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Taiwan's last preserver of Indigenous facial tattoos passes away

President Tsai Ing-wen pays her respects to Ipay Wilang, recounts their meeting last year

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The last registered preserver of Taiwanese Indigenous facial tattoos in Taiwan, Ipay Wilang.

The last registered preserver of Taiwanese Indigenous facial tattoos in Taiwan, Ipay Wilang. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The last registered preserver of Taiwanese Indigenous facial tattoos, Ipay Wilang, passed away on Saturday (June 18).

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) offered condolences in a Facebook post and recounted her visit to the 100-year-old Seediq tribe member last year. Tsai thanked her for preserving and promoting Indigenous cultural heritage and language.

Ipay Wilang grew up in Zhuoxi Township, Hualien, also known as "Panital" by the Bunun people. More recently, she lived in New Taipei City's Zhonghe District and stayed with her daughter to receive specialized medical care after developing age-associated diseases.

On Saturday morning, her family arranged an ambulance and a trip back to Panital after receiving a notice of critical illness from the hospital. She reportedly breathed her last after arriving at her residence at 6:10 p.m. the same day.

Kimi Sibal, a Hualien-based historian, told Central News Agency that traditionally the facial taboos, a mark of honor, were only eligible for Indigenous male headhunters, young boys coming of age, and for females who had mastered weaving skills.

Ipay Wilang was forced to remove her facial tattoos at the age of 15 as the practice was discouraged under Japanese colonial rule (1895-1945), leaving mild scars on her face.

Another preserver of Indigenous facial tattoos, Lawa Tawyu, died at 103 from bacterial pneumonia in 2019. Her body was sent back to B'anus, an Atayal tribe in Taian Township, Miaoli County, to honor her final wish.