese colonization, the Kavalan people living in Hualien mainly marry their own people. After the 1970s, the percentage of exogamy with other ethnic groups gradually increased.

2. Community

Organization In the Kavalan culture, middle-aged males are called elders, and they jointly determine important public affairs within the community. As the meeting convener, the chief represents the community externally and implements the decisions made by the elders. The elder system is responsible for the internal and external communication and communications within the community. Cultural heritage, rituals, and coordinations between the government sectors and the community in public affairs are determined after discussion between elders and the chief.

3. Age Class

The age class is an important power unit in the community. People are classified by age and take care of different affairs in the community. For example, in the old days, males living in Xinshe (Pate Rungan) community carried out farming tasks such as dibbling of rice seedlings, mowing grass and harvesting according to their age. Currently, people of different ages take care of different jobs in Harvest Festivals. Daily tasks are shared by elderlies, adults and females; and serving the community is everyone’s motto.


1. Sepaw Tu Lazing (Sea Ritual)

Worshipping Ancestral Spirits by the Seashore at the Sepaw Tu Lazing (Sea Ritual) The Kavalan people hold the Sea Ritual by the seashore at the turn from spring to summer. The exact date of the ritual varies in different communities. The Xinshe (PateRungan) community holds the Sea Ritual around March and April before the flying cod season; the Zhangyuan (Kladut) and Dafengfeng (Polo’t) communities hold the ritual around July; and the Lide (Kudis) community holds the ritual in August before the Harvest Festival. On the ritual morning, elders worship ancestral spirits by the seashore with pork hearts, pork livers, and pork fillets as offerings for the sea spirit and ancestral spirits. Young men bring the fishing gears to catch fish and shrimp on a bamboo raft. After going ashore, they will cook the pork, the fish and shrimps they caught with wild vegetables. After sharing and eating the food with people in the village, the ritual is completed.

2. Gataban (Harvest Festival)

The Gataban (Harvest Festival) is an agricultural ritual to thank the heaven, deities, and ancestral spirits for the smooth work and good yield in the year. Take the Xinshe (PateRungan) Community for example; they held the Harvest Festivals before mid-August in recent years. Before the ritual, the chiefs discuss the date, agenda, and job assignment by age class at the council meeting. During the ritual, people in the community dress up formally, and the priest dresses in black. After the ritual begins, young people and women circle around elderly people singing and dancing.

3. Palilin (Ancestral Spirit Ritual)

The ancestral spirit has a very important position in the spirit belief of the Kavalan people. The Palilin (Ancestral Spirit Ritual) is a family reunion on new year’s eve, people worship ancestral spirits and pray for a prosperous new year. The ritual falls into two styles: Kavalan and Dopuwan. They are different in contents of offerings and the ritual process. The Kavalan palilin ritual is held at the end of December on the lunar calendar. On the ritual night, after elders call the ancestral spirits, family members worship them in turn with red wine, white wine, and the rice cakes. The Dopuwan palilin ritual is comparatively more private, often held in the family home at the end of December on the lunar calendar. On the ritual morning, female elders shut the main door of the house before worshipping ancestral spirts. In addition to red wine, white wine, and glutinous rice, they also offer chicken giblets. In the ritual, elders lead the family members to pay respects to the ancestral spirits in turn and put out chicken giblets and offerings such as the stomach, liver, and heart, on the banana leaf one after another as offerings. After the ritual, they move the offerings to the beam in the living room door. Although the above two ethnic groups became one Kavalan community, as time went by, the way they perform ancestral rituals shows that they became one community through marriage. Today, their ethnic origins are still identifiable through their ritual protocols.