Hualien Amis traditions reflect cultural diversity in Taiwan during Ghost Month

Indigenous Harvest Festival contrasts with Chinese Ghost Month traditions

Amis dancers at Harvest Festival

Amis dancers at Harvest Festival (Taiwan News photo)

HUALIEN (Taiwan News) -- Demonstrating clear cultural differences, Taiwan's native people celebrate their joyful Harvest Festival while most of the country engages in the somewhat frightening Ghost Month practices of traditional Chinese culture.

This year in Taiwan, the "Ghost Month" of the Lunar Calendar coincides with the Amis celebration of Harvest Festival, an indigenous tradition with a history thousands of years old. In a similar manner to the Thanksgiving Day holiday celebrated in the United States, the indigenous Amis in Taiwan enjoy a happy social celebration, whereas communities practicing the folk traditions of pre-modern China will gather to placate the ghosts of their ancestors.

Chinese culture, which was originally brought to Taiwan by the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Qing Dynasty before them, has provided many unique holiday traditions enjoyed by modern Taiwanese people, such as Lunar New Year. However, for some people from other cultural backgrounds, the traditions practiced during Ghost Month can be a little disturbing.

During the Ghost Month period, many practice the tradition of burning immense amounts of joss paper to placate ancestral ghosts and satisfy their needs in the afterlife. However, Taiwanese society has shown a remarkable ability to cultivate many very different religious traditions without too much social division.

Joss paper at a Ghost Month ritual (Taiwan News/ Orrin Hoopman)

In credit to the current administration under Tsai Ing-wen and the maturity of the island’s civil society, Taiwan continues to demonstrate peaceful tolerance and acceptance of cultural pluralism.

An excellent example of this can be seen in Hualien, where Amis natives express gratefulness for having food to eat, as Taoist cultural groups collect and distribute food to earn money for local temple associations. The simultaneous events are intended to peacefully bring people with differing religious beliefs together.

Music perfromance at Amis Harvest Festival (Taiwan News/ Orrin Hoopman)

Musical performance at Amis Harvest Festival (Taiwan News / Orrin Hoopman)

A contrast is readily apparent in that the indigenous tribes have an island mentality which reveres the meager but valued blessings which nature provides on the small island. In contrast, the Chinese cultural traditions reflect a continental mentality and tend to conceptualize a never ending abundance that is ensured by the gods and ancestors, assuming they are continually appeased.

Despite differing mentalities and religious traditions, Taiwan continues to grow as a nation that fosters harmonious relations and prosperity shared between different culture groups.

The region's major Amis Harvest Festival was held July 19-21, however individual tribes and townships will continue to host local gatherings and festivals through August. As for Ghost Month, the gate to the spirit world opened on Aug. 1 and is expected to close again on Aug. 29.

Whether one chooses to attend a Chinese-Taoist Ghost Month event or an Amis Harvest Festival event this August, the country possesses a fascinating array of cultural ceremonies and sounds waiting to be discovered across Taiwan.

Preparations for Ghost Month ritual in Hualien (Taiwan News / Orrin Hoopman)