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Saisiyat

The ancestral spirits and the little black spirits are the two major beliefs in Saisiyat culture. The ancestral spirits are close to people and affect daily life. The little black spirits are related to history and legends. The ancestral spirit belief is the major force of ethnic group protection and affects the good and bad fortune in daily life. Before a long trip, staying in the mountain overnight, or sending gifts, Saisiyat people must worship the ancestral spirit with wine and meat. The Saisiyat people communicate with the ancestral spirits through magic, and divination is the most important means. They seek help from the ancestral spirit in illness, unsolved problems, and finding lost objects. Saisiyat people began contacts with the Han people in the Qing dynasty and accepted some Han folk religions, ceremonies, and concepts, such as the Tudi Gong (God of the soil), Sanshan Guowang (Kings of the Three Mountains), and worship of ancestral tablets. Along with Christianity and Catholic, we observe traditional Saisiyat beliefs, Han folk religions, Catholic and Christianity in Saisiyat’s polytheism and culture.

1. Pas-ta’ai

Pas-ta’ai is the ritual of worshipping the little black spirits. It is said that Saisiyat people and Da’ai people (dwarf village) were neighbors and Saisiyat people learned farming, medicine, singing, and dancing, and rituals from them. Therefore, they invited the Da’ai people to join the harvest festival every year to thank for their help. Nontheless, the Da’ai people often harassed Saisiyat women; the angry Saisiyat people thus killed the Da’ai people as revenge.

The legend and concept of the “little black spirit” are very important to the Saisiyat people. In addition to a set of taboos in rituals, there are restrictions to follow in daily life. Originally, the Saisiyat people held Pas-ta’ai in October on the lunar calendar. As it was banned by the Japanese government, they have changed to one minor ritual biennially and one grand ritual decennially and they also divided rituals into southern and northern ceremonial groups.

Pas-ta’ai lasts for more than a month. The ceremonial process generally covers three parts: before ritual, during ritual, and after ritual.

  • Before Ritual: Determination of the ritual time and preparation of the silver grass knots for the ritual.
  • During Ritual: Respect taboos and follow the ceremony protocols. 
  • Summon the Spirit: Calling the spirits in the early morning. 
  • Contact With the Spirits: The ritual begins at night. People wear the dancing cap (kirakil) and the hip bell (tabaa’sang) for the dance of contact with spirits until daybreak. During the dance, elders will talk to people, remindi them to respect traditional culture and the precautions of the ritual.
  • Entertainment for the Spirits: entertainment includes singing, dancing, and traditional songs are performed on the day after contact with the spirits. 
  • Dispersal of Spirits: Saisiyat people also dance and sing to disperse the little black spirits. Then, they will backfill the soil and clean up everything onsite. 
  • Sending Off the Spirits: Saisiyat people send the little black spirits back to the wild.
  • After the Ritual: Rewards and celebrations after the smooth completion of the ritual. Because of the legend it carries, Pas-ta’ai has become mythical and is respected by the Saisiyat people and the public, making it the most famous Saisiyat ceremony.

2. paSbaki’

The ceremony of paSbaki’ (ancestral spirits) includes the spring and autumn rituals. One is held in June on the lunar calendar after the pit’aza’ (sowing ritual) and another one in November on the lunar calendar after the crop harvest. It is a ceremony to worship deceased ancestors by the patrilineal relatives of each clan. The ancestral spirit basket (bag) is the symbol in the ritual. After filling the basket with water, the master of the ceremony (male family host) touches the water with the right index finger and puts the water on the lips of the family members to bless them with the ancestral energy.

During Japanese colonization, both the ritual and the basket of the ancestral spirits were banned, it resulted in changes to the rituals. Today, Saisiyat people worship the ancestral spirits with offerings such as wine and meat. Elders will present the offerings to ancestors toward the east. Then, family members will join a communion at noon serving traditional foods including pork, fish, and glutinous rice cakes in a traditional way (with hands). Although the benediction with water ceremony has been replaced by the communion, people’s remembrance for their ancestors never changes.