Paiwan tribal festival spotlights Taiwan’s rich cultural tapestry

Maljeveq festival a cultural highlight of October in southeastern Taiwan’s Taitung County

Paiwan tribe members join five-year good luck ceremony during Maljeveq festival (Taiwan Today photo)

Paiwan tribe members join five-year good luck ceremony during Maljeveq festival (Taiwan Today photo)

The Maljeveq festival, a colorful indigenous celebration featuring ancestor rituals, ceremonies to ward off evil spirits, dancing, feasting, food offerings and singing, is the cultural highlight of October in southeastern Taiwan’s Taitung County.

Staged by one of Taiwan’s 16 officially recognized indigenous groups, the Paiwan, the festival features a special ceremony in which participants strive to win five years of good luck for their families.

A typical ceremony involves a few dozen men sitting in a circle on a raised bamboo structure, each holding a sharpened pole. The name of the game is to spear one of 10 rattan balls pitched above their heads by a high priest.

Paiwan color and custom are the order of the day during the festival. (Taiwan Today photo)

The festival has been hosted by the Patjaljinuk clan for more than a century. The current chief is Galaikai Patjaljinuk, and the shaman who inherited the right to officiate at the festival is her youngest daughter, Mamauwan Patjaljinuk. Throughout the year, her spiritual responsibilities include presiding over weddings and funerals, and conducting divination rites.

“My grandmother became chief when she was 14 years old,” Mamauwan said. “She headed 12 Maljeveq ceremonies over six decades and it’s largely thanks to her that our cultural heritage has been preserved so well.”

Mamauwan believes her mission is to keep the ancient traditions and practices alive by engaging with the younger generation. The Paiwan way of life, she said, is “imbued with age-old knowledge and wisdom.”

Rituals performed over five-day festival to pray for blessings and ward off evil. (Taiwan Today photo)

Recognizing the unique role the festival plays in the community, Taitung County Government designated it an important folk custom in 2009. The Ministry of Culture dispatched researchers to the event last year to investigate whether to upgrade it to national-level status.

Along with the Paiwan, five other tribes—the Amis, Bunun, Pinuyumayan, Rukai and the Yami—call Taitung home. The proportion of indigenous people living in the county is 35 percent, the highest of any region in the country, according to the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples.

In addition to the Paiwan’s Maljeveq, some of Taitung’s most famous indigenous celebrations are the Bunun’s Ear-shooting Festival, which includes an archery contest; the Pinuyumayan’s Mangayaw, a hunting event; and the Yami’s monthslong Flying Fish Festival. (E) (By Kelly Her)

A retired shaman (left) offers guidance to her successor in preparing Formosan beauty-berry leaves for the festival. (Taiwan Today photo)