The traditional religion of the Yami (Tao) people is a trinity composed of deity, ghost, and people. The deity blesses families and people and brings good yields and catches; the ghost brings illness, death, and disasters. The Yami (Tao) people are very cautious about the anito (ghost) to avoid any bad influence. Many traditional religious rituals are related to exorcism, such as the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual). To the Yami (Tao) people, the traditional religion is closely related to daily life. It is still very important today.
Since Christianity was introduced to Orchid Island in the 1960s, churches have been built everywhere, and this Western religion became the principal religion of the Yami (Tao) people. Yami (Tao) people have various annual rituals held according to the calendar system and seasons. Larger rituals include the Alibangbang (Flying Fish Ritual), the Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival), and the Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual). In addition, the Mivazai (House-Warming Ritual) and the Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual) amongst the Yami (Tao) life rituals represent individual achievements and have important social and cultural significance.
1. Ceremonies Relating to the Flying Fish Festival
To the Yami (Tao) people, flying fish is a food source as well as the origin of daily life and rituals. The Flying Fish Festival is related to the legend of the blue-fin flying cod (mavaeng so panid). Legend has it that after eating the flying cod, snails and crabs gathered by the seashore, ancestors of the Yami (Tao) people became ill and had sores with mysterious reason. When they met the blue-fin flying cod one day, the fish told them that they must not cook the flying cod with other fish and food. From then on, the Yami (Tao) people have never gotten ill by eating the flying cod alone. In addition to the eating instructions, the blue-fin flying cod also told the Yami (Tao) people must treat the fish with respect, catch it by the calendar system, and follow the taboos in order to attract and catch more flying cods. Ceremonies relating to the Flying Fish Festival include the Meyvanwa (Calling Fish Ritual), the Flying Fish Storage Ritual (Mamoka), and the Fish Cleanup Ritual (Manoyotoyon).
◎ Calling Fish Ritual (Meyvanwa): To pray for a rich catch, the Yami (Tao) people hold the Calling Fish Ritual (Meyvanwa) with a group of ships from February to March to call the flying cod to the tribal offshore waters. During the ritual, the captain grasps a chicken by the shore for his crew members to get the chicken’s blood or the pig’s blood on their index fingers. While swearing to invite the flying cod, the crew members spread the blood on black pebbles and make the gesture of calling the fish stock. Then, the crew members spread the blood on the large ship for catching the flying cod to pray for a rich catch. After the ritual, the elder will remind the crew members of the taboos. Then, everyone will dine at the captain’s place or the home of a crew member with a spacious place.
Flying Fish Storage Ritual (Mamoka): The ritual is held at the end of the last month of the flying fishing season. Before the ritual, the Yami (Tao) people cook the flying fish jerky with taro and serve the meal to the family. Before serving the meal, all family members have to sing a song to wish a happy next life for the fish. After the ritual, they remove the fins and the tail before storing the flying fish jerky in a pottery jar.
Flying Fish Cleanup Ritual (Manoyotoyon): The ritual is held around the Mid-Autumn Festival every year. It is the last of the series. In addition to a family reunion and benediction, it is the last time of the year to eat the dried flying cod. Then, they will discard the remaining dried fish.
2. Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival)
The Meypiyavean (Harvest Festival) is held after the millet harvest and at the end of the fishing season. Every household will kill a chicken, pig, or goat for an additional dish, pound the millet, and prepare the flying fish jerky. Young couples with their own families will bring the flying fish jerky to their family of orientation to reunite with brothers and their father. Then, each family will send dried taro and the flying fish jerky to friends and relatives as a gift. At noon, every family has a reunion meal at home. In the afternoon, the millet pounding activity begins. It was practiced by the millet farming group in the past. Today, every family growing millet joins the activity. Participants will go to the wooden mortar, raise the pestle above their head in an exaggerated manner, pound the millet, and make a bow before leaving. When there are many participants, the activity will be held by group. People will also store the big ship in the dock to represent the end of the fishing season. In the evening, relatives will visit one another and sing together until midnight.
Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual) This ritual is the one of a few opportunities for the Yami (Tao) people to discuss about deities. In addition, they can discuss about deities only during the singing of the ritual songs in the evening of the Meyvazey (Inauguration). Therefore, some young people will listen to the songs of knowledgeable elders at the concert throughout the night. The Iraralay tribe usually holds the Meypazos (Annual Prayer Ritual) at the beginning of Kapitowan (October) on the Yami (Tao) calendar. A few families hosting the ritual decide on the actual date. The Iraralay tribe usually starts the ritual in the afternoon, while most Yami (Tao) tribes start it in the morning. On the ritual day, some families kill pigs and goats as offerings. In the morning, they will exchange presents with friends and relatives. Besides the sweet potato, taro, pork, and mutton, they will prepare offerings for families that did not kill a goat. In the afternoon, the head of the host family takes three boys to the seashore with the taro, Chinese yam, sweet potatoes, betel nuts, betel leaves, millet, and black pebbles. The host says a prayer by reading the text: “Akey Dolangarahen (Dear Heavenly Grand Father), we present to you these offerings and pray for good harvest, health, and longevity for our people.” Then, the boys raise the bowls containing the offerings above their heads and put them down on the ground before turning back their heads and returning to the tribe. On seeing the host completing the ritual, every household puts the offerings on their roof to present them to the deity. Then, they can leave the offerings by the seashore or on their roof. Within five days after the ritual, they cannot log in the mountain, sing, or hold an Meyvazey (Inauguration).
The Meyvazey (Inauguration) is held before the use of a new house or a new ship. As it needs lots of taro, pork, and mutton, the ritual is also a representation of the family member’s work performance. A few years before the ritual, people need to cultivate new taro fields and raise pigs and goats to accrue materials. Each Yami (Tao) person can hold about 3-4 inaugurations in his/her life and receive social recognition for each Meyvazey (Inauguration).
Hair-Shaking Dance (Maligni)
Before the ritual, friends and relatives of the host will prepare for the ritual one week before and harvest taro 4-5 days in advance.
◎ Mivazai (House-Warming Ritual) The size of the Yami (Tao) house is rated by the number of doors from one to four, and people hold a House-Warming Ritual only for houses with three or four doors. Day 1: Store taro in the new house. Relatives and guests from different villages visit the house in the afternoon. The host, relatives, and villagers sing the responsorial ritual song to express welcome and appreciation. After the welcome, guests from other villages can stay for dinner or visit relatives and friends in the village and dine with them. When night falls, everyone will return to the host’s house and sing throughout the night until dawn. Day 2: The host will give the guests and relatives taro and pork or mutton as a gift.
◎ Marbomusmus (Launching Ritual)
Day 1: Fill the ship with taro. In the afternoon, relatives and guests from different villages visit the host. The host, relatives, and villagers sing the responsorial ritual song to express welcome and appreciation. After the welcome, guests from other villages can stay for dinner or visit relatives and friends in the village and dine with them. When night falls, everyone will return to the host’s house and sing throughout the night until dawn. At midnight, the ship owner sends young people to the shore to catch fish with a net. The caught fish can be used to tell the fortune of the new ship and the crew. Then, they put the fish in the net, tie the net on a bamboo rod, and insert the rod next to the new ship.
Day 2: The host will give the guests and relatives taro and pork or mutton as a gift. Then, the crew puts on formal wear and boards the ship. The captain knocks the stern keel and the first deck to pray for good luck for the ship. Then, the captain makes a hole on the stern keel, letting out water, millet, and gold foil from inside, then seals the hole to pray for the health and longevity of the crew and good luck for the voyage. Then, the captain and the female dependent of the ship’s first rower hold the taro digger and dig the aerial root of the thatch screwpine (Pandanus tectorius) that has been put at the bow and the stern to wish for the good health of the crew and the smooth voyage of the ship.
Then, the Launching Ritual begins. First, the ship owner and young people perform the exorcism by the ship. After throwing the ship up in the air several times, they expel the evil and carry the ship to the shore together. The ritual ends when the new ship is in the water. After the Ritual, they worship the ship spirit with chicken viscera and taro to pray for good fishing. Then, they share the chicken viscera and taro with the crew. Day 3: Gift Presentation and the First Catch Rituals The wives of the helmsman and first rower fix the millet on two beaches for the crew to collect the gifts and return. After getting onshore, the crew gets the hooks and lines for the first catch. The caught fish can be used to predict the fortune of the voyage. After returning home, the captain will salt the catch and dry it on the zazawan (fish rack). Later, the captain shares the fish with the crew.