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Men hunt, women weave: the aboriginal tribe Seediq

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Seediq Tribe aborigine Bagan-Narwee weaves with a traditional weaving machine at the Alang Snuwil area, Renai Township, Nantou County.
Seediq Tribe designer Awe Siyac's modern designs.
Seediq Tribe designer Awe Siyac's modern designs.
A memorial stone commemorating the Wushe Incident is seen at the Chunyang community, Renai Township, Nantou County.

Seediq Tribe aborigine Bagan-Narwee weaves with a traditional weaving machine at the Alang Snuwil area, Renai Township, Nantou County.

Seediq Tribe designer Awe Siyac's modern designs.

Seediq Tribe designer Awe Siyac's modern designs.

A memorial stone commemorating the Wushe Incident is seen at the Chunyang community, Renai Township, Nantou County.

Traditionally living in the border area between Nantou and Hualien counties, the Seediq are Taiwan's 14th indigenous tribe, and until very recently the group was still known as a branch of the Atayal, the second largest aboriginal tribe in Taiwan.
During the Japanese colonial period (1895-1945), Japanese anthropologists mistakenly classified Seediq as part of the Atayal Group, citing the reason that both tribes share similar social practices and traditions.
However, little did the Japanese know that the two neighboring groups lived right next to each other are, in fact, extremely different linguistically. According to local studies, the Seediq and Atayal languages share only about 47% of their words.
After the end of Japanese rule the late-comer Kuomintang government continued to use this classification for convenience in administration.
Unlike the Japanese, the early KMT government was not really interested in studying the aboriginal culture and languages, and aboriginal studies in Taiwan languished for a long time. Thus people continued to misidentify the Seediq as a part of the Altayal until the past decade, when more and more scholars studying aboriginal tribes began to understand the differences between the two tribes.
At the same time, the Seediq people, known for their pride in their own identity, have long been seeking formal recognition. Formal recognition has been an issue high on the Seediq's agenda, with tribal elders, city-educated youth and church leaders participating in discussions aimed at obtaining official status from the government.
After decades of trudging a long and winding road to recognition for the Seediq, the Taiwan government finally recognized the tribe as Taiwan's 14th indigenous tribe on April 23, 2008.
At a press conference to announce the official recognition, Watan Diro Mtabu, Executive Director of the Seediq Name Rectification Association, said proudly that "Seediq has been our name, and we rejoice that our name is finally recognized,"
According to the latest statistics released by the cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples, the 2009 Seediq population was 5737.
Men hunt, women weave
Like most Austronesian groups, the Seediq are a small-scale farming and hunter-gatherer society. The male hunts and plants highland rice for a living, and females weave and plant yams to provide clothing for their husband and children.
The Seediq tribe shares with the Atayals a unique folk craft as these two are the only two aboriginal groups in Taiwan that tattoo their faces, a rare cultural heritage that can be called a true national treasure.
It is believed that there are only a very small number - less than 10 - Atayal and Seediq elders with facial tattoos left today. And the number is shrinking fast.
To the Seediq people, facial tattoos are an important spiritual and social practice. Having a tattoo on one's face is like a rite of passage, and not everyone can have a facial tattoo; it has to be earned.
"A Seediq male will get a tattoo on his forehead when he is seven, but if he wants a tattoo on his chin, he has to win it by cutting off the head of an enemy and bringing it home,"?said Kuo Ming-cheng or {"Dakis Pawan", a Seediq expert.
On the other hand, if a woman wants to earn a facial tattoo, she has to learn the art of weaving.
It is very difficult for men and women without facial tattoos to get married, thus getting tattooed on the face is the most important event in a Seediq's lifetime.
Even more importantly, Seediqs who do not have tattoos cannot cross the "hakaw utux" or rainbow bridge, a bridge that leads to where the spirits of their ancestors are gathered, after they die.
This singular and highly-important traditional custom, along with the practice of cutting the enemy's head off, however, were both forbidden during the Japanese colonization, since the Japanese believed to be an act of barbarism.
The bans, however, became a serious issue that conflicted with Seediq values, eventually leading to the outbreak of the 1930 uprising, the famous Wushe Incident.
Mona Rudao and the
Wushe Incident
Considered the most famous and violent of all anti-Japanese uprisings in Taiwan, the Wushe Incident occurred in the aboriginal region of Wushe in present-day Nantou County.
After a Japanese police officer insulted a tribesman, hundreds of Seediqs, under the leadership of tribal chief Mona Rudao, massacred Japanese residents in the area.
A total of 215 Japanese were killed during the uprising. .
Shocked and furious at the uprising of the Seediq people, the Japanese colonial government sent tens of thousands of troops to the Wushe area to conduct a crackdown.
During the military crackdown, most of the tribal insurgents were either killed or committed suicide, along with their family members or fellow tribesmen, including Mona Rudao himself, who killed his wife before committing suicide.
The remaining 298 Seediq tribesmen were forced to move away from their homes to a place now called the Cingliou com-munity in Nantou County.
The incident was so famous that Wei Te-sheng, director of Taiwan's biggest-grossing locally-produced film, 'Cape No. 7', decided to film an epic account of the uprising as his next project, titled 'Feediq Bale', enuine person' in the Seediq language.
Today you can view part of the history in a memorial museum dedicated to the Wushe Incident at 'lan-Gluban', the aboriginal name for the Cingliou community.
Mama Chang, keeper of the
Seediq weaving tradition
While the Seediq males are famous for their hunting skills, Seediq women, on the other hand, are most celebrated for their unmatched weaving skills.
As mentioned above, a Seediq male earns his tattoo through the ritual of head-hunting while a woman earns her facial tattoo by learning to weave well.
But like facial tattoo, the well-developed skills from ancient time are almost extinct in the present day and are now painstakingly preserved by a small number of elderly Seediq women.
One of them is Mama Chang or Bagan Narwee, who lives in Alang Snuwil or Chunyang community in Ren-ai Township, Nantou County.
Dubbed as a national treasure and "No.1 weaver of the Seediq tribe," the 75-year-old Bagan Narwee started learning how to weave from her mother when she was only eight.
Recalling the days when she first learned how to weave as other Seediq women did, Bagan Narwee said it was a tiresome and tedious job.
"Many times I tried to run away from weaving practice, but my mother would always drag me back and harshly spank me,"she said.
But she also knows that it is very important for her to learn how to weave, as it is the one goal every Seediq woman has to achieve if she wants to marry a good husband.
"If I don't know how to weave, my husband and children will have nothing to wear."
Bagan Narwee remembered her mom used to tell her a story when she was 15 years old about the rainbow bridge every Seediq has to cross after death.
"My mom said those (women) who cannot weave well will fall off the rainbow bridge,"she added. "There are many giant crabs in the river beneath the bridge, and once you fall in, these crabs will use their claws to grab you and bring you back to the stones under the water, where you can never escape."
The Seediq elderly Bagan Narwee doesn't know how to read and never went to a single day of school; like all the other Seediq women, however, she memorized every move and weaving technique her mother taught her.
For nearly seven decades she carefully maintained the ancient skills of her ancestors and tried to pass it on to younger generations to come by running the Mama Chang Workshop in Chunyang community.
The making of traditional
Seediq clothing
Weaving, is however, not an easy job. Mama Chang said it used to take her mother a whole month's work just to make one traditional outfit.
To maintain the nearly-lost weaving tradition, Mama Chang sometimes teaches at nearby elementary schools, showing young aboriginal students both the traditional skills of weaving and the language as well, in the hope of passing on the Seediq tradition.
Now her daughter-in-law is also learning how to weave with her in the workshop in Chunyang.
She discloses that Mama Chang is extremely strict in teaching her how to weave.
"But it is also down for the keeper of Seediq tradition."
In addition to teaching the Seediq language and weaving skills, Bagan Narwee also teaches the younger generation how to sing in their mother tongue.
"I will keep doing so until the day I die," she notes, adding that this is done to preserve the beautiful Seediq craftsmanship and tradition.


Updated : 2021-09-20 03:40 GMT+08:00