The Yami (Tao) people make their living on agriculture and fishing, with mainly women practicing agriculture. Major crops include the soli (taro), keytan (upland taro), wakey (sweet potato), and kadayi (millet). There are different types of taro and different ways of growing. In addition to being a Yami (Tao) staple food, the taro is an offering for important rituals and Meyvazey (inaugurations) or a souvenir for meeting someone. Women practice agriculture and have rich experience and great skills, while men engage in fishing, mainly catching the migrating flying fish. The Yami (Tao) people also keep goats and raise pigs and chickens. During the Inauguration (Meyvazey), Flying Fish Festival, or other rituals, they eat and share them.
Taro and sweet potato are the staple foods, and fish, crabs, snails, and algae are non-staple foods of the Yami (Tao) people. Due to the close relationship between daily life and the ocean and fisheries, the Yami (Tao) people have developed fish eating taboos in their dietary culture. For example, they classify fish into “oyoda among” (good fish) and “ra’ et a among” (bad fish ). Women have a higher priority to each “oyoda among” (good fish), while men should consume “ra’ et a among” (bad fish) first. The Yami (Tao) people also have different restrictions for eating fish in different situations. These fish-eating taboos have marked out the close relationship between the Yami (Tao) dietary culture and society. In addition, the betel nut is an important favorite of the Yami (Tao) people. In addition to being a leisure food, it is a refreshment for treating guests.
The Yami (Tao) people make plain-colored clothes with the fiber of the flax plant and banana leaf. Yami (Tao) males used to wear a thong for better air permeability and catching fish. Women wear the bosom or vest on the top, and square-cloth skirt with a tying strap. For important festivities and occasions, Yami (Tao) males and females wear white formal wear with blue patterns. Males also wear a silver or rattan helmet, while females wear coconut bark headgear or octagonal headgear with gold or silver headwear. These are formal wear for festivities to mark out the cultural characteristics of the Yami (Tao) people.
◎ Gold and Silver Craft Men’s Silver Helmet Lanyu (or lit. Orchid Island) does not have gold or silver, and both the materials and metalworking skills are imported from the Batanes of the Philippines. Apart from curing illness by traditional wizards/witches with its supernatural power, gold is used to make men’s chest wear. Silver sheets acquired through exchange are used to make bracelets and helmets for men and bracelets, earrings, and chest wear for women. Silver wear is used in very important occasions.
Shipbuilding The Yami (Tao) people are an islandic indigenous group, and ships are indispensable to fishing activities. The Yami (Tao) people have boats called tatala for 1-3 passengers and ships called cinedkeran for 6-10 passengers. When a ship is old and a new ship is required, or when a fishing group expands and requires a bigger ship, such as from 8 passengers to 10 passengers, a shipbuilding plan begins. The Yami (Tao) people begin to build ships at the end of autumn and beginning of winter, around November to December. It takes about 3-5 months to build a ship. No pattern will be carved on new ships. Pattern carving will begin in summer, around July to August. Then, the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual) will be held after carving is completed around September to October. The Yami (Tao) people usually build a large ship with 15-27 pieces of wood. After the hull is completed, they will carve patterns on the surface and color the ship simply with red, black, and white colors. Common patterns include concentric circles, human sketches, ripples, and crosses. The Yami (Tao) people call the concentric circle the “mata-no-tatara” (eye of the ship). It appears on both sides of the bow and the stern, like the eyes of the ship. These eyes can expel evil, show the way, and maintain peace. The human sketch symbolizes the mamooka (earliest man) in the legend with long and fine arms and legs to catch fish in the sea. Ripples are geometric patterns representing sea waves. The cross is the result of the recent influence of Christianity. It also helps expel evil. The concentric circle known as the eye of the ship is also called the ship’s eye pattern. It expels evil, maintains peace, and shows the way.
Tradition A Yami (Tao) family house (asa ka vahay) is composed of a vahay (main house), a makarang (workshop), and a tagakal (elevated kiosk). Building materials include wood, stone, bamboo, and thatch. The vahay (main house) is built in an underground cave in the form of a stair according to the slope gradient. The soil excavated from the cave is placed around the premises, leaving only the roof exposed on the ground. Overall, it is a semi-underground building. Originally, the main house is a small room with one door built by a single man or a young couple after the wife becomes pregnant. With better financial ability, they build main houses with three doors or four doors. The workshop is a two-story building also called a tall house. The upper floor is a workplace in the day time and the lower floor is storage for firewood and fishing gear. The elevated kiosk is a detached rectangular elevated building with guardrails and a thatch roof. In addition to a place for a rest, making fish nets, and weaving rattan baskets, people can sleep there in summer.
Dongqing (Lranmeylek) When the ROC government planned new public housing for the Yami (Tao) people in the 1970s to improve their living quality, traditional spatial needs were also adjusted. The roof has replaced the elevated kiosk for sea-watching, and the passage in front of the house becomes the place for meeting friends, relatives, and neighbors.