中文

The Tao (Yami)

Mythological Background

Orchid Island (“Lanyu” in Chinese) is an island situated in the Western Pacific off southeastern Taiwan. It has been one of the most important stepping stones for the migration to Taiwan of Polynesian peoples, who came from Pacific Islands and drifted in their boats or rafts in a northwesterly direction on the Kuroshio Current. Boosted by bountiful ocean life, they developed a thriving maritime culture with an intimate knowledge of the sea and how to live off it. This is also the origin of the unique Mivanwa Festival (“Flying Fish Ceremony”). The profound spirit of interdependence between man and nature, the awareness that it is only through and with the ocean that their people can thrive, just as the sea is enriched by their aboriginal culture—this is something that the Tao of Orchid Island have preserved to this day. During the time of Japanese colonial rule, Japanese ethnologists launched a large-scale field study on Orchid Island, and for the Tao this meant that the isolated, independent life they had been leading on the island for dozens of generations suddenly came to an end. Their pace and way of life were thoroughly altered by the impact of a foreign civilization that brought a monetary economy and modern material culture. This is when the Tao gradually began to lose their grip on their own culture as manifested in their tribal organization, their traditional songs and ballads, and, last not least, their own native tongue.

Most of the Tao communities on Orchid Island tell somewhat different accounts of where their ancestors originally came from, but there is one thing that all the Tao agree on: Orchid Island was once battered by a huge tsunami which killed many of the island’s inhabitants. Afterwards, the survivors, just a few families, came down from the mountains where they had sought shelter, and founded new settlements near the coast. But the Tao seem to have little or no collective recollection of their history and migrations before that devastating tsunami, except that there used to be four small settlements called Do bos bos san (in the area west of today’s Imorod, or Hungtou), Do vong ko (in the area of today’s Iranomilek, or Tungching Harbor), De ma wa wa (near Iraralay, or Langtao), and De mina toron (now Yayo Ivatas, or Yehyou). When the tsunami struck, almost the entire island was submerged, and only a few lucky people were able to escape death, surviving on the top of Mt. Imorod (Hungtou Shan). After nine long years, the floodwaters slowly receded, and the few surviving members of the tribe moved to the coastal areas at the foot of the mountains.

Today, there are six Tao communities on Orchid Island, namely Yayo Ivatas (Yehyou), Iratay (Yujen), Imorod (Hungtou), Ivalino (Yehyin), Iranomilek (Tungching), and Iraralay (Langtao). The former three are collectively known as Chienshan Puluo (“Front of the Mountain Settlements”) and Houshan Puluo (“Back of the Mountain Settlements”). In modern administrative terms, however, the island is divided into just four districts: Yehyou Village, Hungtou Village, Tungching Village, and Langtao Village.

In the beliefs of ancient peoples, all the creatures, objects and phenomena of nature are animated. That is to say, wind and rain, thunder and lightning, rocks and stones, plants and animals, are all inhabited by a spirit, which enables them at times to transform into human beings. Such animist concepts are also behind the Taos’ origin myth that holds that their ancestors were once born out of bamboo and rocks (both closely connected with their everyday lives). Of all the many indigenous peoples of Taiwan, the Tao tribe has preserved more of its traditional beliefs and culture than most, and to this day the above origin myth is still passed on from generation to generation, and bamboo and rock are revered as totemic ancestors.