An Atayal tribal woman with tattoo on her face as a symbol of maturity, which was a tradition for both males and females. The custom was prohibited during Japanese rule.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Seediq, Truku, Kavalan, Taiwanese Aborigines|
The Atayal (Chinese: 泰雅; pinyin: Tàiyǎ), also known as the Tayal and the Tayan, are one tribe of Taiwanese aborigines. In 2014, the Atayal tribe numbered 85,888. This was approximately 15.9% of Taiwan's total indigenous population, making them the third-largest tribal group.
The meaning of Atayal is "genuine person" or "brave man".
The first record of Atayal inhabitance is found near the upper reaches of the Zhuoshui River. However, during the late 17th century they crossed the Central Mountain Ranges into the wilderness of the east. They then settled in the Liwu River valley. Seventy-nine Atayal villages can be found here.
Taiwan is home of a number of Austronesian tribal groups since before 4,000 BC. Genetic analysis however suggests that the different tribes may have different ancestral source populations originating in mainland Asia, and developed in isolation from each other. The Atayal people are believed to have migrated to Taiwan from Southern China or Southeast Asia. Genetic studies have also found similarities between the Atayal and other people in the Philippines and Thailand, and to a lesser extent with south China and Vietnam. The Atayal are genetically distinct from the Amis people who are the largest tribal group in Taiwan, as well as from the Han people, suggesting little mingling between these people. Studies on Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) polymorphisms suggest ancient migrations of two lineages of the various tribes into Taiwan approximately 11,000-26,000 years ago.
According to stories told by their elders, the first Atayal ancestors appeared when a stone, Pinspkan, cracked apart. There were three people, but one decided to go back into the stone. One man and one woman who lived together for a very long time and loved each other very much. But the boy was shy and wouldn't dare approach her. Whereupon, the girl came up with an idea. She left her home and found some coal with which to blacken her face so she could pose as a different girl.
After several days, she crept back into their home and the boy mistook her for another girl and they lived happily ever after. Not long after, the couple bore children, fulfilling their mission of procreating the next generation. The Atayal custom of face tattooing may have come from the girl blackening her face in the story.
The Atayal Tribe has a well-developed culture. They originally lived by fishing, hunting, gathering, and growing crops on burned-off mountain fields. The tribe also practices crafts such as weaving, net knotting, and woodworking. They also have traditional musical instruments and dances.
The Atayal are known as great warriors. In a practice illegal since the Japanese Colonial Era (1895 –1945), to earn his facial tattoo a man had to bring back at least one human head; these heads, or skulls, were highly honored, given food and drink, and expected to bring good harvests to the fields. (See Headhunting.) The Atayal were known to be fierce fighters as observed in the case of the Wushe Incident, in which the Atayal fought the Japanese.
The Atayal are good weavers as well and symbolic patterns and design can be found on Atayal traditional dress. The features are mainly of geometric style, and the colors are bright and dazzling. Most of the designs are argyles and horizontal lines. In Atayal culture, the horizontal lines represent the rainbow bridge which leads the dead to where the ancestors' spirits live. Argyles, on the other hand, represent ancestors' eyes protecting the Atayal. The favorite color of this culture is red because it represents blood and power.
The Atayal tribe is also known for using facial tattooing and teeth filing in coming-of-age initiation rituals. The facial tattoo, in Squliq Tayal, is called ptasan. In the past both men and women had to show they can performed a major task association with an adult before they can tattoo their faces. For a man, he had to take the head of an enemy, showing his valor as a hunter to protect and provide for his people, while the women had to be able to weave cloth. A girl would learn to weave when she was about ten or twelve, and she had to master the skill in order to earn her tattoo. Only those with tattoos could marry, and, after death, only those with tattoos could cross the hongu utux, or spirit bridge (the rainbow) to the hereafter.
Male tattooing is relatively simple, with just two bands down the forehead and chin. Once a male has come of age he will have his forehead tattooed. As soon as he fathers a child, his bottom chin is tattooed. For the female, tattooing is done on the cheek, typically from the ears across both cheeks to the lips forming a V shape. Tattooing on a man is relatively quick, on a female it may take ten hours.
In the past the tattooing was performed only by female tattooists. The tattooing was performed using a group of needles lashed to a stick called atok tapped into the skin using a hammer called totsin. Black ash would then be rubbed into the skin to create the tattoo. The healing may take up to a month.
The Japanese banned the practice of tattooing in 1930 because of its association with headhunting. With the introduction of Christianity, the practice has declined and it is now rarely seen except on old people even though it is no longer banned. However some young people in recent years have attempted to revive the practice.
Atayal in modern times
The Atayal tribe in Taiwan resides in central and northern Taiwan. The northernmost village is Ulay (Wulai in Chinese), about 25 kilometers south of central Taipei. The name Ulay is derived from /qilux/, hot, because of the hot springs on the riverbank.  The Wulai Atayal Museum in the town is a place to learn about the history and culture of the Atayal.
Many Atayal are bilingual, but the Atayal language still remains in active use.
Notable Atayal people
- Tom Chang, singer
- May Chin, actress, singer and politician
- Vic Chou, actor and member of pop group F4
- Vivian Hsu, model, actress, and singer
- Albee Huang, actress and singer
- Yuming Lai, singer of rock duo Y2J
- Irene Luo, singer
- Joanne Tseng, actress and member of pop duo Sweety
- Landy Wen, singer
- Jane Huang, singer of rock duo Y2J
- Atayal, Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples.
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