Supernaturalism (tsemas) is essential to the Paiwan religion. It includes various supernatural beings, such as the mountain god, river god, ancestral god, ancestral spirit, and ghosts. These beings exist in the divine world (i pidi), the upper world (i tjari vavau), the human world (i katsauan), the intermedia world (i tjemakaziang), the underworld (i makarizeng), and the lower world (i tjarhi teku).
Good and evil also exist in supernatural beings in different worlds. Good gods/spirits keep people safe and bring happiness, fortune, and good luck; while evil gods/spirits harm people and bring disasters and misfortune. Of all supernatural beings, the ancestor (vuvu) is the closest to the hearts of the people. As ancestors are deceased relatives living in the afterworld, the Paiwan flick wine with the right index finger toward the house or the ground in front of the family house to offer it to ancestors before drinking it. Every traditional Paiwan home has an ancestral altar. The Paiwan hire shamans (malata) or priests (palakalai) to hold various rituals or communicate with good gods/spirits, evil gods/spirits, and ancestors among the supernatural beings (tsemas).
The government began to intervene in and restrict the Paiwan traditions, religions, and concepts during Japanese colonization. Catholicism and Protestantism spread to Taiwan in the 1960s. Today, churches are found in every Paiwan tribe and Christianity has become a common religion alongside the traditional Paiwan religion. In recent years, Paiwan-style carvings and patterns are seen on Jesus statues, Virgin Mary statues (Catholicism), and crucifixes (Catholicism) or crosses (Protestantism) found in Paiwan churches, representing a dialogue between traditional culture and modern beliefs. The Millet Harvest Thanksgiving Festival is among the most important Paiwan annual rituals. During the ceremony, the priest and the shaman preside over different rituals. The priest is the master of the ritual, while the shaman plays the key role of the ritual making direct communication with the deity and spirit.
1. Millet Harvest Thanksgiving Festival
From the cultivation, sowing, mowing, to the harvest of millet, the Paiwan hold rituals at each stage. Every year after the harvest, they hold the Harvest Thanksgiving Festival (Masalut). “Masalut” carries the meaning of passing over, surpassing, and crossing a year. In agricultural tribes, the term also suggests a “time” indicator. On the first day of the festival, they store millet in the barn, pray for blessings, and select seeds for the coming year. On the second day, the chief summons the shaman and the priest to bestow blessings and check the harvest of each household with him. The chief will then take some of the harvest to use as offerings for the ancestral spirits in the ancestral spirit house. The shaman will perform a ritual before storing the remaining harvest in a new millet barn.
2. Five-Year Ritual
For the Vuculj people, the Five-Year Ritual is the largest ceremony with the most symbolism. The Vuculj believe that the ancestral spirits living on Mt. Dawu will visit their descendants in the village every five years. Therefore, they hold this ancestral ritual every five years. During Japanese colonization, the scale of the ritual was so large that the colonial government intervened in the ritual and prevented some tribes from holding it. Currently, the Five-Year Ritual is held by the Kuljaljau, Pucunug, and Vungalid tribes of Laiyi (Tjalja’avus) Township; Pailjus and Takamimura tribes of Nanhe (Cukalatju) Village; and Lalekeleke, Tjuvecekadan, and Kinayiman tribes of Chunri (Kasuga) Township in Pingtung; and the Tjuabal tribe of Tadren Township in Taitung.
The Five-Year Ritual is divided into three parts: Pre-ritual, Main Ritual, and Post-ritual (the case of Kuljaljau tribe):
The pre-ritual is held to make preparations for the main ritual, including the sanctification of the tribal space, the cleansing of the road for ancestral spirits, the building the shoot-ball (djemuljat) rack, making the shoot-ball pole (diuljat), weaving the shoot-ball (qapudrung), and preparing the required offerings and food, including millet wine and millet cakes.
◎ The Main Ritual
● Reception and Entertainment of the Spirits and Shoot-ball When receiving the spirits, the shaman and the priest will recite the names of the ancestral spirits in the divine world, make offerings of millet cakes, pork, pork bones, and millet wine, and sing and dance to entertain them. Afterwards, the priest will preside over the ritual and start the ball shooting ritual (qemapu dung). Before throwing the shoot-balls (qapudrung), the priest practices a simple ritual to assign different meanings to each ball, such as good harvest, health, and happiness. The ball-shooting is the most impressive event of the ritual.
● Driving Evil Spirits Away (pusau)
On the second day of the ritual, every household will perform the spirit entertainment ritual and treat friends and relatives with a feast. In the afternoon, the shaman will perform the ritual of driving evil spirits away (pusau) in the ancestral spirit house, and every household will prepare offerings for evil spirits. Afterwards, warriors under the guidance of the priest will quickly chase/drive/banish the spirits out of the tribe
● The Feast (zemiyan)
A feast featuring singing, dancing, and drinking is held on the third and fourth days for ancestral spirits to gather with friends and relatives.
● The Last Shoot-ball (kadjuq)
The ball shooting ritual (qemapu dung) is held on the fifth day at noon in the ancestral spirit house in order to send off the good spirits. The shaman pays homage to the good spirits with spells, and people will send them off with offerings, singing, and dancing. Many men and boys carry offerings to send ancestral spirits to the place symbolizing the spiritual world of the tribe. After sending off the good spirits, people will go back to the ball shooting site for the last shoot-ball (kadjuq) ritual.
The Five-Year Ritual is concluded with hunting and termination of restrictions on the sixth and the seventh days of the ritual. If another ancestral spirit ritual is held in the next year, it is called the “Six-Year Ritual”. The process is the same as that of the main ritual, except that the ball-shooting ritual is omitted.