The traditional deity belief of the Hla’alua people includes supernatural beings such as the life spirit, object spirit, and deities. According to past studies, the most important Hla’alua rituals are: Annual Rituals (Millet Farming Rituals and Rice Rituals), Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual), and Enemy Head Ritual. The Hla’alua people has one ritual that is quite different from the rituals of other ethnic groups: The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is held every two or three years. As Hla’alua people reckon that the holy shell is where the primogenitor lives, they hold the ritual to pray for peace, good harvest, and community prosperity, and to worship the spirit of the primogenitor.
Important Hla’alua rituals generally include: the Farming Ritual, Crop Rituals, Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual), and the Enemy Decapitation Ritual. These rituals are described as follows:
1. Farming Ritual
Farming is the important economic activity of the Hla’alua people. Upland rice and millet are the major crops. Traditionally, the Hla’alua people have a calendar based on crop growth. A year begins with millet plantation and ends with upland rice harvest. This set of complete and rigorous rituals are closely related to agricultural activities. Therefore, Agricultural Rituals include the Millet Farming Rituals and Rice Rituals. The millet farming rituals are held to pray for a good millet harvest. They include the Lumalʉmʉkʉ (Sowing Ritual) held before sowing, Maitatahlamʉ (Pre-Harvest Ritual), Maavavarua (Tasting Ritual), the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual), and the Apikaungu (Ancestral Spirit Tasting Ritual) held on the day after the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual). The Rice Rituals are held to pray for the good harvest of upland rice. Upland rice was introduced to Hla’alua people by the Plains Indigenous peoples. As a result of cultural adoption, upland rice growing has gradually become part of the Hla’alua daily life. The Rice Rituals are similar to that of the Millet Rituals, except for the Apikaungu (Ancestral Spirit Tasting Ritual) held on the day after the Cumacukuru (Storage Ritual).
2. Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual)
The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is a major ritual held every two or three years after crop harvest (rice and millet). Worshiping the Takiarʉ (Shell, Shell God) is part of the ritual. It is said that it is a unique ritual of the Vilanganʉ Community. Aafter Japanese colonization, only one takiarʉ was held in 1951. Although the ritual was restored sin 1993, it has been changed. The ritual master must come from a family with ritual hosting history. The ritual is hosted by the Chief himself or his family member.
The Chief (Rahli) decides on the date of the family ritual in advance. Then, he will inform his subordinates to notify all people in the tribe. The “marination of the Holy Shell in wine” is the most important part of the ritual. In this process, the Hla’alua people marinate the Holy Shell in wine and watch its color change. If it turns red, this means the primogenitor is dead drunk, suggesting the ritual is a success. It is said that Hla’alua ancestors originally lived in Hlasʉnga in the east with the short people (kavurua), and the takiarʉ (shell) is the treasure of these short people. One day when the Hla’alua ancestors wanted to leave Hlasʉnga, the short people were very sad. So, they gave the Hla’alua ancestors the shell (takiarʉ) as a souvenir. They also reminded the Hla’alua people to worship these shells as their God. From then on, takiarʉ has become the God of the Hla’alua people and their totem.
According to An Investigation of the Aborigines in Taiwan and the oral history of seniors, ritual masters keep some takiarʉ from ancient times. There are white/brown, black, and pink colors, each about 5cm. Each village keeps a different quantity of shells: the Hlihlala Village has six, the Paiciana Village has 18, and the Vilanganʉ has 17-18 (sometimes 20).
3. Enemy Decapitatoin Ritual
The record of the enemy decapitation ritual is only found information written by Wei, Hui-Lin (1965). However, no one can clearly describe the process of head hunting and the ritual process, and there is no such information found in other documents. In general, it is a hearsay ritual.
4. Legend of Rituals
The Miatungusu (Holy Shell Ritual) is a biggest ritual held every two to three years. It is a six-day ceremony held by each village. In the past, it was held annually. As the ritual requires many resources, the Hla’alua people have changed it to biennially or triennially. It was only held by the Vilanganʉ Village. Today, there villages: Hlihlara, Paiciana, and Vilanganʉ villages hold this grand ritual together.
Currently, there are 12 Takiarʉs, and each has a name, they are: (1) Pavaasu (Takiarʉ of Bravery) who can turn people into warriors; (2) Paumala Papa'a (Takiarʉ of Hunting) who can help people catch animals; (3) Pamahlatʉra (Takiarʉ of Health) who can keep people healthy; (4) Paumala Aanʉ (Takiarʉ of Food) who can bring people lots of food; (5) Hlalangʉ 'Ihlicu (Takiarʉ of Exorcism) who can keep evil spirits away from people; (6) Patama'iiarʉ (Takiarʉ of Diligence) who can keep people working diligently; (7) Pamavahlaʉvaʉ (Takiarʉ of Peace) who can keep people safe in everything; (8) Kupamasavaʉ (Takiarʉ of Sloth Exorcism) who can drive sloth away; (9) Paumala Ngahla (Takiarʉ of Optimum) who can bring people success; (10) Pamaiatuhluhlu (Takiarʉ of Protection) who can help people eliminate dangers; (11) Papacʉcʉpʉngʉ (Takiarʉ of Intelligence) who can make people intelligent; and (12) Sipakinivaratʉhlausahlʉ (Takiarʉ of Wind and Rainfall) who can bring favorable weather and keep disasters away.
As the most important ritual among all Hla’alua rituals, the Takiarʉ Ritual is held biennially from January 1 to 15. The Takiarʉ is usually kept by Rahli (the Chief) in a jar (urn) buried in the backyard. It is magical that even the Takiarʉ is sealed in the jar buried in the ground, it is not seen until the ritual.
It is said that the Takiarʉ has returned to Hlasʉnga. About ten days before the Takiarʉ Ritual, Rahli (the Chief) will check if the Takiarʉ has returned. It is magical that the Takiarʉ comes back every time. One night before the ritual, Rahli (the Chief) will put the Takiarʉ in a secure cave in the middle of the holy fire at the ritual venue and cover the cave with a piece of slate. Then, he will ask men to protect the place and keep women and animals from approaching or crossing. When the cock makes the first cry in the morning, Rahli (the Chief) will ask all men to the assembly hall to start the first procedure: Makuakuaihlicu (welcoming the God).
When the second procedure—Malalalangʉ (First Worship) begins, a ritual assistant will open the jar (urn), the ritual master (Rahli (the Chief)) will cut the animal meat, then the ritual assistant will pass the wine to all men in the ritual to drink. After receiving the cup, each will dip a finger in the wine, scatter the wine to the left- and right-hand sides, and shout “tamu’u” (tribute to the deity) before drinking the wine. Then, the Chief will pass a piece of meat for each of them to eat to finish the first worship. After the first worship, the Chief will ask all men to go to the ritual venue to welcome the Takiarʉ, while the ritual assistant will invite the Chief to host the ritual. The ritual begins with the wine offering. The Chief worships the Takiarʉ with wine to pray for good harvest and good catch in the next year. The Fire Ritual comes next to signifies the passing of fire-making skills to the next generation. After the offerings, the Chief will lead men and women to sing and dance at the ritual venue until everyone gets exhausted. In the past, the Hla’alua continued drinking and dancing for one week after the rituals. The feast ended slowly until all the wine and meat in the village were consumed.
On the day of the ritual, all animals must be locked and tied up properly to prevent them from entering the ritual venue.
Children are not allowed to enter the ritual venues. Parents of the violators will be punished.
All men and women must dress up tidily at the ritual. Clothes must be tightly fitted, not too loose. If clothes fall on ground, dangers will follow.
Everyone must attend the ritual and shall not be absent.