The Yami (Tao) people settled on Lanyu (lit. Orchid Island), Langyu Township, Taitung County. In the Yami (Tao) language, Yami means “us”. Japanese anthropologist Ryuzo Torii (1870-1953) called this ethnic group “Yami” in his report at the end of the 19th century. However, the ethnic group calls themselves “Tao”, meaning “man”. Today, both Yami (official use) and Tao (colloquial) are used in studies and reports about Lanyu.
There are two origins of the Langyu people: stone and bamboo. The stone origin comes from the Imaorod tribe: After creating Xiaolanyu and Lanyu, the God of the South hit a gigantic rock on his return to Lanyu Island. When this gigantic rock fell into the sea, it broke into two halves. A god called Nemotacolulito walked out of the crack to the mountain and shook a gigantic bamboo. Then, another god called Nemotacoluga wuly appeared. One day, a man and a woman were born from the knees of Nemotacolulito. The same also happened to Nemotacoluga wuly. The children of both gods became two couples and subsequently developed Yami (Tao) society and culture.
Archaeologically, the artefacts found on Lanyu Island, including nephrite, jar coffins, glass beads, and agate beads, suggest that the ethnic group had cultural and lineal connections with Taiwan Island in the west and the Philippines in the south in the prehistoric period. According to the Yami (Tao) migration legend, their ancestors resided on the Batanes in the northern Philippines in the south of Taiwan. After migrating to Lanyu Island a few centuries ago, people living on these islands have developed individual cultures due to the differences in ecology and society and interaction with other ethnic groups. The exchange of fish skills and culture between people from Lanyu and Batanes began to reduce only since the 17th and the 18th centuries. When a US merchant ship was damaged by a typhoon and drifted to Lanyu in 1903, the Yami (Tao) people on the island welcomed the crew with their traditional ritual: waving hands with spears. Although the Yami (Tao) people tried to rescue the ship, the crew thought that the Tao people were robbers and began to shoot them due to the language barrier. After receiving a protest from the US government, the Japanese colonial government sent the police to besiege Ivalinu, Iratay, and Iranmeilek tribes and to arrest some Yami (Tao) people. This was an important incident in contemporary history.
Western medicine, education, and monetary economics were introduced to the island in the 20th century, and significant population growth began after the popularization of sanitation and medical concepts. Lanyu was opened to the public after the ROC government lifted mountain controls in 1967. From that point onwards, Lanyu was ready to welcome tourists with open arms; investements started being poured into Lanyu, more new hotels, shops and marketing campaigns were also observed. The Yami (Tao) people began to engage in the service industries, and many young Yami (Tao) people have left the island to work in Taiwan. In addition, the Taiwan Power Company began to build a power plant and nuclear waste repository on the island, leading to strong resistance of the Yami (Tao) people and becoming an important issue for repeated appeals to the government. In recent years, the Yami (Tao) people started cultural exchanges and mutual visits with the people of Batanes due to cultural and linguistic homologies. In Lanyu Township, there are six Yami (Tao) tribes, including Hongtou (Imowrod), Yuren (Iratay), Yeyou (Yayo), Langdao (Iraraley), Dongqing (Iranmeylek), and Yeyin (Ivalin). Due to the workforce demand of Taiwan Island, the Yami (Tao) people have begun to migrate to Taiwan in recent years and settled mainly in urban areas like Taitung, Kaohsiung, Taichung, and Taipei.