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The 1878 Takubuwa Incident (Jialiwan Incident) has significant influences in Sakizaya history and culture. Apart from mourning and remembering ancestors and this historical incident, the traditional clothes and fire god ritual of the Sakizaya people also agglomerate their community solidarity. Today, the Sakizaya population has about 985 people (as of January 2020).

Geographic Distribution

According to the Sakizaya legend, ancestors of this ethnic group settled in the Hualien Plain after migrating to eastern Taiwan from overseas. Their name appeared in the Dutch and Spanish records in the 17th century. When the Qing government began cultivating eastern Taiwan and the mountain area aggressively in the late 19th century, the officials and troops were rude and unreasonable and treated the Sakizaya people unfairly, disturbing the life of local indigenous peoples. In 1878, the Sakizaya people defended themselves against the Qing troops in collaboration with the Kavalan people. The resistance is called the Takubuwa Incident (Takubuwa a kawaw to Sakizaya people and Jialiwan Incident or Lanas na Kabalaen to Kebalan people). After the incident, the Sakizaya people were injured and killed, the community migrated, and the language and culture were hidden for 100 years, severely impacting the Sakizaya cultural heritage. After the incident, the Sakizaya people were separated, migrated, and remained silent for 100 years. As many of them have lived and interacted closely with the Amis people, the subjective culture of the Sakizaya people has become gradually indistinct.

When Japanese colonization began at the turn to the 20th century, anthropologists considered the Sakizaya social and cultural characteristics as part of the Amis culture. In the late 20th century, the Sakizaya people finally sorted out their own cultural characteristics through history. Apart from demonstrating their cultural characteristics in ethnic attire and the fire god ritual, they implemented the cultural revitalization movement out of ethnic self-awareness. In 2007, the government recognized the Sakizaya as one of Taiwan’s indigenous peoples. Starting from the Hualian Plain, the Sakizaya people migrated outside the plain to the East Rifted Valley and coastal area due to the rapid social environmental change from regime change after the Takubuwa Incident.

Today, most Sakizaya people have settled in Beipu (Hupu) Community in Xincheng Township of Hualien County; Guofu Village (Kasyusyuan), Cupu Community, Pazik Community, and Sakul Community in Hualien City; Maliyun (Maibul) Tribe in Ruishui Township; Yuemei (Apalu) and Shuilian (Ciwidian) Community in Shofeng Township; Shanxing (Cilakayan) Community in Fenglin Township; Jiqi (Kaluluan) Community in Fengbin Township of Hualien County. Due to the change in socioeconomic in recent years, many tribespeople have migrated to the Taipei metropolitan area.


1. Industry and Food

The traditional industries of the Sakizaya people fall into three main types: agriculture, fishery, and hunting. Traditionally, millet is the most important crop. After acquiring the skill of rice farming from the Kavalan people in the 19th century, the Sakizaya people expanded the scale of rice farming. In fishery, the Sakizaya people mainly catch fish and shellfish along the coast and in the river. As migratory birds settle in the Hualien Plain at the end of the year, Sakizaya people also hunt birds. Grains are the staple food of the Sakizaya people, and collection of wild edible plants and hunting of animals are other food sources of the ethnic group. They build traditional family houses with bamboo, wood, and thatch.

2. Architecture

The Sakizaya people usually grow betel trees or spiny bamboo (Bambusa blumeana) around the family house as a kind of enclosure. In front of the house, there is a terrace for drying rice and grains under the sun. The main house is the principal structure for daily life. A side house is built next to the main house for cooking and storage. An eave is built between the main and side houses. The main house as the living place has a thatch roof with a gable design to facilitate water drainage. The main house has three partitions with one entrance door. In the living room there is an altar for worshipping ancestral spirits with food and wine, and there are cups on top. There are bedrooms on both sides of the living room. In the bedrooms there are high beds matted with rattan, bamboo, or Pacific Island silver-grass (Miscanthus floridulus). Sakizaya men build family houses with bamboo, wood, and thatch. Before construction begins, mapalaway (the priest) who can communicate with deities will perform a blessing ceremony. Today, although more and more Sakizaya people build family houses with modern construction materials, the internal layout, i.e. the altar in the living room, remains unchanged, demonstrating a strong ethnic character.

3. Clothing After the cultural revitalization movement in 2007, the Sakizaya people have created and produced their own ethnic attire based on historical events and legends to distinguish themselves from the Amis people, making their attire more historically and culturally meaningful. In terms of form, Sakizaya clothes include headwear, upper garment, vest, leg covering, and betel nut bag. Men’s clothes by age class include the vest and leg covering. Crimson and dusty gold are background colors to symbolize different historical and cultural meanings.

● Dusty Gold: Represents a heart in earth, gold in earth, and return to the homeland

● Crimson: Represents the sacrifice of ancestors and dried blood, implying the remembrance of ancestors.

● Navy Blue: Represents friendliness with the Amis people over the last 100 years.

● Dark Slate Grey: The spiny bamboo enclosure for defending the village, representing the age class and ethnic spirit.

● Dull Black: Represents the village and ancestral spirits.

● Mountain Brown: Remembrance of the refugee spirits in historical events, encouraging people not to surrender to hardship.

● Pearl White: Represents tears, symbolizing the hidden pity of the ethnic group in the last 100 years.

Sakizaya women’s and men’s attire Each color of Sakizaya attire has its own implications.

4. Songs and Dances

Inseparable from the natural environment and daily life, Sakizaya music and dances are characterized by different types of songs and dance moves. When singing in a gathering, the elders will lead the singing, with young people following suit in a responsorial style with dances. This style of singing and dancing helps develop junior-senior social relation. Sakizaya songs are characterized by lots of padded syllables (interjecting). Padded syllables are meaningless sounds interjected between lyrics to facilitate the melodic run of a song. At specific occasions, padded syllables produce social meanings in group singing. Today, some Sakizaya songs and dances carry a Kavalan style, such as the “Fishing Song” and “Women’s Harvest Ritual Song”. Some Sakizaya songs were acquired from the Amis people, such as the “Mowing Song”, some are still Sakizaya, such as the “Naruwan Women’s Dancing Song” (also called “Naruwan Love Song”). It was popular for a while and has been transcribed into a pop song called “Taiwan’s Good”. Functionally, Sakizaya songs are divided into “ritual songs” for rituals and ceremonies; “labor and leisure songs” for entertainment, communication, and education; and “social songs” containing ethnic and epochal meanings.

◎ Ritual Song Singing and Dancing Performance at the Harvest Festival In rituals or ceremonies, the Sakizaya people often use responsorial singing with a polyphonic bass. Major ritual songs include the lalikit (Song of Harvest ) of the Sakul Community. Each part of this song has a corresponding dance, and performers change dance steps while singing. These dance steps are part of the ritual song used only in the Harvest Festival. Therefore, the Sakizaya people consider these dance steps ritual steps that are more solemn and serious than those for leisure and entertainment dances.

◎ Labor and Leisure Songs They include songs sung at work and in leisure, such as the “Fishing Song”, “Mowing Song”, “Naruwan Women’s Dancing Song”, “Folks Rest Song”, “Drinking Song”, “Kid Carrying Song”, and “Farmer’s Leisure Song”. Ballad songs include the “Backpack Song” and “Old Cowherd”, and the “Dancing Song” and “Welcome Song” sung by women at the Harvest Festival.

◎ Social Songs Characterized by strong social and epochal meanings, social songs are transcribed or composed to enhance ethnic identification in response to societal changes, such as Nay takoboan ko loma’a no ma ko or Oloma kita mamin (We Are Family), “Sakizaya a dadiw” (Sakizaya Life), and “Maylayan a sakizaya” (The Industrious Sakizaya).

5. Language

The Sakizaya people migrated and were separated from each other after the Takubuwa Incident. As a result, the chance for using the Sakizaya language was largely reduced, and the language was eventually influenced by the Amis language, as witnessed by many Amis loanwords and transliterations. However, the uniqueness of the Sakizaya language is maintained.


The Sakizaya society is characterized by matrilocality and the age class system. The former maintains family relationships and the latter is linked to male social relationships. Exogamy began during the Japanese colonization when more Sakizaya people married the Amis people. In recent years, contacts with Han people have also increased.

1. Matrilocality

The crimson top and the dusty gold vest represents lineage continuation and homeland protection carried out by women. The early Sakizaya society was characterized by matrilocality. The groom prepared wood as fuel for the bride before marriage. After approval from parents on both sides, the groom will move into the bride’s home. Before the Japanese colonization, i.e. the 20th century, exogamy was practiced within the Sakizaya society. After Japanese colonization, exogamy with Amis people began. After the 1980s when contacts with other ethnic groups gradually increased due to overall socioeconomic transformation, exogamy with Han people also increased.

2. Age Class System

Sakizaya men are classified by age into child, youth, adult, and elderly classes. At the youth age, they become members of the youth class, and are responsible for defense, industrial and labor works. They also play important roles in rituals. Before they turn 15, they all are wawa (children). At the age of 13, they enter the youth preparation stage to receive trainings before they become the youth class. They move to the youth assembly hall and take orders and receive trainings from the senior classes. After they become members of the age class, they will be promoted in organized orders by age from grade 9 to 12. The grade they are promoted to is determined by the chief, elders, and youth leaders through discussions. The promotion is confirmed after worshipping the creation god Malataw. The cyclic system applies to the names of the age classes. Currently, the class age system is still practiced in the Sakul, Maibul, Kaluluan, and Ciwidian villages. The Sakizaya age class system is based on a 8-year progression system; from the age of 13 to 77, each class has a name and its roles.


The Sakizaya people believe in animism, that supernatural power is everywhere, and communication with the supernatural power must be conducted through mapalaway (the priest). Traditional Sakizaya deities include the Malataw (God of all beings), the Dungi (God of protection), the Ditu nu babalaki (ancestral spirit), and the Ditu (nature spirit). Each deity has its respective duty and worship ritual. After coming into contact with external religions, some Sakizaya people also believe in Han religions and Christianity.

The deity belief affects the daily life and health of the Sakizaya people. As a result, the Sakizaya people have developed agriculture-related rituals, such as the Mitiway a Lisin (Sowing Ritual), Collecting Ritual, Malaliki’ (Harvest Ritual), Musinga (Storage Ritual), Misaurad (Rainmaking Ritual), and ritual of worshipping the God of Sea. These rituals are held according to the Sakizaya four seasons: pasavaan (spring), ralud (summer), sadinsing (autumn), and kasinawan (winter). The Mitiway a Lisin (Sowing Ritual) is held between February and March on the lunar calendar, the Miladis (God of Sea Ritual) is held between May and June in the lunar calendar, the Harvest Ritual is held in August on the lunar calendar after crops are collected, and the Musinga (Storage Ritual) is held at the end of the year. Due to the changes in the social environment, these agricultural rituals have gradually been simplified, and only the Malaliki’ (Harvest Ritual) is still held regularly.

1. Agricultural Rituals

While millet is the main offering in agricultural rituals traditionally, the Sakizaya people have developed the Mitiway a Lisin (Sowing Ritual), the Kailisinan (Harvest Ritual), and the Musinga (Storage Ritual) according to the growth seasons of millet. As rice has replaced millet as the main source of food, the timeline of these rituals has been changed in line with the growth seasons of rice.

◎ Mitiway a Lisin (Sowing Ritual) In February to March on the lunar calendar, the cilisinay (ritual convener) calls for the ritual. Apart from worshipping the Malataw (Creation God), the primary duty of this ritual is sowing. After sowing, men catch fish and dine together. After the meal, they prepare millet or their catch for the convener to appreciate the smooth ending of the ritual and express their gratitude. Today, the sowing ritual has been suspended for some time.

◎ Kailisinan (Harvest Festival) The harvest ritual, or Harvest Festival, is held after the millet harvest. When harvesting millet, people weave strings with the leaves of the Formosa sugar palm to tie up millet ears and prepare glutinous rice cakes, wine, and betel nuts at the door for the mapalaway (priest) to distribute these foods to families with casualties, known as the process of patongi. After the patongi, the malalikid’ begins. Led by the chief, people are fully dressed at the ritual to thank the Malataw (Creation God) for blessing the harvest. A celebration gathering called paklang follows to end the ritual, that is, people catch fish and eat the catch with glutinous rice at the paklang.

◎ Musinga (Storage Ritual) After harvesting millet or upland rice, each household determines the afternoon warehousing time. After warehousing, they make glutinous rice balls called tunu to worship the Malataw (Creation God).

◎ Miladis (God of Sea Ritual) The ritual is held in May to June on the lunar calendar by the chief to worship the Malataw (Creation God) and Kavit (God of Sea). Traditionally, the actual ritual time is determined by the weather. Today, it is held on the lunar calendar. In the ritual, people worship the Kavit (God of Sea) with millet rice cakes (mochi) , millet wine, cigarettes, and betel nuts as offerings. After the ritual, they catch fish in the sea to symbolize the start of the fishing season. Today, the ritual is still held in the Jiqi (Kaluluan) Village.

2. Palamalan a Lisin (Fire God Ritual)

Based on the 1878 Takubuwa Incident (Takubuwa a kawaw to Sakizaya people and Jialiwan Incident or Lanas na Kabalaen to Kebalan people) , the Fire God Ritual is a community memorial event. When the incident took place, the Takubuan village was the biggest within the community. As the village was protected by the spiny bamboo enclosure and the Qing troops could not approach, the latter eventually launched a rocket attack, burned down the Sakizaya thatch-roofed houses and killed Sakizaya people in the village. The Sakizaya people moved to different places and could not commemorate their ancestors killed in the incident thereafter. As the whole village was burned down, the development of community culture was disrupted. A hundred years later, the Sakizaya people began to mourn for the deceased chief and his wife and others killed in the incident with the Fire God Ritual. Apart from memorializing this historical incident, the ritual also increases community solidarity. The agenda of the ritual includes: (1) welcome the God, (2) blessing, (3) tour, (4) worship, and (5) sending off.

◎ Di’tu (Welcome the God) In this part of the ritual, people make smoke to summon the deity and ancestral spirits. After the smoke making process, the five-colored messengers carry the torch to tour around the entire Takubuan village and call the ancestral spirts to the ritual at specific points. After the ancestral spirits arrive at the ceremony, they welcome the God of fire.

◎ Milunguc (Blessing ) The palongocay (blessing master) and the five-colored messengers stand in six positions of the venue for people to tour around to expel misfortune and receive blessings.

◎ Misaliyuk (Tour) Youth tour along the evacuation route according to the Takubuwa Incident (Jialiwan Incident). At the venue, the “Calling Dance (u-u-u-)”, “Song of Welcoming God”, and “Warrior Song of Harvest Festival” for the Harvest Festival are sung. The “Calling Dance (u-u-u-)” song is considered an ode to the Fire God at the Fire God Ritual (Palamal). At the ritual, there are many offerings.

◎ Mibetik (Worship) In this part of the ritual, people sing the “Calling Dance (u-u-u-)” song and perform the ritual with betel nuts, betel leaves, glutinous rice cakes, millet, ginger, wine, spiny bamboo and salt, and send offerings to the deity and the ancestral spirits with intermediary tools including the windmill, tobacco, spinning top, pottery pot, and pottery cup. After the ritual, they incinerate the altar.

◎ Padungus tu Di’tu (Sending Off ) The ritual master will read the decree, and the ritual master, Fire God messenger, and chief of the hosting village will lead the congregation to sing the ritual songs and tour around the altar.