中文

The Saisiyat

The Origins of the Pasta'ai

Every two years, the Saisiat hold a unique ritual, the Pasta’ai, or Dwarf Spirit Ceremony, and every ten years there is a special grand ceremony designed to express the tribe’s repentance for killing most of the Ta’ai, and to comfort the souls of the departed “Dwarf People”. The legend that informs the Pasta’ai ceremony is recounted as follows.

A long time ago, there lived an unusual people, called Negritoes or “short black dwarves”, who were only three feet high and lived on the upper reaches of the Shanping River. They dwelled in a mountainside cave about a hundred feet up a sheer cliff on the right bank of the river. They had exceptionally strong arms and were masters of black magic, which is why the Saisiat held them in great awe.

The Ta’ai, as the Saisiat called them, were also very good singers and dancers, and the Saisiat would invite them to take part in their annual bumper harvest celebrations. But since the Ta’ai cave was on the other side of the river with its rapidly flowing waters and steep cliffs on both sides, the Ta’ai had to wait for a signal from the Saisiat messengers before crossing the river. Once the messengers had shot their signal arrows across the stream, the incredibly nimble and agile Ta’ai would come flying across like dragonflies, hardly skimming the surface of the water. When reaching the other shore, they grabbed the Saisiat messengers by their throats and strangled them to death. But the compassionate Ta’ai elders, who would arrive shortly afterwards, wrapped silver grass around the bodies of the dead, and prayed to the heavens chanting magic incantations. Then the messengers, woken from the dead, would slowly come alive again. This only increased the awe and fear the Saisiat felt whenever facing the Ta’ai.

The Ta’ai were notorious womanizers and would go after the Saisiat women when the two tribes where singing and dancing together. Since the Ta’ai knew the art of becoming invisible, they were able to get away with molesting the Saisiat women. There was never any proof of their sexual misdemeanors—until a few months after a festival the women noticed that their bellies were getting bigger. The Saisiat were very angry about this, but they were also very afraid of the Ta’ais’ black magic. And their elders counseled them to keep calm, so they continued to swallow their pride and do nothing.

But a day came when a young Saisiat accidentally saw how his young sister was being ravished by one of the Ta’ai. He was beside himself with rage and plotted revenge. After much thought and consideration he came up with a plan. When dusk was falling, he went to the single log bridge that the Ta’ai had to cross on their way home and sawed a deep notch into the supporting woodwork. Then he smeared mud over the notch so that no one would see what he had done. The next day, as the Ta’ai were standing on the bridge enjoying the cool breeze, the bridge suddenly collapsed and the Ta’ai fell to their deaths in the valley below. There were only two lucky survivors: the Ta’ai elders Ta’ai and Tuowai. When they discovered that it was no accident that had killed all of their fellow tribespeople, they were consumed with fury. As they fled in a southeasterly direction, they picked leaves from the sugar palms growing by the wayside and put an evil spell on the Saisiat, “If you want to stay alive, and wish to live in peace with us like in the past, then you will have to hold a big ceremony and feast for us. And you’ll have to invite us, just like in the past!”

Hence Ta’ai and Tuowai gathered the Saisiat around them to teach them the ritual songs to be performed at the big ceremony, but only the people of the Chu clan were able to learn all the ritual songs. After that, Ta’ai and Tuowai left the Saisiat settlement and went into the mountains to the southeast.