Truku people value weaving, facial tattoo, faith in ancestral spirits and ancestral instructions called ‘gaya’. The Ancestral Spirit Ritual is an important ritual. Truku villages are concentrated in Xiulin Township, Wanrong Township and Zhuoxi Township; while some live in Qingfeng Village, Nanhua Village and Fuxing Village of Jian Township in Hualien County. In 2004, Truku people were recognized as one of the independent indigenous peoples.
Acording to the legend in prehistorical times, the ancestors of Truku people traveled on driftwoods (rowcing, which means boat) and landed on the southwest coast of Taiwan. After landing, they dispersed to the plains from Taichung to Tainan. But they did not get along with the plains aborigines, who outnumbered them, chased them away and even killed them. So they were forced to move to the high mountains in central Taiwan. First, they went to a place to the west of Puli called Ayran. Then, they slowly moved to the mountains in the east, traveled through seventeen locations in several hundreds of years and finally settled in Hezuo Village of Renai Township in Nantou County, or otherwise called by the people as Truku Truwan. Truku Truwan is a tableland made of three river valleys: Ayug Lqsan, Ayug Busi, Ayug Brayaw. It is in this place that the Truku people gradually developed ‘a collective memory of history’ and ‘a common living experience.’
Truku Truwan is in today’s Hezuo Village of Renai Township in Nantou County. Geographically, it covers three river valleys. In old Truku language, it means ‘Tru Ruku’ (three living quarters); the two syllables of ‘ru’ in the middle are merged and become ‘Truku’. After living in Truku Truwan for a period of time, the Truku population grew on limited fields, and finding new land became necessary. Some moved to the tableland near Chunyang hot-springs at Jingyiang Village, Renai Township, calling themselves ‘Tgdaya’ (meaning those that came originally from Truku Truwan at the higher ground). Some others moved to Pingjing of Jing-ying Village, Renai Township, calling themselves ‘Toda’ (meaning pass by or the place one must pass by). In this way, Truku people developed into three subgroups as some left the original Truku Truwan for Tgdaya and Toda; they are known as the Truku, the Tgdaya and the Toda. Since Truku Truwan is their common origin, Truku also becomes the common identity for the people.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Truku people crossed eastward over Cilai Mountain, Nenggao Mountain and Hehuan Mountain of the Central Mount Range, and settled in Hualian in east Taiwan, to build a new home there. Since the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Dutch, the Japanese and the Republic of China all referred to the people by their foundation village in the east as ‘Truku’, and the name is used until now as the name of the people. As influenced by Japanese kanji, the name is pronounced as ‘ta-ro-ko’. After expanding their territory to the east, Truku people built villages at the valleys of Liwu River and Tailuge River in Hualien. At the end of the nineteenth century, Truku people began moving downstream along Liwu River. Northbound, they reached Heping River; southbound, they came to Sanjhan River, Mugua River and Cingshuei River.
During Japanese Occupation Period, the Truku land was reclaimed national. Such oppression in traditional living space and sovereignty gave rise to discontent and protest among the people. Xincheng Incident in 1896, Weili Incident in 1906, and Tailuge Incident in 1914 were several examples. After the Tailuge Incident in 1914, Japanese military prevailed over each village. Truku people were relocated from deep mountains to the foothill of the mountains, and separated in different villages, so that they could not unite easily as a people.
Truku people practice slash-and-burn agriculture. They grow millet, corn, sweet potato and so on. Besides farming, they also fish and hunt.
Crops like millet, corn and sweet potato are staple food for Truku people. Non-staple food includes meat and fish that come from hunting and fishing.
Truku costumes are mainly white and are decorated with various shapes of diamond. Diamonds represent the eyes of the ancestor; they protect the people. Typical Truku costumes include over-sleeves and bead clothes. People put on over-sleeves are at work to protect their arms; over-sleeves are often embroidered with diamond shapes. Bead clothes and bead skirts are sewn with circular white shell beads. They are valuable formal costumes exclusively for headman, head of the clan or warrior at important events.
4. Weaving (tminun)
Truku costume is made of colorful interwoven hemp clothes, made from doubling, bleaching and coloring. These hemp clothes are materials for costumes, ornaments and cover sheets. Main colors are green, red, yellow, black and white.
In Truku language, weaving is called ‘tminun’. Traditionally, weaving was only for women. Tools include weaving machine, laze-rod, heddle-rod, spindle, thread-container and server rack. Procedures go from picking hemp, sieving threads, bleaching threads, trimming threads, to the final stage of weaving. Since weaving takes quite a lot of time, in a traditional village, every family is always in some stage of the weaving process.
Weaving is significant to women. Only after a woman learns how to weave can she receive facial tattoos, get married, pass the test of the rainbow bridge and reach the home of ancestral spirits. In addition to making daily clothes, for women, weaving also means initiation to adulthood, marriage and ethnic identity.
5. Facial Tattoo (patasan)
In traditional Truku culture, facial tattoo plays a big role. It is also the most culturally specific body ornament. Truku boys and girls can only receive tattoos after they enter adulthood at the age of 14 or 15. Girls must have the recommendations from elders for their weaving skills to deserve facial tattoos. The Truku culture of facial tattoo was banned during Japanese Occupation Period and the custom was broken off.
Truku and Seediq share the same cultural origin. In the three or four hundred years after the people moved to the east, they started to develop different housing styles. At their homeland in Nantou County, there are subterranean wood houses; while in Hualien, there are bamboo houses.
The subterranean house is mainly made of wood, with a foundation dug deep in the ground and walls made of parallel logs. The roof is covered by slates.
A bamboo house is made mainly of bamboos. It is constructed upward from the ground, and the roof is covered with thatch.
Wood xylophone is a unique Truku musical instrument. It can be made of Alianthus Prickly Ash (sangas), Roxburgh Sumac (prihut), Taiwan Cypress (qulit, byugu, plux), tung tree (bruqil) and maple tree (dgarung). The one made of Roxburgh Sumac makes the clearest sound, whereas the one made of tung tree makes the thickest sound. To make a xylophone, one must choose the log that has been dried for a long time, so that the xylophone can stay in shape.
Xylophone is used when people summon families and friends to come and feast together or create music to go with the dance. When playing the instrument, male xylophonists sit cross-legged while female xylophonists kneel. The instrument can be played with a single hand or two hands. There are four musical scales, Re, Mi, Sol, La, respectively positioned at Number 1 Re (Round 5.5 cm), Number 2 Mi (6.5cm), Number 3 Sol (5.2cm) and Number 4 La (4.8cm).
A mouth-harp is made of a piece of bamboo with a hallowed center covered by a metal chip. Another way to make a mouth-harp is to cut the bamboo chip half hallowed, keeping the chip in the middle but thinned. Both ends of the bamboo piece are tied with a thin thread. To play a mouth-harp, one must hold the thin thread with his left hand to keep the mouth-harp steady and close to the front part of the mouth. His mouth and cheeks serve as the sound box for resonance. His right hand pulls the thin thread so that sounds can be created through echoes. In Truku culture, a mouth-harp is often used to express feelings and affection.
The patrilineal Truku society bases itself upon small families. Men inherit family properties; monogamy is practiced. Traditionally men must know hunting, and women must pass the test of weaving to be considered an ideal partner.
2. Village (galang/alang)
According to Tuku tradition, a village (galang/alang) comprises people living in the same place; they share ritual, hunting and even guilt. A village is also an organization in which the survival and property of a people is commonly protected. Galang or alang refers to the place where a family or cluster of families live together. It refers to the common space for living, slash-and-burn farming and hunting.
Galang/Alang has been translated into ‘she’, ‘tribe’, ‘settlement’ or ‘village’ at different historical periods. But they all refer to the most basic unit in the Truku society. Traditionally, villages were partitioned by stone; boundaries were clear. When a village with increasing population had to move, it would usually build a new village near the hunting ground or somewhere in the same territory. Gradually, a few families living scattered formed a village, and several such tiny villages formed one big village. The Truku society was thus built up by blood relations; scattered villages became its major characteristic.
Originally, galang/alang referred to the society made up by blood relations and marriage affinities. It was also a society that shares ritual, hunting and guilt. As Truku people migrated, they came into contact with other groups and experienced different colonial policies. Such encounters gradually changed the nature of their villages and social organizations. During the Japanese Occupation Period, the government enforced the policy of ‘Scattered Household, Collective Relocation’ upon people for better control. As a result, Truku villages became places where different families lived together, and the traditional tribal concepts started to dissolve. At the same time, traditional political, economic, social and religious values were all severely compromised. For example, the old concept that families of one village should belong to different clans disappeared as people were mixed, and a new identity started to emerge. After the Nationalist Government of the Republic of China came to Taiwan, people started to identify themselves with Truku.
Now, more and more Truku people live away from hometown. The significance of galang/alang also changed from its original definition indicated by blood relations and territory to a definition answered by administrative zones such as ‘township’, ‘town/city’ and ‘county’.
The leader of a Truku village is called bukun. It is elected by the village among men of integrity. The chief is responsible for maintaining connection and negotiation with the outside world as well as for settling disputes and keeping peace in the village. A good example is the chief of Huhus Village, Holok-Naowi.
Holok-Naowi was elected a chief for his intelligence, courage, generosity, justice, eloquence and helpfulness. At the end of the nineteenth century (also the end of Qing Dynasty), he was elected the chief of the village, earning people’s respect by settling many inter-village disputes. Later, he became the leader of the ritual group in Skadang as well as the general chief above forty Truku villages. During the Japanese Occupation Period, Japanese troops invaded Hualien. Holok-Naowi worked with his good Chinese friend Li Along and got help of Watan Awi and Chief Pisao Pawan. He had successfully resisted the Japanese government for eighteen years until the Tailuge Incident in 1914.
4. Ritual Group (gaya)
For Truku people, gaya is the conceptual way of life taught by ancestors. It contains codes of conduct and moral standards for the people. The gaya group is made of one or two close relatives in addition to other distant relatives or marriage affinities. Members of the gaya group farm and worship together; they follow taboos; and they share kinship relation, economic ties, religious functions and territories. Truku people believe if a person violates gaya, punishments will be inflicted upon the people. If a member among them violates gaya, other members will ask the violator to repent and atone for his sins. Penance depends on the scale and nature of the offence. People pay back by slaughtering a pig, chicken or duck; they also offer the blood of the slaughtered animal. This custom is still with Truku nowadays.
The traditional Truku belief centers on ancestral spirits (utux rudan), from which people develop a system of faith. Questions concerning diseases, disasters, abnormalities, wellbeing, prosperity and protection of the society can be all answered by consulting ancestral spirits. In Truku society, following the ways of life (gaya) is driven by faith in the spirits of the family’s ancestors. The word gaya means cleansing and restoring order. Elements to the daily rituals in Truku society like obtainment (ppangan), engagement (peeru), attachment (sedal) and detachment (qdheriq) open a window to understanding the meaning of the communication between human beings and ancestral spirits.
According to the oral history passed on by the elders, ancestral spirits live just like people on earth. The only difference remains that people live in the world, whereas ancestral spirits live in spiritual world. People and spirits coexist equally and harmoniously in one space; their worlds complement each other. People pray with offerings, feeding ancestral spirits with slaughtered livestock; accepting such kindness from their descendants in the world, ancestors will not interrupt the human world but will continue to bless their offspring with prosperity and protection. One can still witness such human-spirit structure in today’s hunting rituals. People offer their pig or chicken as offering to express how hardworking they are (domestic pig signifies human strength) and to pray for blessing and game; success with catching wild boar in hunting (wild boar equals to spirit strength) proves ancestral blessings.
In this modern life, most Truku people have become followers of different churches, tenets, Sabbath and Holy Spirit. Yet, they still keep faith in ancestral spirits. Nowadays, in a Truku wedding or funeral, people still hold important rituals such as sharing slaughtered pig (masuw) and worshiping ancestral spirits with offering (qnselan).
Ancestral Spirit Ritual (mgay bari)
Ancestral Spirit Ritual takes place after the harvest of millet. The date is decided by the chief or elders in meetings. Offerings at the Ritual include wine, millet cake, crops, fruit and fish. These offerings will be tied to a bamboo pole for elders to invoke ancestral spirits to come and feast. After the Ritual, offerings are shared among the people. Leftovers must be left at the ritual ground before people return home. No leftover is allowed to be taken home. People must also walk over fire to mark separation from ancestral spirits. On the way home, no one is allowed to look back.