Rice, millet, sweet potatoes, and taro are the staple foods of the Saisiyat people. There are also meat and fish in rituals and ceremonies. Representative Saisiyat foods include sticky rice cakes, raw cured meat, and glutinous rice wine. Both sticky rice cakes and glutinous rice wine are made of grains, notably glutinous rice, while cured meat is made of meat acquired from fishing and hunting. In preparation, one layer of rice is put on top of a piece of raw meat or raw fish and soaked for fermentation until the bone turns crisp and the meat is tender. When served, the meat has a mild sour taste, which is typical Saisiyat flavour.
Saisiyat people make clothes mainly with linen. After debarking, fiber extraction, spinning, reeling, beaching, and dyeing, and warping to turn the flax plant into linen, Saisiyat people make the clothes by sewing. After exchange and trading with the Han people in western Taiwan, they began to replace linen with cotton. Traditional clothing includes the sleeveless long garment, sleeveless short garment, skirt, loincloth, cloak, and bosom. Common colors include white, red, and black. On a white background, Saisiyat people make red patterns decorated with black. The Saisiyat dress code includes casual wear and ceremonial wear. Casual wear is usually made of plain colored linen, while ceremonial wear has geometric patterns and is decorated with various ornaments. Although access to Han clothing increased after Japanese colonization, Saisiyat people still wore traditional clothing on important occasions. Saisiyat ornaments include headwear, neckwear, earwear, hand wear, and leg wear. Traditional materials include shells, bones, and bamboo. Today, they also use modern materials such as plastics, buttons, and sequins.
◎ Tabaa’sang for Pas-ta’ai (hip bells for the ritual of the short people): The tabaa’sang (also called the “back ring”) for pas-ta’ai and kirakil (dancing cap, also called the moonlight flag) are the most characteristic Saisiyat ritual implements. Most tabaa’sang are triangular and tied with a cloth strap or lace across the shoulders on the back, so that the pending ornaments hung on the strap or lace jingles when people dance. The kirakil is a cloth banner carried or worn on the shoulder or the head. On the banner, there are patterns of stars, the moon, and flowers and the name of the clan. Alongside the bells and sequins, young people of each clan wear them while dancing in the parade at a ceremony.
During Japanese colonization, the Saisiyat people still practiced a range of body decoration customs: tattoos, epilation, ear piercing, and tooth mutilation. Body tattooing is common to both Saisiyat men and women. Saisiyat men get tattoos on the forehead (forehead tattooing) and chin (chin tattooing), and the chest (chest tattooing); while women only get tattoos on their foreheads. Both the forehead tattooing and chin tattooing are symbols of the coming of age for both men and women, while chest tattooing is limited only to warriors with contributions to the community or merits in decapitation, i.e. the more the chest tattoos, the higher the social rank in the community.
◎ Weaving Weaving is women’s work in Saisiyat culture. Geometric patterns are traditional, including the diamond and lineal patterns woven with red, black, and white colors.
◎ Bamboo and Rattan Weaving With bamboo and rattan, the Saisiyat people weave daily-life tools, such as seed baskets, back baskets, hand baskets, food baskets, storage boxes, rice sieves, and ancestral spirit baskets. The double-strap back basket is a representative daily-life tool of the Saisiyat. The weaving technique is inherited through men. Apart from the selection and repair of materials, the procedure includes bottom making, body weaving, binding off, and strengthening. When pest resistance is required, they will coat the tool’s surface with the juice of the shoulang yam (Dioscorea cirrhosa) or wood ash.
Traditional Family Houses Built Mainly With Bamboo (Saisiyat) Saisiyat people build family houses mainly with bamboo: large bamboo for columns, smaller bamboo for the wall, and bamboo sheets or thatch for the roof. As a very important item of a family house, the fireplace (stove) is often located at the center of the entrance to the main hall. Or, three stones are erected on the left-hand side for family members to keep warm and cook. The bed is located by the wall at the corner. Traditionally, the Saisiyat build an animal bone rack overhead the entrance for storing the mandible and lower jawbone of wild boars, monkeys, and muntjacs. There is space for earing poultries or livestock (chicken coop or pigpen) on both sides or the rear of the family house. The Saisiyat family house was originally a one-piece unit. Influenced by Han culture, Saisiyat people have added partitions and a living room to the family house.