The Rukai (Chinese: 魯凱族; pinyin: Lǔkǎi zú) are one of Taiwan's aboriginal peoples. It consists of six subgroups residing in southern Taiwan (Budai, Labuan, Maga, Mantauran, Tanan, and Tona), each of which has their own dialect of the Rukai language. As of the year 2014, the Rukai numbered 12,699, and is the seventh-largest of the 14 officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan. The Rukai were called Tsarisen, which means "people living in the mountain".
Traditional dress and textile
The traditional dress of Rukai people has many similarities with the Paiwan tribe's, probably due to the similarity of their geographical distribution and hereditary aristocratic social structure. The traditional dress and textile of the Rukai people also possesses original and distinctive qualities and characteristics. Rukai people’s dress include both ceremonial attire and casual wear. Men's ceremonial attire includes headwear with insignia, headscarves, tops, skirts, shawls, and leggings, while women wear garlands, headscarves, earrings, necklaces, lazurite necklaces, bead bracelets, arm rings, long gowns, skirts, girdles, leggings, and shoulder ornaments. In terms of casual wear, men wear leather headgear, headscarves, tops, shoulder straps, girdles, leather raincoats, deer hide coats, deer hide leggings, tobacco bags, and gunpowder bags, while women wear headscarves, long robes, skirts, leggings, gloves, mesh belts, leather raincoats, and cloth bags. Rukai social structure, hereditary aristocracy, is reflected in every facet of their lives, including attire. Generally, only the nobility are permitted to dress up and the commoners dress plainly and simply, however commoners can buy jewels from the nobility, usually bartering for it with pigs, millet, and pots. The nobility used to buy cotton, silk and woollen from the Han people to make clothes.
Cloth making and dying
Like the other traditional dress of all the other indigenous groups in Taiwan, the traditional dress of Rukai people belongs to the squared cloth system, which is a particular method of making cloth. The main tool is the horizontal loom and the traditional material of the Rukai dress is linen, but they also began using cotton and wool due to the influence of the Han people. Rukai people make linen from flax and use a horizontal loom with a strap to weave the linen into exquisite and beautiful cloth, and then sew pieces of cloth together to make garments. Making cloth is a duty particular to women in the Rukai society, and when women are making cloth in a little house, men cannot enter. The color of the cloth usually includes red, yellow, brown, dark blue and green and the Rukai people dye the linen with herbs or plants. The red colorant is extracted from the root of a specific vine by chopping the roots into pieces and soaking them in water. The yellow colorant usually comes from ginger root juice. The brown colorant comes from the Dioscorea matsudae, and is extracted with the same method used to make the red dye. The dark blue dye comes from the leaf juice of a plant called danadana, and the green colorant comes from the leaf juice of a plant called rasras.
Four manufacturing techniques
Traditionally, the Rukai people’s dresses were made entirely by hand, which required the meticulous and lengthy hand work of fine craftsmen. Even though nowadays it is becoming more and more common to use computer scanning programs to design the cut and style of the clothes, and apply the embroidery and other details mechanically, handmade embroidered garments remain the most valued kind of attire among the Rukai.
There are four essential manufacturing techniques:
- Inlay. Inlay is a technique that using different colors of linens as weft to knit through the other linens as warp in order to create geometry patterns in the cloth.
- Stitch Embroidery. Traditionally, Rukai people use needles that made by bamboo for stitch embroidery, but later the Han people introduced the metal needles into Taiwan, like the other indigenous people in Taiwan, Rukai people use the metal needles instead. In the old days, the stitch lines that used by Rukai people were come from the colorful cloth that brought from the plain and they got the stich lines by tearing the colorful cloth apart, until period of the Japanese colonization could they directly brought the stitch lines. There are five methods of embroidery used by the Rukai people, cross-stitch embroidery, chain stitch embroidery, straight stitch embroidery, circle stitch embroidery, and satin stitch embroidery. Among them, the satin stitch embroidery is the most delicate technique requires the most meticulous hand work and this technique could only be found in Rukai people’s traditional dress. Although there is no restriction of direction while embroidering, but it requires every stitch lines, no matter the long ones or the short ones, should be placed side by side tidily. Overlapping and gaps between them are forbidden. If the embroiderer makes one mistake, she has to undo it and embroiders it from the beginning.
- Pearl Embroidery. Traditionally, Rukai people used glass beads with a single color to design a pattern and then embroidered it on the cloth. Nowadays, plastic beads are more commonly used.
- Patch Embroidery. Rukai people usually cut the black cloth in a particular pattern and then sew it onto the white or blue cloth; or cut the white cloth in a particular pattern and then sew it onto the black cloth.
The patterns of the Rukai people's traditional dress includes the sun pattern, hundred pacer pattern, snake pattern, human head pattern, human figure pattern, string pattern, pig pattern, rhombus pattern, and the deer pattern, but the sun and the hundred pacer pattern are the most popular ones. The satin stich embroidery usually creates the rhombus pattern which is regarded as the symbol of the hundred pacer by Rukai people. The cross-stich embroidery usually creates the anise star pattern which signifying the holiness. Two sun patterns are normally embroidered on the breast area of the nobilities’ dresses which is seen as a sign of the aristocrats. Snake pattern, human head pattern, and the human figure pattern are usually made by the patch embroidery.
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- The Rukai Tribe. Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan, R.O.C. (Taiwan)