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 Post subject: Paiwan snakes
PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 2:18 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:30 am
Posts: 315
Just an aside for the detail - the snake commonly depicted by both the Paiwan and Rukai tribes is Deinagkistrodon acutus commonly known in Chinese as the 百步蛇 (in English, the hundred pacer snake). It is also referred to as the five pacer snake (五步蛇) or snake of one hundred designs (百花蛇). The attached images show the juvenile and adult forms.


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 Post subject: Paiwan costume
PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 2:35 am 
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Joined: Thu Mar 01, 2007 11:30 am
Posts: 315
As these costumes are incredibly scarce I post an image of a Paiwan elder in his handmade ceremonial costume. The trousers are particularly striking with their snake design.


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PostPosted: Thu Nov 26, 2009 10:45 pm 
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Joined: Mon Mar 03, 2008 10:41 pm
Posts: 69
Location: Formerly Taipei -Taiwan, now Shanghai - China
Hello Iain, it’s great to here from you again and to see that despite the fact you moved back to South Africa, you are still cultivating the passion for our dear island and its aboriginal people. I myself moved to Shanghai, and I also try to keep involved with them as much as possible.

Thanks for these pics of the hundred path snake, an animal so important to the Paiwan, the Rukai and the Puyuma and that is figuring at the heart of their culture. Thanks also for this photo of an elder wearing its traditional clothes. There are less and less of them. An anthropologist and friend of mine told me recently, as she was coming back from one of her field research among the Puyuma, that the last elders (her informers as she calls them) still remembering the old culture are dying very fast.

At the same time, there are also some initiatives to keep the memory alive, and there was recently a very interesting article published by Cindy Shui in the famous American newspaper the Los Angeles Times, about a ‘school’ of sorcery recreated among the Paiwan, in the south of the island.

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld ... 7247.story

In case the link wouldn’t work in the future, I copied the article hereafter and attached the picture

Published Nov. 7, 2009, in the Los Angeles Times,

In Taiwan, an effort to bring back witches
By Cindy Sui

The government is funding a program to help indigenous tribes preserve traditional practices. For the Paiwan tribe, that includes training women as witches, or spirit mediums.
Reporting from Taiwan - When Djupelang Qrudu was growing up in her tribal village, her grandmothers saw something special in her and recommended an alternative to attending high school: becoming a witch.

Djupelang, a member of the Paiwan indigenous tribe in southern Taiwan's Pingtung County, respectfully declined and became a nurse instead. But now the 51-year-old, her three children grown, is enrolled in a special class offered by the tribe to train people in the traditional skills of communicating with spirits.

Once highly respected in the community, Paiwan witches, or spirit mediums, treated illnesses, led the community in important ceremonies and protected their villages from evil. They also provided comfort in times of trouble.

"It's like being a psychiatrist," says Djupelang, a cheerful woman who left her nursing career after being diagnosed with uterine cancer.

But in the last 50 years, the number of mediums in the Paiwan tribe -- at 86,000 members, Taiwan's third largest -- has dropped to fewer than 20 from more than 100. The introduction of Christianity, as well as modernization and assimilation into mainstream culture, has led to a near disappearance of the tradition.

"The missionaries told us mediums were like devils," Djupelang said. "They said we were Satan's family because we had mediums in our family. I felt so ashamed."

Taiwan's indigenous people number about 490,000 -- 2% of the population. They have lived on the island for thousands of years, long before the majority Han Chinese arrived.

In the old days, witchcraft was an important part of village life for the Paiwan, who lived mainly in southern Taiwan, near Dawu Mountain. Mediums, who were mostly women, would communicate with spirits. During ceremonies, the mediums called on the spirits to help the village.

"Our type of witchcraft is not wild like the media have imagined it to be. It's based on life," Djupelang said. "For instance, if we are about to plant seedlings, the mediums conduct a prayer chant for planting. Before a harvest, we have a chant to pray for a good harvest. During funerals, we have a chant for mourning."

No instruments, drugs or dance are used, just mesmerizing chants and songs. There are different chants or songs, depending on the occasion.

Nowadays, only villages that have a medium hold the traditional ceremonies. Most of the Paiwan are Christians, and many young people have moved to the cities for work.

Since the Paiwan lack a written language, community leader Weng Yu-hua and others believe it is especially important to pass the witches' skills to the next generation.

"Elder witches learned the chants by memorization, but we are now trying to record them," said Weng, who organized the class after obtaining funding from the Council of Indigenous Peoples within Taiwan's central government.

Last year, the tribe began creating a writing system based on Romanization. Previous government efforts to record the tribe's culture failed because they used a bidding system, which brought in scholars. Tribal members were reluctant to pass their traditions to outsiders, Weng said.

The women attend the classes, which cost $18 for 36 hours of lessons, with the understanding that teachers cannot instill psychic power in the students, but simply help them try to discover it within themselves. Students also must have witches or shamans in their bloodline or be the offspring of village chiefs.

Djupelang said her grandmothers were witches who noticed she was special from the moment she was born. She seemed a lucky charm; everywhere they took her, people helped, good things happened.

For Djupelang, it took years of setbacks and frustration for her to recognize her true calling. She sought guidance from a medium in her village after experiencing personal problems, including a divorce and the cancer, which she beat.

"The medium told me I should've been a witch," she said.

Djupelang said that in the aftermath of the recent Typhoon Morakot, which brought severe flooding and mudslides, killing more than 600 people, she and a witch from her village used traditional chants to comfort villagers whose homes had been washed away.

The compensation for her efforts, she said, is not expected to amount to much as it will depend on what people can afford. But Djupelang, who also makes and embroiders traditional Paiwan clothes and subsists mainly on a traditional diet of taro, yams and millet, remains devoted to maintaining cultural traditions.

"I'm very happy to be learning this," she said. "If my ancestors knew, they would be very happy too."

Sui is a special correspondent.

The photo caption :
The Paiwan tribe in southern Taiwan holds a festival in which elder witches give blessings. In the last 50 years, the number of mediums in the Paiwan tribe -- Taiwan's third largest tribe -- has dropped to fewer than 20 from more than 100. (Weng Yu-hua / For The Times / November 6, 2009)


The picture that is accompanying the article is very interesting in many ways. First, it is a kind of echo to the picture reproduced in the post before by Iain, as it is also Paiwan tribe members that we can see here that, in addition, are coming from the same subgroup of the Northern Paiwan (black clothes, heavy glass beads in a dominant orange color, and common symbols shared with their Rukai neighbours located on the north edge of the Paiwan tribe traditional territory). This picture is also interesting because it is a testimony of one of these rare shamanic ceremonies that are still hold today. But you can see, when looking at the witch ladies, that they are quite old and that their traditions are threatened and are going to disappear soon if no young are coming for replacement.

Then, there is one more interesting thing for us to see in this picture, and it concerns the origin of this thread, going back to the first post, posted in 2004 by Pam Najdowski. This picture brings us another confirmation about the origin of her fabric bought in Beijing. When looking at the lower left part of the LA Times photo, you can see a band of cloth that is a bottom dress very similar to the one she originally inquired on. All the other ladies are also wearing the same kind of band at the bottom to their dress. On the LA Times pic, the motives are of stylicised ancestors linked by the waist in a janus/symetrical opposed pattern. In addition to the same dominant black and orange colors, it’s the same theme that is figured on the Pam Najdowski fabric : in fact, the snake is the common symbol for the original/first ancestor, founder of the Paiwan tribe, and it is here again represented in a dual/symmetrical way.


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