Pingpu peoples

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The Pinpu tribe peoples, also called the Pepo or Plains tribes, are peoples that mainly settled in the western plains of Taiwan. They led a primitive agricultural life before the mass arrival of Han immigrants. Since the 17th century, they have faced the strong forces from outside, such as the Dutch, the Spanish, and the Han Chinese, and they have failed to resist their fate to be assimilated. By the end of 19th century, most Pingpu tribes had been almost completely Hanised (hanhua), and they have lost their languages and cultures. They have become an invisible ethnic group in a society highly dominated by the Han Chinese. During the period of Japanese rule, Japanese scholars conducted investigations and research on the Plains tribes based on anthropology and ethnology. The present categorization of the Plains tribes has resulted from their thorough study as the following:[1]

(1) Ketagalan: originally settled in Taipei, New Taipei, Keelung, and Taoyuan City.

(2) Kavalan: Originally settled on the Lanyang Plain.

(3) Taokas: Originally settled in Hsinchu, Miaoli and the northern region of Tachia River in Taichung County.

(4) Pazeh: Originally settled in Fengyuan, Tantzu, Shengkang, and Houli, and later spread into Shihkang, Tungshih, and Hsinshe.

(5) Papora: Originally settled in the coastal plains to the south of Tachia River in Taichung County.

(6) Babuza: Originally settled in the southern region of the Tatu River and the northern region of the Choshui River.

(7) Hoanya: Originally settled in the southern region of Wufeng in Taichung County and the northern region of Hsinying in Tainan County.

(8) Siraya: Originally settled in Tainan County and City, Kaohsiung County and City and Pingtung County.[2]

During the Qing Empire - Hanisation[edit]

In the course of their interaction with the Han Chinese, some Plains aborigines moved to Puli Basin; the Kavalan tribe moved southward to Hualien County and Taitung County; and the Siraya tribe moved to Taitung. However, relocation could not prevent the Plains aborigines from being assimilated. After the Qing Empire had officially taken over Taiwan, the Plains aborigines were rapidly hanised as a result of advocating the civilising, chiaohua, of the indigenes. They were forced to dress in Han clothes, change their names and receive Han customs. As for the Dutch who have ruled Taiwan for 38 years, they have also left an imprint on the Plains Aborigines. The “Hsinkang Manuscripts” have become important historical documents for studying the Plains aborigines, which are bilingual land contracts written in Romanised letters. This Romanised tribal language was instructed by the Dutch commissaries in order to teach Christianity. Nevertheless, the Dutch influence on the Plains aborigines has been limited to language and religion, reaching merely around Tainan area. Only the influence of the Han Chinese has been far and long standing.[3]

Living Culture[edit]

The Plains aborigines have once owned extensive space for agriculture and hunting. They solved their disputes by means of betel-nuts treats, apologies or fights. They led a life of self-sufficiency without restriction and suppression from outside regulations or foreign armies. For a very long time, before the arrival of the Han Chinese, the Plains aborigines only used simple agricultural tools, such as sticks and spades, to plant millet, taro and yam. And they only produced what they required for living. Without knowledge of fertiliser, they always found new lands to plant when the land was exhausted. In addition, they still lived on primitive ways of fishing and hunting. The hunting methods included traps, spears and arrows. And they used nets, baskets and arrows for fishing. Usually, women were responsible for farming, while young men took on hunting and fishing jobs. Their hunting targets were mainly deer and wild boars. There were regular seasons for hunting deer and it was prohibited to hunt young deer, in order to maintain the ecological balance. When the Dutch occupied Taiwan, they have taught the Plains aborigines farming skills and administered a policy of breeding farm cattle. They indirectly ruled the indigenes and managed the land cultivation. After the improvement of farming skills, the Plains aborigines changed their crop into rice. This happened more obviously to the southern tribes that had earlier contacts with foreigners. The northern tribes still planted millet mostly until the early Qing period.[4]

Characteristics of Plains tribes – Matriarchal society[edit]

The Plains tribes had a tendency toward matriarchal society. Women were in charge of important household affairs. When a man got married, he lived with his wife, serving hard labour at her household. Females were inheritors of the property and passed on the lineages. But since the Han culture slowly infiltrated, the marriage and lineage of the Plains aborigines had started to change and turned into transitional modes. One was a completely Han fashion. The other was a transitional mode integrating the original matriarchy with the Han customs. A woman married into her husband’s family without receiving any betrothal money gift, and her husband had to help her family in farming. Moreover, even a woman was married she still had the right to inherit the property and shared responsibility for the debts or funeral costs.[5]

With a tendency toward matriarchy, female had a higher status in the clan system. But in the tribal system, male seemed to be superior. Prior to Hanisation, the Plains aborigines took the tribe as unit and selected their own leaders. The public affairs of the tribe were the core. The eldest male was the leader of the tribe. The rule was the leader of the tribe. The rule of elders was the characteristic of the tribal system. Elders were responsible for attending the tribal meetings, and among whom a chieftain was selected to lead and command. The elders meetings functioned to solve disputes inside the tribe and external wars, as well as major issues and ritual affairs. The political centre of the tribe is kunghsieh, where all the single males co-inhabited, taking orders from elders and learning history and culture of the tribe and skills in hunting and fighting. Generally speaking, the singles were in lower status. The single Plains aborigines were free to choose their spouses. There were certain parties where young singles could choose their lovers freely, or they could date individually in private. When a single boy was in love with a girl, he would be playing his mouth-organ day and night in front of the girl’s house. And if the girl also liked the boy, they would have a date, giving each other and engagement gift. This was far different from the matchmaking of the Han society.[6]

Ritual ceremonies[edit]

Ritual ceremonies were held several times a year by the Plains tribes to worship their ancestral spirits, which was their primary belief. All the rites were called ancestral worship, because, on one hand, they particularly emphasised the worship of ancestors, and on the other, other kind of rites were gradually forgotten and integrated into the ancestral ritual. When the Plains aborigines were holding a ceremony, the villagers would gather in kunghsieh, drinking, singing and dancing delightfully. Their ballads were mostly merry melodies until the mass invasion of the Han Chinese and their culture was on the verge of diminishing, and then they started to create elegies to express the sadness of a disadvantaged people.[7]

During the Qing period, numerous coastal Chinese of the mainland risked their lives to sail to Taiwan for the sake of survival, regardless of the sea prohibition policy of Qing government. At that time, most Plains aborigines were assimilated. Their villages (she) mingled with villages of the Han Chinese, resulting in their land loss. At first, the Han Chinese still paid the land rent, but as they gained stronger power, they stopped to pay or even bought off the rights. Moreover, the Han Chinese was good at plundering indigenes’ lands by purchase, alliance, marriage, forced occupation, or exchange of irrigation sources. Sometimes, they even took advantage of indigenes’ drinking habits and cheated on the contracts. The Plains aborigines thus yielded their living space and scatted elsewhere. Since 1701, the fallow lands and hunting places of the Plains aborigines had gradually become the farm lands of the Han Chinese, which caused gigantic changes in their economic life, social system and features. Those who refused to migrate were slowly assimilated into the Han society, and those who relocated could not avoid the oppression from the Han people or other indigenes and had to move again.[8]

Now, the Plains aborigines are mostly Hanised. They speak fluently the languages of the Han people. It is hard to distinguish them without careful inspection of their looks. The early Han Chinese that came to Taiwan was mostly single males, who usually took aboriginal wives. In terms of genetics, the present Taiwanese people are more or less inheriting some Plains aboriginal blood. Yet, as traditional customs and languages have almost died out, few people are aware that they are offspring of the Plains aborigines.[9]

Since the 1990s, as the ethno-political activities and the Nativist Cultural Movement have flourished in the island, descendants of the Plains aborigines have also started to demand Name Correction and joined the Alliance of Taiwan Aboriginal Constitution Movement. The Kavalan descendants, such as Chieh Wan-lai, did not only endeavour to teach traditional language and culture in Hualien, but also cooperated with Yilan County Government to organise a campaign for the Kavalans to search their root in Yilan in 1991 and held a Kavalan Harvest Festival in 1993. In addition, the Ketagalan tribe in the north held several cultural activities in 1994 and 1996. Moreover, the descendants of Siraya, Taokas and Pazeh have also tried to re-establish and pass on their traditions and cultures. Compared to their ancestors’ meek submission a hundred years ago, today’s Plains aboriginal descendants are awakening relatively and willing to rewrite their own history.[10]

The Geopolitical Culture of the Formosan Plains Austronesians In spite of their considerable culture and linguistic differences, the Formosan Plains Austronesians shared a common geopolitical culture in the seventeenth century. This culture manifested itself most materially in the physical structure of Formosan villages, which were protected by plant defenses or bamboo or wooden walls. Such defenses could be elaborate. In 1630, for example, inhabitants of the village of Mattau built “a sturdy double wall around their village, the inside filled with clay, as well as a moat and many demi-lunes.”[11]


  1. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  2. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  3. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  4. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  5. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  6. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  7. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  8. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  9. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  10. ^ Pao-tsun|title=The Concise History of Taiwan|year=2006
  11. ^ Zhan|first=Sujuan |title=Pingpu zu qun yu Taiwan li shi wen hua lun wen ji / Zhan Sujuan, Pan Yinghai zhu bian|year=2001
  • Tai, Pao-tsun (2006). The Concise History of Taiwan. Taiwan: Taiwan Historica. pp. 1–248. ISBN 978-986-01-0950-4. 
  • Zhan, Sujuan (2001). Pingpu zu qun yu Taiwan li shi wen hua lun wen ji / Zhan Sujuan, Pan Yinghai zhu bian. Taiwan: Taibei Shi Zhong yang yan jiu yuan Taiwan shi yan jiu suo chou bei chu, Min guo 90. pp. 1–317. ISBN 9576717973.