中文

The Atayal

Mythological Background

Today, the Atayal are distributed over a wide area of Taiwan, but their traditional territory lies in the Central Mountain Range north of Nantou County’s Jenai Township and Hualien County’s Wanjung Township, covering much of the Hsueh Mountain Range between 500 and 2,500m above sea level. This makes for roughly one third of the island’s total mountain area.

There is no universally accepted theory about the origins of the Atayal, but it is generally believed that their wide distribution is an indicator of a turbulent early settlement history. Researcher Lin Chao-chi thinks that some 6,000 years ago, the first Atayal settlers arrived on the Western plains, from where they migrated into the Western hills and mountains. The Atayal are divided into numerous groups and clans with often very marked cultural differences, but all of them shared one important cultural feature: the traditional custom of facial tattooing. This was closely linked with tribe’s religious, political and communal life, and the art itself is still preserved, although the tribal members who actually have facial tattoos are all very old now.

The Atayal see themselves as the protectors of Taiwan’s central and northern mountain ranges, and they are by nature a fierce, independent people with a strong martial tradition. Historically, they were known for their proud, unyielding spirit, which explains why the Japanese colonial rulers classified them as “the worst of all the fierce savages”. Today, the Atayal remain in their ancestral territories, and they continue to live in relative harmony with their natural environment, contributing to the protection and preservation of the Taiwan’s mountainous resources.