The Tao (Chinese: 達悟族; pinyin: Dáwù zú; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Tao-cho̍k), originally recognized as Yami (雅美), are a Taiwanese aboriginal people, native to tiny outlying Orchid Island in Taiwan. The Tao are an Austronesian people linguistically and culturally closer to the Ivatan people of the Batanes islands in the Philippines than to other aboriginal peoples on the main island of Taiwan. The word "Tao" (pronounced Ta-o) means "person" or "people" in the Tao language and many Philippine languages. The Tao people are traditionally good at making balangays (native canoes), which is a symbol of their tribe.
In 2000 the Yami numbered 3,872. This was approximately 1% of Taiwan's indigenous population.
Geography and diet
The Tao people of Pongso no Tao (Orchid Island) live on a small island approximately 42 km in diameter. The coastline is the only inhabited area of the island, with ocean and volcanic rock on the shore and then mountains of great height inland. The soil of Orchid Island is very salty. The Tao farming near the shore usually grow sweet potato for its edible root and leaves and taro. As of the last few decades other non-indigenous fruits and vegetables have been introduced. Coconuts are available on the island but are not common or usually owned by families and kept on their own private land. It is rare to find a coconut tree or any tree for that matter that is not owned by anyone on the island. Being a small place everyone has claimed some part and regularly farms there during the day. Millet is grown on the island and is usually pounded into a sticky cake and eaten with pork. Traditional millet festivals can be seen in the beginning of the summer months around the island. Taro is also mashed and mixed with smoked pork.
Crab, land crabs and coconut crab, lobsters are commonly gathered and eaten. There is a wild type of lychee nut that is green and tastes different than lychee that comes from Taiwan. The Tao raise black pigs, but more often these days pigs are imported from Taiwan for the preference of their softer and less wild-tasting meat. The noni grows on the island; traditionally it was regarded as an evil fruit and people who brought it to the village were usually told to leave. Only recently has the noni fruit been recognized for its health benefits and made into juice. There are some foods that the Tao consider taboo and will not eat such as shark, turtle and eels, the taste of which is considered disgusting.
The waters and coral reefs around Orchid Island are rich in thousands of varieties of tropical fish which provide ample variety to their diet. The Tao language includes names for about 450 species of fish. Their fish taxonomy distinguishes edible (ovod a among) from inedible fish (maharet a among). These are subdivided into fish for men or taboo/forbidden for women. Pregnant women may only eat four species of fish, and the elderly consume only certain species.
The flying fish is considered the single most important food available on the island. It is only hunted during certain months. While the flying fish hunt is on, no man may enter the water to catch any other fish until the three-month ceremony is over. The flying fish is considered like god and there are many taboos and customs involved in its hunting; certain things must be said before going out to sea to catch them. Once caught, the flying fish is air dried and salted and then stored.
There are many dances in the Yami (or Tao) culture, such as the Warrior Spiritual Dance and Hair Dance. They believe there is kami in everything, kami is natural spirits that are in everything, like rocks and trees.
- Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Executive Yuan, R.O.C. (DGBAS). National Statistics, Republic of China (Taiwan). Preliminary statistical analysis report of 2000 Population and Housing Census. Excerpted from Table 28: Indigenous population distribution in Taiwan-Fukien Area. Accessed 8/30/06
2. Tao, Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples
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