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.
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.
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.
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.
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.