The Atayal’s supernatural belief is called utux, and the ancestral spirit is the most important concept. According to the Atayal, the ancestral spirit is the guardian of luck, and the instructions and rules (gaga) left by ancestors can make people healthy and the harvest plentiful. If people violate ancestral preaching (gaga), bad luck will come. The Atayal are devout to the ancestral spirit and are faithful to ancestral preaching (gaga). Therefore, they worship the ancestral spirit in the sowing, mowing, and harvest festivals. In addition to traditional belief, the Atayal began to accept Western religions in the 1960s, and there are Catholic and Christian churches in every tribal community. However, farming and ancestral spirit rituals are still preserved in their cultural spirit.
1. Sowing Festival (smyatu)
Atayal people determine the smyatu time through discussion. At the meeting, each of the two families with the largest yields in the past year will send a representative to be the ritual master. During the ritual, the two ritual masters bring millet cakes and millet wine to the farmland and cannot talk to others on the way. After the two ritual masters worship at the farmland of one of the two ritual masters, they continue the worship at the other ritual master. At the ritual, the ritual master digs four holes in the farmland with a hoe and put seeds inside. When digging a hole, the ritual master will tell the name of a person with high millet yields or the name of the gaga showing them how to sow for the gaga good at growing millet to bless the plentiful harvest of the farmland.
Then, the ritual master will put the millet cakes on one side and pour the millet wine on the millet cake with the left hand. At the same time, the ritual master will say, “I wish there will be plentiful wine brewed with the millet harvested in the future to make me throw up.” Then, the ritual master will drink the millet wine and spit it on the millet rice cake. After the prayer, the ritual master will leave the offerings there and continue with the ritual at the next farm. After completing all rituals, the ritual masters will share the millet cakes and millet wine with each household, symbolizing the sharing of the gaga’s spiritual power to all families. Each household will worship with these millet cakes and millet wine the next day.
At the same time, males in the tribe gather together to share the cured meat and listen to the gaga preached by the elders. On the next day, each family will send one person bringing millet cakes and millet wine shared by the ritual masters to the farmland before dawn for the sowing ritual in the same way as the ritual masters practice it. A communion is held after the ritual for females and non-tribal people to join the ritual. During the sowing festival, every household must keep the fire glowing and may not borrow or lend fire from or to others. They will also avoid contact with linen, needles, or felling plants.
As the area of foxtail millet began to reduce in the 1960s as growing rice became more popular, the Atayal began to hold the sowing ritual in the rice field. Ginger became the major cash crop in the 2000s. As the place and yield of the ginger and millet are the same, some tribes hold rituals with offerings for growing ginger to replace the sowing festival.
2. Ancestral Spirit Ritual (maho)
Maho is held between August and October after the millet harvest. Every household will discuss the ritual time at the chief’s place. After determining the date, members will hunt animals to prepare cured meat for the ritual, and each household will make millet cakes and millet wine and send one person to make the large millet cake for the ritual. On the ritual day, males gather together before dawn. The descendants of each ancestor will send representatives holding bamboo on which offerings, such as animal meat and millet cake, are hung, others will walk behind the representatives. The chief and deputy chief will lead the parade to the ritual place. On the way, they will call the appellation of their decreased ancestors, such as grandparents and parents, to invite the ancestral spirits of the tribe on the way to the ritual.
The chief will be the master of the ritual. He will call the ancestral spirits to enjoy the offerings and pray for plentiful hunting yields. After the ritual, they will leave the offerings in place and step over a fire to symbolize the separation from the ancestral spirits. After young people return to the tribe, the chief and elders will stay there talking to the ancestral spirits (lyutux) and give ancestral spirits wine. Eventually, they will leave the wine there. On the way to the tribe, they will leave a larger millet cake outside the tribe for young people to separate for eating with a mountain knife before returning to the tribe. Due to interior burial, the ritual will take place at the outskirts of the tribe. Since the 20th century when ancestors were buried in the public cemetery, maho has been banned in the tribe. Therefore, the Atayal people began to hold the ritual in the public cemetery. In the ritual, they will present flowers and light up candles at the ancestor’s grave. Then, the offspring of each ancestors will put offerings under the tree. In recent years, the traditional maho has regained its importance and has been held again in the tribe.