中文

The Thao

Origin Myths

For visitors to Taiwan, the Sun Moon Lake is just another of the many beautiful scenic attractions on the island. But this lake has a much more profound meaning in the history of aboriginal settlement in Taiwan, since this is where the Thao live, a tribe that is well known for its deer-chasing legend.

There are at least three different versions of the Thao origin myth:

  1. The Thao ancestors came from Mount Ali (Alishan);
  2. They came from the area of Tainan, the “old capital”;
  3. They came from the Tibara community near Chia-yi’s Tapu.

No matter where exactly the Thao originated, all the above three legends have one thing in common: they revolve around the so-called deer-chasing legend, which generally goes like this:

A long time ago, in the ancient days, the Thao went hunting one day and came across a white deer. They chased this rare animal for a long time, until finally their pursuit led them to the Sun Moon Like. Impressed with the beauty and abundant natural resources (such as fish and water) in that area, the whole tribe decided to move there and live near the shores of the lake.

The Thao are thought to have been part of the Tsou tribe some time in the distant past. There is a legend among the Tsou about the Thao originally were part of the Tsou, whose traditional lands are in the Alishan area. The legend also tells the story of how at some point the Thaos’ ancestors went in pursuit of a white deer and came to the Sun Moon Lake, where they settled down. Even the Bunun know a similar legend, and they also hold that in the days of old, the Thao were actually a subgroup of the Tsou.

Some researchers agree with that view, and think it is possible that the famous Thao leader Mao Wang-Yeh had the position of a Maotano (meaning “brave warrior”) in the Tsou community. This is also why he was given the Han-Chinese name “Mao Wang-Yeh” after the end of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan, the Chinese family name “Mao” sounding very similar to the beginning of the Tsou term “maotano”.

Another Thao legend describes how their ancestors used to live in the Tainan area. This would make them one of the so-called Pingpu tribes (“lowland aborigines”) who lived in the plains. Tainan and environs were also the territory of the Siraya lowland tribe, and it is conceivable that the ancestors of today’s Thao indeed came from this area, but were forced to retreat into the mountains of Alishan when Han-Chinese immigrants began to settle in the plains in greater numbers. They then lived in close proximity to the Tsou, adopting much of that tribe’s material culture, customs and attire. They likely intermarried with the Tsou, but at the same time managed to preserve some aspects of their own tradition, including their language and religious beliefs. Later, they moved to the area around the Sun Moon Lake, a small tribe whose culture now unites characteristics of both the lowland and mountain indigenous peoples.