Farming, hunting, and gathering are the major economic activities of the Paiwan. Major crops used for daily consumption include foxtail millet, upland rice, sweet potatoes, and taro, while meat from hunting is the main source of animal protein. The taro is boiled, made into taro cake, dried, and or powdered for preservation or transport. The betel nut is a stimulant fruit and an important item in social interaction, rituals, and weddings. The Paiwan make millet cakes (qavai) and leaf-wrapped food (cinavu) for festivals/special occasions or weddings. The cinavu is often translated into Traditional Chinese as “祈那福” (literally praying for blessing). The Paiwan wrap the millet (or glutinous rice or powdered taro) and meat with leaves of the khasya trichodesma (Trichodesma calycosum). It is one of the token Paiwan dishes.
Early Paiwan made clothes from bark fibers or pelts. After acquiring cloth-making skills, they sewed clothes with linen, cotton, and wool fabrics. Women of the Paiwan noble families had more time to weave. Alongside exclusive patterns and totems, noble clothes are exceptionally intricate and extravagant. Traditionally, Paiwan men wear circular-collar long-sleeved short chest coverings with buttons down the front and kilts, with a shawl slung over the shoulder. In solemn ceremonies, Paiwan men wear ceremonial headgear, long vests, leg coverings, and sword baldrics. Paiwan women wear circular-collar robes with buttons down the right with panel skirts, and leggings. In addition, they wear head scarves, elaborate head rings, or forehead bands.
Traditional Male and Female Paiwan Clothing: The Paiwan chief and nobles are privileged to use special patterns on their clothes to accentuate/single out their social superiority. These patterns include human heads, human figures, or hundred pace vipers. In addition to clothing, the Paiwan chief and nobles distinguish themselves from the commoners with tattoos on their arms and wrists. Commoners with honorable achievements are given the privilege to tattoo their bodies or hands. Glass beads are the most precious accessories and important ornaments on their clothes.
In addition to pottery pots, glass beads, and bronze knives, commonly known as the “Three Paiwan Treasures,” the Paiwan craft heritages also include carving and weaving.
◎ Paiwan Carvings: Crafts are important to male Paiwan nobles and are demonstrated in wooden and stone carvings. Some Paiwan believe that the hundred pace viper is the ancestor of the chief. Therefore, patterns and totems of the hundred-pace viper and the amphisbaena are commonly seen. In addition to the beams and columns of family houses, the snake patterns are found on double cups, mortars and pestles, wine containers, and scabbards.
◎ Three Paiwan Treasures: The pottery pot, glass bead, and bronze knife are called the “Three Paiwan Treasures”. According to the Paiwan legend, Paiwan ancestors were born from pottery pots, making this implement a symbol of the origin in the Paiwan culture. Different types of pottery pots are given different names and meanings. Based on the patterns on the pots, there are male pots, female pots, and the female-male pots. The hundred-pace viper pattern symbolizing males is commonly used on male pots; while the nipple and the bell patterns symbolize females and are commonly used on female pots. The female-male pots have both types of pattern. Rare pots are owned by nobles and chiefs. Apart from marking their social status, these rare pots are important dowry items in noble weddings.
Pottery Pot (Courtesy of Li, Jiu-Ho)
According to the Paiwan legend, Paiwan ancestors made “glass beads” with the beautiful eyes of dragonflies, so glass beads are a gift from the gods. It is said that thousands of years ago, Paiwan ancestors carried the earliest glass beads to Taiwan; hundreds of years ago, Paiwan ancestors acquired new glass beads through trade; and in recent years, Paiwan began to make glass beads. Due to the colors, patterns, and legends contained, the Paiwan have given birth to a unique glass bead culture. Each important bead bears a name, such as the “bead of nobility and beauty” that represents the most precious beads; the “bead of clouded leopard” (now also called the bead of the peacock) an important dowry item for marriages between chiefs and nobles for its connotation to legends of love; “the sun’s tear” represents the tears shed from the sun in ancient times.
These names and stories have livened up glass beads, making them the treasure of nobles and a precious item for family heritage and dowry. Glass beads thus represent a superior status in Paiwan culture. According to the Paiwan social status hierarchy, only nobles can keep glass beads.
Bronze Knife Symbolizes Authority and Power: To the Paiwan, the bronze knife is a symbol of authority and power. In Paiwan culture, there are working knives and ceremonial knives. Based on the social status of their owners, ceremonial knives can be divided into common ceremonial knives, warrior ceremonial knives, and noble ceremonial knives. All three types of ceremonial knives have carvings and decorations. A ceremonial knife is also an important dowry item.
The Paiwan build family houses from slate, while wood, bamboo, straw, or mudbrick is used in some areas. A typical Paiwan family house is built on a trapezium platform. The ground, roof, and walls are built with slate. Stone-slate houses are mainly found in Sandimen (Santji), Majia (Maka), Taiwu (Ulaljuc), Laiyi (Raigi), and Chunri (Kasuga) townships of Pingtung County. The family house of a commoner is composed of two parts: the interior and the front yard. The interior carries a horizontal rectangular shape, and there is a bed near the wall and a stove on the right-hand side of the entrance.
Paiwan—Slate Houses: The family house of nobles has a spacious front yard decorated with plants and benches for shade and gatherings. Most nobles have stone-stacked altars which are about 1.5 meters tall. In the interior, there is a bed base in the front and an urn for storage in the rear.
The Totem Slabs of the Chief’s Family House in Taiwu: The ancestral spirit house of the Vuculj subgroup is also an important Atayal building. It was originally the ancestral family house of the Vuculj founding chief. It was later transformed into an ancestral hall. Inside the ancestral spirit house, there are stone slabs decorated with the hundred-pace viper pattern, and various animal bones and ritual implements are hung. Currently, the ancestral spirit house is the place for worshiping ancestors and performing various rituals.