Yami people

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The Yami people are more respectfully referred to as the Tao people. The Tao populace has fought for years to reclaim its original name in place of the name given to it by foreign anthropologists.

Old photo of the Tao people on the shore of Orchid Island, near Taiwan published in a Japanese colonial government publication, ca. 1931.

The Tao are a Taiwanese aboriginal peoples native to the tiny outlying Orchid Island of Taiwan. They are an Austronesian people whose ancestors migrated to the island from the Batanes Islands located in the northern area of the Philippines approximately 800 years ago. Despite speaking the Malayo-Polynesian language of other Taiwanese aboriginals, they possess a wide array of contrasting cultural traits including the use of fishing and cultivating tuber crops for survival. In fact, they more closely resemble the Ivatan people of the Batanes Islands than other Taiwanese aboriginals on the main island. The 1895 declaration making Orchid Island a research zone contributed to the Tao’s preservation of culture and rejection of outside influences.

Approximately 5,000 Tao people currently occupy Orchid Island, half of which travel to the main land for work. They are members of Taiwan’s remaining two percent of Austronesians, living amongst a group of the Han Chinese. The Tao people exist in a patrilineal society devoid of chiefs. Most of their culture and religious observances revolve around catching and preserving three types of flying fish. They also regard the building of their fishing boats as the manifestation of divinity.

In 1982, a nuclear waste storage facility was built on the island. The plant receives waste from Taiwan’s three nuclear power plants. Since the establishment of the storage facility, the Tao people have continually protested its existed and demanded its destruction due to the health issues created by radiation from the nuclear waste. In addition to their struggles regarding the nuclear waste plant, the Tao people have struggled to establish an efficient government separate from Taiwan. The Tao people have worked hard to establish a distinct governing body that draws a clear line between members of the Taiwanese government and themselves.


The word "Tao" simply means "people" in the language of the Tao people.[1] The word Yami originated from Japanese ethnologist Torii Ryūzō. He used the term to refer to the culture and language of the Tao People. It was retained during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan through to today. In recent years, the Tao people have rejected the outsourced name. After the dismantling of Martial Law, in an attempt to regain an ethnic self-identity, these islanders began to identify their collective by the name Tao. However, as there exist six village communities on the island (Ye You, Yu Jen, Hong Tou, Ye Yin, Dong Qin, and Lang Dao), they each possess a unique name tied to their locality.[2]

Geography and diet[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Arrigo, Linda. "A Minority within a Minority: Cultural Survival on Taiwan's Orchid Island". Cultural Survival. Retrieved February 25, 2015. 
  2. ^ Blundell, David (July 2008). "Endangered Languages in Revitalization Development and Mapping Featuring the Batanes and Orchid Island". ECAI Pacific Language Mapping. Retrieved February 26, 2015. 

2. Tao, Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples

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