Sakizaya priests on Palamal, the Ceremony of Fire
|962 (March 2019)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Mandarin, Sakizaya, Formosan languages|
|Ancestor Worship, Animism, Christianity|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Amis, Kavalan, other Taiwanese aborigines|
The Sakizaya (native name: Sakuzaya, literally "real man"; Chinese: 撒奇萊雅族; pinyin: Sāqíláiyǎ; occasionally Sakiraya or Sakidaya) are Taiwanese Aborigines with a population of approximately 5,000–10,000. They primarily live in the cities/counties of Keelung, Taoyuan City, and New Taipei, as well as on Hualien (formerly known as Kiray), where their culture is centered.
The Sakizaya are an Austronesian people, mostly related to other Taiwanese Aborigines and have cultural, linguistic, and genetic ties to other Austronesian ethnic groups, such as those from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Oceania. Though their language is their most defining feature; it has not been recognized as a "true language" but simply a dialect of Amis, even though the languages are not grammatically similar.
The Sakizaya traditionally practiced ancestor worship, which includes the worship of a pantheon of gods and ancestral spirits. However, most have converted to Christianity. Their society is mostly matrilinear, and women often have the authority. On 17 January 2007, the Taiwan government recognized the community as a distinct ethnic group. Before this, the people was previously classified as Amis, the group where they "hid" after they, and their Kavalan allies, fought a devastating battle against Qing invaders during the late 19th century.
|Taiwanese indigenous peoples|
Due to their intermingling within other peoples, the original genetic identity of the Sakizaya is uncertain. According to one study, they are intimately related to the Northern and Middle Amis. They also seem to share certain genetic traits with other indigenous groups, as well as with the Taiwanese Han, though this may have been a result of intermarriage. The C2 and C3 haplogroups are absent in their population.
Much of the history of the Sakizaya is unknown. It is unclear when the Sakizaya, or their ancestors, first arrived in Taiwan. According to some experts, the first human inhabitants of the island arrived 15,000 years ago and were dependent on marine life for survival. Neolithic peoples began arriving 6,000 years ago, which allowed the advent of agriculture, domestic animals, polished stone adzes, and pottery. The presence of these adzes imply a relation with the Penghu islands, where these objects are common.
The first contact with the community outside of Formosa occurred during the 17th century, when the Dutch and the Spanish arrived. It was during this time when a 1636 Spanish document was written about the name and activities of the people. Since then, there were not any reports of external contact until the 19th century.
In 1878, the Sakizaya, and their Kavalan allies, fought a devastating battle against Qing invaders. This event ended in disaster for both communities causing many of their members to be slaughtered in an event called the "Takobowan Incident" (also known as the “Galeewan Incident” or “Kalyawan Battle” zh:加禮宛事件). Others were displaced by Han settlers. The remaining Sakizaya, meanwhile, were forced to blend with other peoples, such as the Ami, with the intention of protecting their identity.
When the Japanese ruled Taiwan in 1895, anthropologists classified the people as a subgroup of the Amis. The people, however, discreetly maintained their own culture and language which continued during the next century.
In 2004, the community presented a petition for official ethnic group status to the Council of Indigenous Peoples based on historical, linguistic and cultural data. This was officially filed on 13 October 2005. Eventually, the petition was approved on 17 January 2007, recognizing them as a distinct ethnic group.
The Sakizaya language was classified as a dialect of Nataoran Amis, a Formosan language that belongs to the Austronesian language family. However, the National Chengchi University opened the classification to debate, stating that Sakizaya remains 60–70 percent different from the Amis language despite the two groups living together. Currently, there are about 2,000 speakers of the language.
The traditional religious beliefs of the Sakizaya are currently experiencing external pressures since many of the tribesmen may have converted to Christianity. The threat is heightened by the increasing importance of Christianity to the community.
The people are known to practice ancestor worship. They believe on a pantheon of ancestral spirits and deities known as dito, similar to the kawas of the Amis, as well as the anito of the Filipinos. They are considered to be "fickle as the weather" so priests or mapalaway are necessary to communicate with them. They are invisible to most people though they are known to wear red. Several beliefs are associated with these spirits, such as pregnancy and death. The homeland of the dito is Meilun Mountain in Hualien, which is also the place where the deceased pass through before finally resting in the sea.
Gods and rituals
The Sakizaya have several gods. A few examples include Malataw‧Otoki, the deity the spirit of the world, Olipong, the god that "drives away illnesses", and Talaman or Takonawan, the god of the poor. An individual's personal dito become the god of death once they have died.
Rituals are practiced to appease the dito and often mimic rituals performed by other Austronesian peoples. The practice of these are dictated according to the seasons: spring or pasavaan, summer or ralod, fall or sadinsing, and winter or kasinawan. An example of these is the Palamal or the "Worship of the Fire God".
According to a Japanese document, several rituals are associated with the main staples, millet or havay and dry rice or tipus. These included the "Millet Sowing Ritual", "Fishing Ritual", "Collecting Ritual", "Harvest Ritual", and "Storing Ritual", which are all based on the growth of the millet.
Another religion practiced by some Sakizaya is Christianity. The religion first arrived in Formosa during the age of European colonization. Its formal arrival occurred in 1627, during the arrival of Georgius Candidius, the first ordained minister to set foot on the island. According to this missionary, the conversion of the natives was effective. The conversion was so successful that native clergymen soon became a necessity. This success, however, was short-lived since Christians faced persecution after the arrival of the Chinese. It was not until late in the 20th century that this religion began to achieve its resurgence.
Currently, almost 70 percent of Taiwanese Aborigines practice Christianity, though the exact number of Sakizaya practicing this religion is uncertain. The religion has become effective in maintaining social unity, which has been held by traditional practices.
Society and culture
In terms of survival, fishing and hunting are important. Rice cultivation also forms a significant aspect of their food production. This practice is thought to have been acquired through the Kavalan. Millet is important as a food source and as a way in determining the occasions of festivals.
The culture of the Sakizaya is under threat due to the small but steady urbanization of Sakizaya youth. Efforts to preserve their culture have been initiated by the government, which believes this could be beneficial to ecotourism.
According to Japanese researchers, Sakizaya men are divided into age-class systems, known as sral, where they stay for about five years. Between infancy and 15 years of age, boys are classed into the child class or wawa. They soon participate in a ritual known as Masatrot and are trained in a youth-house or talaon, where they learn to obey orders as well as certain commands. Once they accomplished this, they would move to the preparatory youth class or kapah and stay there until they are 23 years of age, when they finally reach the superior class.
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