1. Industry and Food
Through early contact with other ethnic groups, “upland rice” and “rice” have become the staple food of the Thao people during the farming period. Non-staple food includes the sweet potato, taro, peanuts, corn, and wild edible plants and fruits. In addition to hunting, fishing is an important food source of the village and families. As Sun Moon Lake has rich seafood output, the Thao people cure their catch for preservation, making cured seafood one of the Thao specialty foods. Today, Ita Thao (Barawbaw) Village has become a famous tourism spot, and no farming is practiced anymore. Except for homegrown vegetables and seasonal bamboo sprouts, most Thao people engage in the tourism business and catering service.
Traditional Thao men’s and women’s clothing. (Women holding a pestle.) In the Qing dynasty, the “Dagobum” cloth of the Thao people earned fame, as recorded in the Imperial Qing Portraits of Periodical Offering. Dagobum is a cloth knitted with flax yarn and dog fur. Influenced by trade and exchange, the Thao people have switched to cotton fabrics of higher availability. Traditional men’s Thao clothing is made of leather, linen, and bark, including the leather headgear, headwear, chest wear, vest, skirt, breech-less trousers, and leather shoes. Traditional women’s Thao clothing is made of linen and cotton, including the headscarf, top covering, chest wear, skirt, waist belt, knee coverings, and floral headgear. Dark brown, light brown, blue, grey, and black are the common colors of Thao attire, and geometric patterns are common.
◎ Shipbuilding: Early Thao people emptied an entire tree to make a canoe, which was the principal vehicle for external transportation. Public canoes for a maximum of 5-6 passengers are for servicing kinsmen, while canoes for family use or fishing are smaller, for a maximum of 2 passengers. After the restoration of Taiwan, logging is prohibited, and the traditional technique of making canoes by emptying trees is rarely seen and nearly extinct. Today, canoes are made of patched wood boards.
◎ Poundings: On the last night of every July on the lunar calendar, women of the village perform the “Masbabiar” (Pounding) ritual at the home of Chief Shinawanan family. It also calls men hunting in the mountain: the Lus’An (Ancestral Ritual) and Harvest Festival are coming, it’s time to come home. Pounding owes its origin to the early agricultural period. When Thao people unhusk grains with the pestle, the poundings form a pleasant sound and become a natural melody. Gradually, this has become a performance. Today, at Sun Moon Lake where tourism is thriving, the pounding is still a famous performance and one of the must-see sights of visitors.
◎ Hanan (ancestral shrine): If a member of the tribe wishes to be the pariqaz (ritual master) for the Lus’An (Ancestral Ritual) in August on the lunar calendar every year, the New Year’s celebration will be long, and the ancestral ceremony will last for over 20 days. If no one wishes to be the ritual master, the New Year’s celebration will be short, and the ancestral ceremony will last for only 4-5 days. In a long celebration, the Thao people will build a hanan (ancestral shrine) as an important ritual. The ancestral shrine with an area of about 10m2 is built with local materials, such as bamboo, wood, and thatch, and decorated with grains and animal bones. Thao people will put wine jars and quilts inside the shrine and make a fire at the stove to warm the ancestral spirits. In the middle of the ceremony, elders of the Shtamarutaw and Shkahihian families will take people to welcome the pathalar (supreme ancestral spirit) to the ancestral shrine. Women are not allowed to touch the shrine. During the ritual, people will sing and dance folksongs and folkdances in front of the shrine every night. During their menstruation and pregnancy, women cannot enter the shrine. After the ritual, the shrine will be demolished immediately. Therefore, the shrine is a temporary ritual structure.
◎ Family House: About 100 years ago, traditional Thao family houses had a rectangular layout, with a tripod stove at the center. The family house has a grass gable roof, bamboo woven double-layer exterior walls, and a barn inside, integrating daily life with farming. When building a traditional family house, Thao people would form a labor group with both genders to finish the job. After collectively migrating to what is today’s Ita Thao (Barawbaw) Village during Japanese colonization, the Thao people were deeply influenced by the Han people, including the style of family houses. The Han people used to build houses with clay bricks and tiles. After the restoration of Taiwan, they began to build houses with reinforced concrete and corrugated metal panels. Regardless of the evolution of building styles, from the past to the present, the Thao people will have the shinshii (female priest) worship the ulalaluan (ancestral spirit basket) after the completion of a new house to invite the ancestral spirits to move into the new house.