Hla’alua people take agricultural rituals very seriously. Sacred Shell Ritual (miatungusu) derives from the worship of the God of Shell as one of the agricultural rituals. The God of Shell is the most important symbol and totem for Hla’alua. The current Hla’alua population is 309 (until March 2016).
There are four Hla’alua villages: Paijian (Paiciana), Meilong (Vilanganʉ), Tala (Talicia) and Yaner (Hlihlara). People mainly reside at Gaozhong Li in Taoyuan District and Maya Li in Namaxia District, Kaohsiung City. ‘Hla’alua’ is their name, but the real meaning of the word is lost.
Legend has it that Hla’alua people originally lived with the dwarf people in Hlasʉnga in the east. The dwarf people regarded ‘Sacred Shell (takiarʉ)’ as the place where first ancestor (God of Shell) resides. Every year they hold a big ritual to pray for peace, harvest and prosperity. As Hla’alua people were leaving their homeland, the dwarf people offered them an urn of sacred shell as a gift. Therefore, Hla’alua people also hold ‘Sacred Shell Ritual (miatungusu)’ like the dwarf people. The most important part of the ritual is the ‘Sacred Shell Recommended Wine’ ceremony. People soak the sacred shellfish in wine and observe the change of color. If the color turns red, that means the first ancestor is happily drunk and the Ritual is a success.
In “Taiwan Local History”, Hla’alua was referred to as Neiyoushe, Neiyushe or Meilongshe. At the end of Qing Dynasty, together with Han Chinese settlements, their villages were referred to as ‘Dingsishe’. The Japanese continued to use the name and called them ‘Shangsishe’ (Upper Four Villages). So Hla’alua people were also referred as Sishe Group (Four Village Group) or Shangsishe Group (Upper Four Village Group). The four villages are as followed:
1. Paijianshe (Paiciana)
Located on the plateau to the north of the junction of Laonong River and Putou River; it is now where a school is located; people live in the first village, the second village and Caoshui Inspection Station.
2. Meilongshe (Vilanganʉ)
Located on the plateau to the east of Laonong River and opposite to the mouth of Taluoliu River; villagers are dispersed between the vast river area between Laonong and Baolai; in recent years, some villagers have moved to Maya of Namaxia District.
3. Talashe (Tararahluvu/Talicia)
Located on the mountaintop to the north bank of Taluoliu River; due to its inaccessible location, villagers have all moved to Paijianshe.
4. Yanershe (Hlihlara)
Located on the terrace of Laonong River; the name of the village is known as Kalʉvʉnga or Hlihlala; during the Japanese Occupation Period, villagers were spread on farming land on the west coast of Laonong River; then, they returned to their original place, where the current District Office is located.
Hla’alua people are good at hunting and tanning. They develop leather craftsmanship and products. Leather jackets and leather hats are main pieces of clothing for men. The formal attire for men includes red long-sleeve shirt, chest cover, black short skirt and goatskin hat. Women tie their hair with scarves; adorn their hair with headwear made of cock feathers; and wear black skirt, and blue or white long-sleeve shirt. Their shirt is beautifully decorated with cross-stitched patterns on the chest. Other handicrafts are practical tools for hunting and ritual; toys for everyday entertainment are also made.
Traditional costumes for men are leather jacket, leather hat and leather pants made of hide of goat or muntjac through tanning. The front of the leather hat is decorated with shells and the rim of the hat is stitched with five feathers; two eagle feathers are on each side with a white tail feather from a Mikado Pheasant in the middle. In the modern days, the shirt is mainly made from red cloth with five three-color strips sewn on the back. From left to right, the colors are yellow, green, white, green and yellow. They represent the unity of the family.
Traditionally, women tie their hair with a scarf and adorn the scarf with cock feather. Dress styles differ from village to village. It normally is a combination of black skirt with white or blue long-sleeve shirt. Those who wear blue shirts mainly live in Yanershe; those wear white shirt mainly live in the villages of Paijianshe, Talashe and Meilongshe. It is said that women decorate their hair with cock feathers in order to commerate as legend has it that the rooster that helped win a successful negotiation with the sun.
Hla’alua makes articles for daily use out of available materials in the environment such as rattan, bamboo, shell-flower leaf, net, rip wood et cetera in order to meet the practical needs in life. They make back basket and back rack with rattan, sieves from bamboos, mats from shellflower leaf, and basket and fishing net from hemp. They also make water sink, mortar, steam bucket, millet container, fodder bucket, sheath, spoon and other farming tools. Hunting gear and alarm facilities such as bow, arrow, trap and sounder of alarm with bamboo and sharp wood are also made by the people.
Toys include top, swing, bamboo gun, little bow, bamboo cannon and so on.
Hla’alua musical instruments include mouth harp, bow-shaped string instrument and so on.
◎The Legend of Front Door God and Back Door God
Legend has it that there were two gates to the Hla’alua village, the Front Gate which was located at the cliff about 500 meters below Gaozhong Li Check Point in Taoyuan District; it is called ararai; and the Back Gate, which is the sharp rock called curuvaka opposite Qinhe Li in Taoyuan District. Both gates were guarded by gods; the front gate was guarded by Avisavulangahla and the back gate by Hlipurimacu. Both were equally powerful.
Front Gate God Avisavulangahla took good care of the villagers, preventing enemies from attacking them. One day, enemies came to attack. Everyone brought weapons like knife or gun in order to wipe out the Hla’alua. The Front Gate God confused the enemies with his magic; the enemies became so disoriented that they came to the front gate without notice and left their weapons by the gate. Everyone was trembling with fear. Soon they withdrew and ran away back home. After the enemies returned to their own village, they talked about what stopped them from entering the Hla’alua village. They were very perplexed and could not reconcile with it. So they launched a second attack. Yet, the same thing happened as the first attack and even worse. Not only did they leave their weapons at the door, but they also entered the village empty-handed and were severely beaten up by the people of Hla’alua. From that time on, the enemies no longer dared to invade. This was how powerful Front Gate God Avisavulangahla was. He controlled the enemies and protected Hla’alua people.
Although Back Gate God Hlipurimacu had the same power, he was less welcome among the people because he liked to tease them. One day, the Back Gate God was complaining to himself and went to negotiate with Front Gate God, “Why am I always guarding the back gate? It’s not fair.” Front Gate God Avisavulangahla said, “Okay, let’s race and catch the big rock then. If you can catch the rock I throw at you, you get to guard the front gate.” Back Gate God agreed to the challenge. So the two gods started their game. Front Gate God stood on top of the hill and Back Gate God stood below. Soon, a shout came from above, “Watch out! The rock is rolling downhill. Go catch it!” Back Gate God downhill caught the rock and threw it back to the hilltop. Front Gate God thought the Back Gate God was indeed powerful. For the second time, he performed some magic. He burned the rock, put the hot rock inside another big rock and rolled it downhill again. Front Gate God shouted again, “Watch out! Here comes the rock again. Go fetch it!” Back Gate God threw himself on the rock and was burned to death instantly.
This story is still told among Hla’alua people. They wonder about the temperature of the rock at that time. It must be so high that it could leave the body prints of Back Gate God clearly on the rock. The prints of human, hands and chest were still visible around seventy years ago in the 1950s. Now, the rock is still there; it sits on the plateau behind the Gate of South Cross-Island Highway. Unfortunately, time has worn out the prints on the rock, which have become almost invisible. Hla’alua people want to have the rock recognized as a Hla’alua historical site because it is the only remaining historical monument. Hla’alua people are still fortunate to have elders like Yu Jhong-cing, Liao Shuei-sheng, You Jin-tu, Yu Guei-ye and Yu Mei-nyu among them, who could prove that they have seen the prints of human, hands and chest on the rock around seventy years ago. So people still very much believe in the story nowadays.
◎The Legend of the Shooting of the Sun—the Origin of Chief (rahli)
A very long time ago, it is said that there was an orphan girl without parents. One day, she went to the river to wash clothes. A piece of rotten wood plank flowed over the water and stood in her way. The girl picked it up, threw it aside and started washing clothes again. Soon, the wood floated over again. The girl was annoyed, but she kept picking it up and threw it aside. At last, she picked it up, sat on the wood and resumed washing her clothes. After she finished washing, she wanted to throw away the wood but could not find it anywhere. She went home.
A few months later, the girl was found pregnant. Villagers teased her, saying, “You don’t have a husband; how did you get pregnant?” The girl was embarrassed; she did not want to be seen, so she hid inside her house, daring not to come out. She decided to take good care of the baby inside her womb. Time passed like an arrow. Soon, she gave birth to a boy. The boy was very big and good-looking. She named him Hla’ungali and raised him alone. To the surprise of his mother, the boy grew up as fast as the wind blows. Only one night, he was already big enough to play with other children in the village. Hla’ungali was envious of the toys of other children, so he went home to tell his mother. Whatever Hla’ungali wanted, his mother would manage to get it despite of all difficulties.
Hla’ungali grew up. He was very strong and good-looking, and he started to go hunting with others. He was very good at shooting arrows. Every time he was in the hunting expedition, he always got game. After a long time, other people started to feel jealous of him because he always caught something. One day, he went hunting with other seniors as usual. The elders told him to fetch some water. Hla’ungali went without a word. He was strong, so he went immediately. The elders took the opportunity to check his bag to see what he used to catch animals so easily. They found nothing but a part of a bone. The elders took it up and threw it away. Hla’ungali returned with water and found his bag had been rummaged. He was very upset and he told his mother about it. His mother comforted him, saying, “It is all right. They can have it. They do not know what to do with it anyway.” From that time on, Hla’ungali went hunting by himself.
At that time, there were two suns in the sky. It was very hot. Plants could not live; they all dried up and withered. So everyone lived on hunting. Hla’ungali could not understand why. He thought people should not live like this anymore because nothing they grew ever stayed to bear fruit. Hla’ungali wanted to shoot the sun, so he asked his mother to make him ropes, “Mother, please make two stacks of rope for me.” His mother was surprised by the request and asked, “What are you going to do with so many ropes?” Hla’ungali answered, “Nothing particular. After you make the ropes, I will let you know.” His mother did what Hla’ungali wanted and started to make the ropes, one day a stack. Hla’ungali finally told his mother about his plan, “What can we do? Our food never grows. Shall we suffer from hunger forever?” He told her that he was going to shoot the sun down.
Hearing about her son’s plan, Hla’ungali’s mother was glad and she encouraged him to complete the task. So Hla’ungali went to find a partner and prepared the things they needed to shoot the sun. Hla’ungali took the spear at the gate of their house and tied one end of the rope to the spear. He told his mother, “You must take good care of yourself while we are away to shoot the sun. If we have shot the sun and we pull the rope once, it means one of us is still alive. If we pull the rope twice, it means both of us are alive.” Hla’ungali left with his partner after he made the above remarks.
The two of them walked for quite a long time before they reached where the sun rose. After they arrived at the destination, they hid themselves in ambush. Hla’ungali told his partner, “When I shoot the sun, you hide and never lift your head to take a peek.” Then, he quickly hid himself in position and waited. As the suns came out, Hla’ungali shot one sun that was about to rise and quickly hid on the ground behind the rock. At that time, the blood of the wounded sun sprayed on his partner who happened to peek with his head up. He fell into the pond and died. After that, the world became dark. Hla’ungali soon grabbed the rope they brought with them and pulled once. His mother knew the meaning of one pull and became very upset for she did not know who had survived. She kept on waiting with a sorrowful heart.
The world was dark then. In order to find light, people chopped all their wooden tools including pestles and mortars and burned them up. What could they do? People gathered to find a way; even the animals attended the meeting. All agreed to make offering, but earthworms and fish said, “We will not offer anything because we live in the water and underneath the ground”. Others were pissed off and said, “All right. But if you come out, you shall die.” Indeed, now if earthworms and fish come above the ground, they die.
Every day, people offered, worshipped, sang and danced in order to please the other sun, so that it would come out. But after a long time, the sun still would not budge. After yet another long time, the sun looked over the mountains and soon descended. People were very worried. At this time, the rooster had a thought. He went to the mountain top where the sun came out and had a good talk with the sun. Fearing the sun would still refuse to come out, the rooster said to it, “If you are really afraid, tomorrow morning you listen to my crowing. I will crow for three times. When I do it for the first time, do not come out. If I do it for the second time, do not come out either. When I do it for the third time, you come out.” The rooster promised the sun, “I will protect you.” The sun agreed to the rooster’s proposal. They then separated after the talk.
The rooster hurried back to the village to look for a very strong person; this person shall accompany him to the place where the sun rises. The rooster and this very strong person hurried to find bear hide and tiger hide. After they found them, both were ready to leave for the mountaintop where the sun rises. The rooster told the very strong person, “If I make the third crow and the sun comes out, you must hide yourself under the tiger hid and quickly block the exit where the sun comes out.” When the rooster crowed for the first time, it was still dark. When the rooster crowed for the second time, the very strong man got himself ready. When the rooster made the third crowing, the sun really came out of the mountaintop and the strong man quickly blocked the exit, and the sun started to go all the way from the top of the mountain downhill. The second day, the sun ascended from the same place and descended at the same place too. From that moment on, the sun returned to normal until now. People also resumed cultivation and enjoyed a good living until now. This is the end of the legend of the shooting of the sun.
Hla’ungali returned to his home and saw his mother already aging. The entire village was happy that Hla’ungali has returned too. They honored him as the leader of the village. That is the origin of Hla’alua chief.
Hla’alua people used to live together in a large settlement. An epidemic of disease killed a large number of them. In order to prevent such disaster from happening again, people decided to scatter about with only one or two families in one spot. This dispersed living style is called ‘pararana’ in Hla’alua. Their buildings include a family house and a community house.
The roof of a community house is oval-shaped, built mostly from wood. It is about six square meters, fenced and raised above the ground by 1.3 meters. The bed is made of bamboo with a diameter of six centimeters. There is only one set of stair. The stove sits in the middle above a pile of burning colas. The house has a thatched roof, with vahlituru stuck into two of its corners. Inside the house, there are four pillars with bamboos crossing over them to hang human skulls or hair.
A traditional family house is rectangular, with a single room. The front and back of the roof are as low as about two to three feet high and covered with thatch. The edge appears sharp, yet a bit round. From the front, the family house looks like an oval cone. The pillars of the house are made of hard wood of sumac, beech, camphor, red cedar, nanmu and Formosan Michelia. Walls are made of two layers of vertically lined-up thatch stems held together by thin rattan. The left entrance is for men and the right entrance is for women. There is another door to the granary. Inside the house, there are stove, bed and cave tomb.
In politics, the executive unit is the village, which is called miararuma in Hla’alua language. It is the unit for every kind of traditional rituals. The head of political power in the village is the chief called kapitanʉ or rahli. Chieftainship is hereditary and passed on to the first son, who will be trained by elders of the clan until he is grown up enough to work on his own. The power of kapitanʉ is mainly managing affairs in the village and settling disputes among the people. He also has the power to command or punish people. However, the power of the chief is not absolute. Village affairs, whether big or small, still need to be discussed at the elders’ council makarikari. In time of war, the leadership falls onto maliialualu and he must be chosen out of brave warriors at the elders’ council. With regard to religion, the responsibility falls on the priest of the village ʉlʉvʉ; he is selected from among the elders of the clan.
2. Economic Activities
In the past, Hla’alua people practiced primary agriculture. They lived mainly on slash-and-burn farming practices; they also collected food, fished, hunted and kept livestock. The specific co-farming practice kiakucua has two distinct meanings. One type applies to two families sharing adjoining land for the sake of avoiding disputes. Another type applies to service marriage, in which the bride’s family appoints a piece of land next to the groom’s house for co-farming. The way to use land constitutes traditional Hla’alua farming practices. The land is inherited by men of the house; if there is no man in the family, land ownership goes to the entire clan, so that those who are able in the family may still till the land.
3. Traditional Kinship Organization
◎The Concept of Family
Family is the basic unit of a society; it is called ucani pihlingi in Hla’alua language. Only after parents pass away can brothers separate the house and live independently. The family house is called salia. Traditionally it had thatch-stem walls and a thatched roof.
Monogamy and virilocal residence are strictly followed. Polygamy and matrilocal marriage are rare. With the influence from Bunun and Han Chinese, Hla’alua people sometimes adopt matrilocal marriage and polygamy (Liou Bin-syong, 1969: 85). In a Hla’alua marriage, consent must be sought from the couple themselves and their parents, and the wedding is hosted by the parents. After the husband dies, the wife is allowed to remarry. Her second wedding shall be hosted by the parents of her deceased husband. Sometimes she might marry the brother of her husband. A marriage goes through three stages: negotiation, engagement and wedding.
◎Clan (Grand Family)
Hla’alua society is a patriarchal centered on common ancestry. Descendants follow the patrilineal line called lamaisa or hlipakuamia. Exogamy is not practiced. According to a research in 1950, there were twenty-four clans in the Hla’alua society, but the number dropped to twenty in 1963, covering each Hla’alua individual. During the Japanese Occupation Period, these clan names were taken as family names and used commonly. At present, there are only eighteen clans: Salapuana, Hlauracana, Tavavulana, Savangʉana, Hlauvuhlana, Tavuiiana, Tumamalikisasʉ, Hlaiputana, Hlapa’ ahlica, Iiangʉana, Piana, Tumahlahlasʉnga, Mu’uana, Hlalanguana, Hlatiurana, Hlakuluhlana, Kakuana, Na’ʉvʉana.
Traditionally, Hla’alua pantheism refers to beliefs in supernatural beings, spirits of human, spirits of things and gods. According to previous research, the most important ritual is Annual Rituals (Millet Ritual, Rice Cultivation Ritual), Sacred Shell Ritual and Head-hunting Ritual. Hla’alua has one distinct ritual from all other indigenous peoples; that is miatungusu (Sacred Shell Ritual) held once in three years. Hla’alua people consider shellfish the place, from which their first ancestor originated. So they have this ritual to pray for peace, harvest and prosperity as well as to feast the spirit of first ancestor.
The most important Hla’alua traditional rituals include Farming Ritual, Rice Cultivation Ritual, Sacred Shell Ritual and Head-hunting Ritual. They are described as follows:
1. Farming Rituals
Agriculture is an important lifestyle for Hla’alua; dry rice and millet are their main grains. Traditionally, Hla’alua people cultivated according to a calendar made according to the growth cycle of grains. The year started with the planting of millet and ended with the harvest of dry rice. This linked rituals closely with farming activities. Therefore, Farming Rituals include the Millet Planting Ritual and the Rice Cultivation Ritual.
The Millet Planting Rituals are to pray for the abundant harvest of millet. The lumalʉmʉkʉ (Sowing Ritual) is held at the beginning of planting millet; the maitatahlamʉ (Pre-harvest Ritual) at the beginning of the harvest; the maavavarua (New Taste Ritual) in the post-dry but pre-collecting phase; and the cumacukuru (Collecting Ritual) at the beginning of collecting. The following day after the Collecting Ritual is for them to hold the apikaungu (New Taste for Ancestors Ritual).
Rice Cultivation Rituals are also to pray for the harvest of dry rice. The cultivation of dry rice was introduced by plains aborigines. It was a result of cultural borrowing and has become a part of life of Hla’alua people. The rituals are similar to Millet Planting Rituals; the only difference is that the apikaungu (New Taste for Ancestors Ritual) takes place the next day.
2. Sacred Shell Ritual (miatungusu)
Sacred Shellfish Ritual (miatungusu) is a big event that takes place two or three years after the harvest of millet and rice. The worship of ‘takiarʉ’ (God of Shell) takes place in the Ritual. As legends say, this ritual was specific to Meilong Village. It took place only once since the Japanese Occupation in the 1940s and was restored in 1993. But there are already changes.
This Ritual is only hosted by the chief priest family. The head of that family takes charge of the family worship; he can do it by himself or assign another family member to do it on his behalf. The date for family worship is decided in advanced by the chief priest rahli (chief). Subordinates are informed later. The village is also informed of the ritual on the same day.
The highlight of miatungusu is ‘Sacred Shell Recommended Wine’. First, the shell is soaked in wine. If it turns red, it means the first ancestor is happily drunk. It comes from an oral history that Hla’alua people used to share a place called Hlasʉnga with the dwarf people kavurua, and the shell takiarʉ was a treasure of the dwarf people. One day when the ancestors of Hla’alua prepared to leave Hlasʉnga, the dwarf people felt sorry and presented Hla’alua ancestors with their most precious treasure takiarʉ as gifts. They told the Hla’alua to worship the shell as their god. Therefore, takiarʉ became the god of Hla’alua and the totem or symbol of the people.
According to “An Investigation of the Aborigines in Taiwan” and oral histories from the elders, the treasure takiaru is hidden in the house of the chief priest. There are three types of shells; each is around five centimeters in diameter and colored from white brown, black and pink. The number of shells garnered by each village differs. Yaner Village (Hlihlala) has six; Paijian Village (Paiciana) has eighteen; and Meilong Village (Vilanganʉ) has seventeen or eighteen (and sometimes twenty).
3. Head-Hunting Ritual
In the archives, Hla’alua Head-Hunting Ritual was only recorded by Wei Huei-lin (1965). No one else knows about the process of head-hunting and the agenda of the Ritual. It is not written anywhere else. Local people have only heard of the Ritual, too.
4. Legends of Ritual
For Hla’alua, miatungusu is a major ritual that takes once in two or three years. It lasts for six days and takes place in the village. It is the biggest ritual event. In ancient time, it took place once a year. However, because the ritual cost too much, people decided to have it once in two or three years. It originally was the ritual of Meilong Village. Nowadays, Yaner Village, Paijian Village and Meilong Village host the ritual together.
There are twelve gods of shell, namely: 1. God of Courage: it protects the people and turns them into brave warriors. 2. God of Hunting: it blesses the people with game at every hunting expedition. 3. God of Health; it blesses the people with good health and strength. 4. God of Food: it blesses the people with abundant food every year. 5. God of Exorcism: it drives away evil spirits, so the people will never be haunted. 6. God of Hard-Working Spirit: it blesses people to work hard. 7. God of Peace: it blesses the people with peace at every endeavor. 8. God of Diligence: it blesses the people with diligence so that they will not be lazy. 9. God of Achievement: it blesses the people with great achievements in life. 10. God of Protection: it blesses the people with safety and prevents them from harm. 11. God of Intelligence: it blesses the people with intelligence. 12. God of Wind and Rain: it blesses the people with good fortune every year and keeps them from natural disasters.
The ritual of takiarʉ is the most important ritual in Hla’alua culture. It takes place once in two years between 1st and 15th of January on the solar calendar. Usually the Gods of Shell is taken care of by the chief (rahli). The chief seals the Gods of Shell in an urn and buries the urn in the back yard of his house. The wonder is that when it is not the time for the ritual, although the Gods of Shell are sealed in the urn and buried underground, people actually cannot find them. It is said that they have returned to Hlasʉnga. But about ten days before the ritual, the chief will go and check if Gods of Shell have returned, and what he will find out (indeed) is that they have all returned to their urns. This is something truly amazing.
On the eve of the Ritual, the chief brings the Gods of Shell to the middle of the sacred fire at the ritual site. The urn is placed in a hole, covered with a slate stone and guarded by men. No women and other animals are allowed to approach or cross over. At the first crow of the rooster in the early morning the following day, the chief orders men to gather at the Community House to start the first section of the Ritual: Welcome (makuakuaihlicu) and the second section of the Ritual: Initial Ritual (malalalangʉ). At this time, a fellow priest opens the urn of wine while the chief priest slices the meat into pieces. Then the fellow priest passes the wine cup among the men on the spot. When one receives the cup of wine, he dips his finger in the wine, gently sprinkles the wine to the right and left, and shouts ‘tamu’u’ (toast to god) before he drinks it. Next, the chief offers everyone a piece of meat. This marks the end of Initial Ritual. Meanwhile, the chief asks every man to welcome gods with wine at the ritual site. The fellow priest invites the chief to preside over the Ritual.
As the Ritual begins, the first section is the Wine Ceremony: the chief worships gods with wine to pray for abundant harvest and game in the coming year. Later, it is the time to make fire in order to continue the heritage of firemaking from ancestors. After these two sections, the chief leads every man and woman at the ritual site to sing and dance until exhaustion. In the past, Hla’alua people would spend a week after the Ritual in singing and dancing. Only after they have shared all the wine and game meat with each other would they end the Ritual quietly.
Taboos to be followed at the Ritual:
● On the day of the Ritual, all livestock must be wellkept inside the fence. No animal is allowed to enter the ritual site.
● No children are allowed to enter the ritual site; parents of the violator will be severely punished.
● All men and women attending the Ritual must be well dressed and should not have any loose behavior. If any piece of clothing falls on the ground, there will be life-threatening danger.
● All people must attend the Ritual; no absence is allowed.