中文

The Kavalan

Mythological Background

This tribe is generally known as the Kavalan, which is the name most often used in the Ilan area. However, in other areas such as the Hualien and Taitung counties along Taiwan’s east coast, they are more commonly known as the Kaliwan, referring to the tribe’s migration into the Ilan area from the Kaliwan community on the Lanyang Plain. The Kavalan are a matrilineal society living in close connection with nature. They are known for making the best possible use of their environmental resources to provide for their daily needs.

Originally inhabiting what is now Ilan County, the tribe moved to the south when the Spaniards, the Dutch and the Han Chinese settlers encroached on their traditional territory known as Kavalan.

Researchers consider the Kavalan to be of Malay origin, with their language and culture belonging to the Indonesian group, itself a part of the larger Austronesian, or Malay-Polynesian, family. Legend has it that the Kavalan came from the Polynesian archipelago and reached the Lanyang Plain in Ilan via the “Island of Fire” (Green Island). They soon clashed with the Atayal, who were also cultivating the land in the Lanyang area. The conflict ended with the defeat of the Atayal, who retreated into the mountains, while the Kavalan occupied the Lanyang Plain.

What is today known as Ilan County was earlier known under many names, including Gezitan, Gezilan, Jiazilan, and Kamalan. Why would there be so many different designations for one and the same area, you may wonder. The answer is that all these terms are translations of the names of various Kavalan clans who used to live in the Lanyang Plain.

Mariryan Origin Legend

According to the records of Japanese ethnologist Ino Kanori, the chief of the Dimei community, Zhen Jinsheng, told him the following legend about the origins of the Kavalan: “My ancestors were called ‘Avan’, and they set out across the ocean in boats from a place called Mariryan. They landed in Tamsui in the northwest of Taiwan, and then proceeded along the coast in an easterly direction, until they reached a place named Kavana (Gezitan). Back in those days, there was no sign yet of the Han Chinese, and only the ‘Shanfan’ populated that area. That’s why the Avan at first had to settle in the less fertile coastal regions. Even so, conflict with the ‘Shanfan’ ensued, and our ancestors came out victorious, driving them into the mountains and taking possession of the Lanyang Plain. Thus, our tribe is now called ‘the people of the plains’ (Kurarawan), while the ‘Shanfan’ are ‘the people of the mountains’, or Pusoram in our language. All this happened several hundred years ago.”

From both the above accounts, it is clear that the Kavalan came from across the sea to Taiwan. Most modern researchers agree that the ancestors of the Kavalan tribe originally came from the Polynesian archipelago, and drifting on the ocean in their boats eventually landed on the Lanyang coast (after a stopover on “Sanasai”, or Green Island).