Tsou live in the Ali Mountain of middle-high altitude in Central Taiwan. Their rituals include Millet Harvest Ritual (homeyaya), which gives thanks to Gods for abundant harvests, and Triumph Ritual (mayasvi), which shows off a person’s admirable achievements in warfare. The current population is 6,640 (until March 2016).
Tsou people live in the southwest of Mount Jade in Central Taiwan, concentrating in Alishan Township, Chiayi County. Some live in Jiumei Village of Xinyi Township, Nantou County, and some move southbound to Namaxia District of Kaohsiung City. Tsou people call themselves by ‘Tsou’, which means people. In the legends of Tsou, God Hamo created Tsou and Maya with maple leaves, and created people living on the plains with the leaves of autumn maple trees. Gradually, they moved from Mount Jade (or Mount Morrison) to current places.
Tsou people are distributed in the upperstream of Zengwen River and Shuoshui River; major villages include Tapan and Tfuya in Alishan Township, Chiayi County, and the Luhtu group at Jiumei Village in Xinyi Township, Nantou County. In the seventeenth century, Tapan and Tfuya already appeared in the Dutch archives. In the eighteenth century, Tsou people and the Qing Government had intense interactions. In addition to paying symbolic tax to the Qing government, they also leased cultivation land to Han Chinese. Besides, in the Lin Shuang-wen Incident, Tsou people helped the Qing Government to maintain peace in the mountains. At that time, Broker Wufeng, who had the right to trade mountain products, was headhunted because of his excessive exploitation of the people. This event was purposefully exaggerated by the Japanese and Nationalist governments; it was used as a tool for political propaganda.
During the Japanese Occupation Period, Tsou people and the Japanese government got along amicably. There might be two reasons. First, when the Japanese first came to Alishan, they did not enter until they got the approval from the people; second, Tsou people thought the Japanese might be their brothers (from the group Maya), who were separated from them by flood, so they were willing to accept and exchange with the Japanese. Leaders of Tsou villages were educated in language, medicine, agriculture and so on. They did not launch any anti-Japanese movement. At the beginning of the rule of the Nationalist government, Tsou people lost some of their best elites to political complications related to The 228 Incident and White Terror. After the 1980s, Tsou people were actively involved in social movements, fighting for the rights of indigenous peoples. For example, they were involved in the anti-stigma movement that resulted in dismantling the statue of Wufeng based on the argument against the government and the society about the exaggeration and misunderstanding over the myth of Wufeng.
Kanakanavu and Hla’alua were also previously classified as Southern Tsou. Yet, since these two groups share different cultures and histories and the peoples also show strong independent ethnic consciousness, they applied for recognition and became independent indigenous peoples in 2014.
1. Industry and Cuisine
Traditional Tsou economy sustains on agriculture, hunting, fishing and collecting. Crops include millet, upland rice, sweet potato, taro; the source of protein comes from wild boar, Formosan Sambar deer, mountain goat, bird and fish caught in hunting. Recently, due to the development of tourism industry, service industry becomes a new business in the village. People are involved in the management of Danayiku Eco-Education Park, guesthouses and resort hotels. Influenced by the market economy, people also grow Japanese horseradish, high mountain tea, aiyu jelly and honey peach.
Tsou Bamboo-tube rice is very famous. To make it, one puts soaked sticky rice in the first-year Makino bamboo tube and roasts the bamboo tube in fire. Since the first-year Makino bamboo still has some moisture, the rice can be kept from being burnt; besides, the fragrance of the bamboo will permeate the rice. In the past, when people went hunting in the mountains, they would bring dozens of bamboo tubes with them because they were easy to carry, to cook and eat in the woods.
Materials for traditional clothes differ. For the clothes of men, the material is leather; for the clothes of women, the material is cotton, silk and satin. Red, white, black and blue are the main colors. On important occasions, men’s full attire is usually red.
Clothes for men include leather hat, chest cover, long-sleeve shirt, leather jacket, leather legging and leather shoes. The hat and decoration convey essential significance. Wearing the leather hat means one has grown up and can be responsible for duties for the village and the family. The full attire for men (is) adorned with several feathers from eagles, Swinhoe’s Pheasant, Mikado’s Pheasant or vulture implies a brave and valiant warrior. The full attire for women includes black headscarf, chest cover, long-sleeve short shirt, long skirt and puttee.
Tsou people dress differently by age and social identity. People like the chief, or a military leader are entitled to embellish the rim or their hat with red-ribbon belt decorated with pearls and shells. People who have caught wild boars can also wear accessories made of the teeth of wild boars in addition to copper bracelet and armlets.
Tsou people are very good at leather tanning. They make clothes out of the animal hides they catch in hunting. The procedures of tanning are as followed: peel the hide, stretch the hide, dry the hide, remove hair from hide and finally rub the hide. To get the hide is to take the skin from the body of the animal and do one’s best to keep it in one piece. To stretch the hide is to extend and fix (open) up the hide with bamboo or wood sticks, which makes it easy to dry and prevent wrinkles at the making of clothes. Also, animal fat must be scraped clean so that the hide will not get rotten. After stretching the hide, one must dry the hide under the sun or roast it over the fire, so that the hide will not decay. The last procedure of rubbing and kneading is done by two people. They use the beam of the house or a tree trunk and continuously rub the hide from the opposite direction or they may put the hide in the mortar and pound it with a pestle to make the hide soft.
Traditional Tsou architecture is built with wood, bamboo and thatch. There are three types of buildings: a men’s house, a family house and stalls. Right now, most family houses are made with steel and concrete, but the community house still exists in traditional way.
◎Men's House (kuba)
The Men’s house for Tsou is called ‘kuba’. It is a stilt construction with wooden railings where men learn cultural knowledge, the skills of hunting and combat. Main pillars are built with birch and cedar. Cedar plank and bamboo materials are used to lay the floor. The roof is thatched. Tsou people will plant Golden Plant or Yellow-flowered Dendrobium next to the Men’s House. These flowers help the God of Heaven to identify the people.
◎Family House (emo)
Tsou family house is built with bamboo and thatch. It can be rectangular or oval-shaped. At the center of the house there is a fire stove. A shelf is built above the stove in order to keep objects and animal hide. The space of the house is symbolically divided by gender. Two doors are installed; the one on the east side of the house is exclusively for men to use, while the backdoor on the west side is for women. In the front yard of the house, there is the space for firewood and animal bones. It is also the space for men to dry rice and conduct rituals. In the backyard, it is the living space for women where they keep a coop or pigsty.
◎House of Taboo or Ritual House (emo no pesia)
The House of Taboo in Tsou culture is usually on the left side of the family house. There is a stove in that space especially for preparing food for worship. The most important part of the House of Taboo is a holy grain granary, where the goddess of millet comes to stay temporarily. No fish is allowed to be cooked there. The House of Taboo is where people conduct Millet Harvest Ritual. It is also the space where the priest heals the people; it is the spirit symbol of every family. During the Japanese Occupation Period, the House of Taboo was moved outside the family house. Its scale is smaller than the traditional one inside the family house. After being moved outdoors, the House of Taboo of certain families also became the place to worship the God of Military Power and an ammunition depot.
1. Kinship Organization
A traditional Tsou society is made up of sub-clans composed of the families following patriarchal lines. They share the same family names, cultivation fields, fishing rivers, millet rituals and a common family house in the village. Inside the family house, there are symbolic holy objects that represent the clan: the offered millet and bone shelf.
A sub-clan is the most fundamental unit in Tsou society. Main properties refer to house clusters (the original house, the separate house, the work hut, the granary and the stall); they are shared by all sub-clan members. So do the cultivation fields and fisheries practically belong to the sub-clans. Sub-clans share close blood lines and are combined into one major clan. The major clan centers on the original house that started the clan and is named after that original family. Members of the same clan share cultivation fields and hunting ground; they then distribute the power to sub-clan members. Inter-clan marriage is not allowed; clans practice exogamy.
2. Family and Marriage
Tsou society is a patriarchal society; children live with their fathers and the family on their fathers’ side. Tsou people follow the following marriage system: the power to decide a marriage lies with the parents. In traditional Tsou culture, ‘service marriage’ was the norm. That is to say after marriage, men must go to women’s family and volunteer to work for a period of time. The length of service varies. Some people work for a week, while some work for years. However, this custom no longer exists.
3. Major Village and Minor Village (hosa, denohiu)
Tsou people live in a society that identifies with the major village and centers on the major village, which is made up by several minor villages. The major village is the earliest settlement, and minor villages are formed later as cultivation in the fields develops. Nevertheless, the major village remains the core place for politics, religion and economy. The political center of the major village is the Men’s House (kuba), and kuba is managed by the family of the leader of the village.
4. Men’s House (kuba)
The most important symbol of the major village is kuba. It is the center for religious, political and economic activities in the village. Inside the kuba, men receive education, hold tribal conference, gather and prepare for war, train themselves for rituals and festivals, learn about hunting and simply socialize. It is a place for passing on education and convening for negotiation. It is also a place where public affairs are managed. Kuba is more than a symbol of the village. It is also closely related to annual war rituals and festivals. It has become an important cultural symbol in the Tsou society.
In the belief of Tsou, the highest god is Hamo. He controls heaven and the earth. There are also deities (hitsu), such as God of Millet, God of Rice, God of Land, God of Military Power and God of Smallpox. Life coexists with supernatural powers. When everything goes well, the harvest is abundant. Tsou people can communicate with supernatural powers via the priest and settle all conflicts between life and the supernatural powers.
Since the 1960s, Tsou people generally accepted the western faith. Crops they grew also changed from millet to rice. Traditional festivals were once weakened. Yet in recent years, traditional rituals regained attention and became (again the) important events in which people identified with. Tsou festivals in a year are related to the growing and harvesting of millet. Every year after the harvest, they hold Millet Harvest Ritual (homeyaya). Also, in Tapan and Tfuya, they have Triumph Ritual or War Ritual (mayasvi), which is hosted to remember the past, pray for the success of future battles, and unite the people.
1. Millet Harvest Ritual (homeyaya)
Millet Harvest Ritual takes place every year after the harvest of millet. It is meant to give thanks to the God of Millet for having taken care of crops. It is also meant to unite people together. Every year when millet is about to be harvested, elders of each clan will decide the time for the Ritual and people will start preparing for the ritual, such as brewing wine, making sticky rice cake, tidying up the family ritual house and driving away evil spirits with Pearleaf Microglossa. On the day of the Ritual, elders of each clan and people will worship gods and spirits with wine, meat and sticky rice cake to thank them for the abundant harvest and to pray for blessing for the entire families.
2. Triumph Ritual (mayasvi, aka War Ritual, Union Ritual)
Triumph Ritual is a ritual of specific villages. Tfuya Village has the Ritual in every spring between January and March; Tapan Village has the ritual in fall from August to October. In the Triumph Ritual, people worship God of Heaven, God of War, God of Destiny and the souls of the hunted heads. The purpose of the Ritual is to remember wars in the past, to pray for future victories, and to drive away bad luck and illness. At the War Ritual, representatives from every family will gather in the Men’s House to welcome God of Heaven and worship other gods. After that, they will tour around the House of Taboo of every family and clan.
The Tsou believe that when doing the War Ritual, God of Heaven and God of War will descend via the Large-leaved Banyan tree planted next to the Men’s House. Therefore, those participate in the Ritual will form a circle in front of the tree and sing the welcome song for the gods.