Atayal people

Atayal people

The Atayal ( _zh. 泰雅), also known as the Tayal and the Tayan, are one tribe of Taiwanese aborigines. In the year 2000 the Atayal tribe numbered 91,883. This was approximately 23.1% of Taiwan's total indigenous population, making them the second-largest tribal group. [Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, R.O.C. (DGBAS). National Statistics, Republic of China (Taiwan). [ "Preliminary statistical analysis report of 2000 Population and Housing Census"] . Excerpted from Table 28:Indigenous population distribution in Taiwan-Fukien Area. Accessed PM 8/30/06] The meaning of Atayal is "genuine person" or "brave man."


According to stories told by their elders, the first Atayal ancestors were one man and one woman who lived together for a very long time and loved each other very much. But the boy was shy and wouldn't dare approach her. Whereupon, the girl came up with an idea. She left her home and found some coal with which to blacken her face so she could pose as a different girl.

After several days, she crept back into their home and the boy mistook her for another girl and they lived happily ever after. Not long after, the couple bore children, fulfilling their mission of procreating the next generation. The Atayal custom of face tattooing may have come from the girl blackening her face in the story. The Atayal custom of facial tattooing requires that girls first learn to be accomplished weavers and cultivators before they may have their faces 'adorned'. Male tattooing is relatively simple, with just two bands down the forehead and chin.


In the past, many anthropologists believed the Atayal migrated from Malaysia or Indonesia. Evidence now suggests that they are the descendants of those who crossed over the Taiwan Strait almost 7,000 years ago from regions that are now inside southern China, northern Laos or Vietnam. The first record of Atayal inhabitance is found near the upper reaches of the Choshui River. However, during the late 17th century they crossed the Central Mountain Ranges into the wilderness of the east. They then settled in the Liwu River valley. Seventy-nine Atayal villages can be found here.


The Atayal Tribe was a fairly advanced culture. They originally lived by fishing, hunting, gathering, and growing crops on burned-off mountain fields. The tribe also practiced crafts such as weaving, net knotting, and woodworking. They also had traditional musical instruments and dances.

The Atayal were known as great warriors. When they defeated an invader, they would remove the head of the enemy to display. (See Headhunting) They were known to be fierce fighters as observed in the case of the Wushe Incident in which the Atayal fought the Japanese.

Traditional dress

The Atayal were good weavers as well and symbolic patterns and design can be found on Atayal traditional dress. The features are mainly of geometric style, and the colors are bright and dazzling. Most of the designs are argyles and horizontal lines. In Atayal culture, horizontal lines represent the rainbow bride which leads the dead to where the ancestors' spirit live. Argyles, on the other hand, represent ancestors' eyes protecting the Atayal. The favorite color of this culture is red, because it represents “blood” and “power.”

The Atayal tribe was also known for using facial tattooing and teeth filing as rituals of initiation. The practice of tattooing their faces has attracted much attention; in the past a man had to take the head of an enemy, showing his valor as a hunter to protect and provide for his people and the women had to be able to weave cloth to show their coming-of-age and maturity before they could tattoo their faces.

Atayal in modern times

The Atayal tribe in Taiwan resides in central and northern Taiwan. The northernmost village is Ulay (Wulai in Chinese), about 25 kilometers south of central Taipei. The name Ulay is derived from /qilux/, hot, because of the hot springs on the riverbank . [] The [ Wulai Atayal Museum] in the town is a place to learn about the history and culture of the Atayal.

In recent years the mainly Christian community of Smangus has become well-known as a tourist destination, as well as an experiment in tribal communalism. [" [ Returning to the land of the ancestors] ." "Taipei Times", Aug 10 2003. Accessed 10/21/06.]

Many Atayal are bilingual, but the Atayal language still remains in active use.

Famous Atayal people include singing star Landy Wen, politician May Chin and actress/singer Xiao Xun.


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