encounters with Rukai and Paiwan aboriginal culture
Text and photos by Cheryl
One of the extraordinary aspects of Taiwan's Aborigine
cultures is the sheer diversity to be found among
the various tribes on this small island. A key
place to appreciate this is southern Taiwan, where
Pingtung County's Wutai and Sandimen townships
are home to the Rukai and Paiwan aboriginal tribes.
These townships provide plenty of chances for
visitors to enjoy an authentic encounter with
these fascinating cultures.
Sandi Village, in Sandimen Township, possesses
more than 10 workshops creating traditional handicrafts
of the Paiwan tribe, including pottery, sculpture,
embroidered clothing and glazed bead jewelry.
A handicrafts path travels from beside the Ching
Ting (Dragonfly) Glazed Beads Workshop and Restaurant
[(08) 7992856] on Jhongjheng Road , and extends
about half a kilometer, passing Shadao Glazed
Beads Workshop [(08) 7991753], Dakivali Restaurant,
which serves traditional aboriginal cuisine, and
Erge Pottery Workshop [(08) 7994801].
Stone Slab Lane winds its way up the hillside
above Wutai Elementary School. It is flanked on
both sides by carvings depicting traditional activities
such as hunting and ceremonies. Worth visiting
are the traditional stone-slab houses, guesthouses
that feature a mix of modern and traditional decor,
and Du Ba-nan's home. Du is considered a national
treasure for his artwork, particularly his wood
and stone sculptures. He is also a Rukai treasure
because he is responsible for passing on the legends
of the tribe. The Rukai Cultural Artifacts Exhibit
Hall [(08) 7902234], next to the front entrance
of Wutai Elementary School, also houses historical
items of the tribe.
Take National Highway 3 to the Jiouru exit in
Pingtung and drive toward Yianpu. Connect to Provincial
Highway 24 to reach Sandimen and Wutai. A mountain
permit is required to enter Wutai. For foreigners
accompanied by a Taiwanese citizen, the permit
can be obtained at the Sandimen entrance to Wutai.
Or they may obtain a mountain permit from a police
station with a Foreign Affairs Section before
heading to Wutai. For more information, call the
Wutai Township administrative office at (08) 790-2234
or the Sandimen Township administrative office
at (08) 799-1104.
Rukai tribal legend says that long ago two brothers
set out with their cloud leopard, which led them
to an area with natural surroundings which was
very favorable for a settlement. They called this
Kochapongane, now known as Old Haocha.
Old Haocha is mostly deserted these days. Its
traditional stone slab homes now registered historical
sites and the village is very remote, requiring
hours of hiking in mountainous terrain to reach.
The inconveniences that came with its location
forced the village residents to relocate to New
Haocha. However, even that move has not stemmed
the flow of job-hunting young people to the cities.
Thus, Sasare and fellow villagers set up the Rukai
Development Association. Among their many projects
are a computer classroom, library and 3-D map
of the movements of the Rukai tribe, as told by
village elders. This association also hopes to
create a handicrafts center to attract tourists
and allow villagers to earn a living creating
traditional handicrafts. Unfortunately, much of
their dream to revitalize the village hinges on
money, which is in short supply.
Sasare believes that his village
is worth all of his efforts. He says that its
attractions are a crystal-clear river and homes
decorated with designs unique to its occupants,
such as a stone carving of Jesus the shepherd
on the front of the pastor's house, carvings of
swift runners on the front of an Olympic medalist's
home, and traditional motifs that define social
To find out more about Old Haocha,
New Haocha or the Rukai Development Association,
contact Sasare at (0913) 514-337 or the Association
of Pingtung Indigenous Culture and Education at
The only way to reach New Haocha is to drive yourself.
Take National Highway 3, get off at the Jiouru
exit and connect to Provincial Highway 24. At
Shueimen, follow the signs to the Indigenous Peoples
Culture Park in Majia Township. You will have
to drive through the park to reach New Haocha,
and may be required to pay the entrance fee of
NT$120 per person to do so. A mountain permit
is also required to enter New Haocha, and must
be obtained in advance as--unlike Wutai--no on-site
registration is allowed.