May 4, 2012

0194 TAIWAN - A Saisiyat man smoking pipe

The 521.000 Taiwanese aborigines constitutes now only 2% of the island population, although they were the first who colonized it, with a few thousand years before that benshengren (literally "home-province person") come from the mainland. These natives Taiwanese, divided into 14 major groups, are Austronesians, with linguistic and genetic ties to peoples of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Polynesia, and Oceania. Moreover, historical linguists consider Taiwan the original homeland of the Austronesian language family. The issue of an ethnic identity unconnected to the mainland has become a thread in the discourse regarding the political status of Taiwan.

Saisiyat, or Saisiat (true people), is the smallest taiwanese ethnic group, having only around 5,000 members, but it was recognized as such, together with other eight, ever since 1919, under the Japanese occupation. They inhabit western Taiwan, in the mountainous area overlapping the borders between Hsinchu and Miaoli Counties. The geographic layout divides them into two groups, the Northern and the Southern Branches. Saisiyat oral history states that their ancestors once lived on the coastal plain area of the adjacent counties of Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli, but they migrated and, surrounded by the Atayal and the Pingpu (plain aborigines), were forced to limit in a narrow valley.

The Saisiyat received their name, because, according to their oral tradition, the name was sacred, chosen by the god Opoh Na Bolhon. Currently they have 15-16 surnames (representing patriarchal consanguine groups), each corresponding to a special totem that is its characteristic symbol. They use Chinese characters to translate them into Mandarin, either according to considerations of phonetic similarity, or according to their meaning.

Each clan is equal when participating in tribal political affairs, and marriage within clans or phratries is prohibited. Some clans have the privilege of becoming priests in specific rituals: the Chu, for example, are in charge of the Short Spirit Ceremony, the Pan are in charge of the Sky Worship Ritual and so on. Each clan has some common ancestors shared by all of its surname groups, but different surnames also have their own ancestors, and members of a surname group call one another auma in order to distinguish members from the same surname group from members of others.

The basic component of the Saisiyat social structure is the house (tau’an), which is formed through the concept of a common kitchen. Consequently, the Saisiyat’s way of forming a new family (aha vake) is to begin eating and living separately, but to continue to share property with the original family. Larger villages are called Kinatsangan, and are composed of settlements and correspond to the area where a particular regional surname ritual group is located, known as aha Pas-Bakean.

In the postcard (for which I must to thank Paoli Lee) is a Saisiyat man, photographed during the Japanese occupation (1895-1945). From the outset one can see that he isn't a random member of the tribe, because he has tattooed on the chest horizontal lines, how only the courageous warriors or those with great contributions to the tribe or with headhunting records have. With how much the number of lines is greater, with so is higher his social status. For that lines to be visible, the vest is unbuttoned.

The Saisiyat also practice ear piercing, and begin to wear earrings (both men and women) after entering adulthood. Prior to the adulthood, they had their tooth pulled, pulling one pairs of the second front tooth or anterior tooth. Both men and women shave their eyebrows.

Regarding the attire, there is no gender distinction or clan difference, but is huge difference between the ordinary attire and the ceremony attire. The ordinary attire relies mostly on plain rattan clothing, whereas the ceremony attire is featured with red (which represents warmth and hospitality), black (sincerity), and white (honesty) colors woven into algebra flower pattern, decorated with ornaments from head to toe. The materials of ornaments vary, including shells, bones, and bamboo in the past, and buttons, plastic beads and spangles exchanged with other tribal groups. The  man in the picture is, certainly, in ordinary attire.

Traditionally, both men and women smoke pipes during times of rest and relaxation. Pipes are made from bamboo ( most often from the roots). There are some variations among the pipes used by men and women, in the sense that the ones used by men tended to be shorter and the head of the pipe tended to be larger and thicker. Often the pipes are decorated with brightly colored tassels. When going out, men prefer to place their smoking paraphernalia in a pouch made of the skin of the mountain goat or the Formosan sambar.

Saisiyat's houses are built of bamboo, wood, and rattan, with round wooden frame on the ground and bamboo roofing. This located behind the man from the picture seems of bamboo, but isn't round.

About the stamps
The first two stamps are part of a series of 10 personal greetings stamps, intitled Travel in Taiwan, designed by Lin Hsiao-han and issued on September 27, 2011. Each of the designs is printed in two denominations (NT$3.50 and NT$5) with different colors for the inscriptions and the denominations:
• The National Palace Museum (NT$3.50) – it’s on the postcard
• The Taipei 101
• Sun Moon Lake
• Yushan (The Jade Mountain) (NT$5) - it's on other postcard
• Alishan (NT$3.50) - it’s on the postcard
• Love River in Kaohsiung
• Kenting
• The Liushidan Mountain
• The Taroko National Park
• Jiufen

The third stamp belongs to Railway Branch Lines series, issued on November 12, 2011:
• Shalun Branch Line (NT$5)
• Jiji Branch Line (NT$5) – it’s on the postcard
• Neiwan Branch Line (NT$12)
• Liujia Branch Line (NT$12)
• Pingxi Branch Line (NT$15)

sender: Paoli Lee (direct swap)
sent from New Taipei City (Taiwan), on 08.03.2012


  1. Oh these are lovely stamps. Maybe you could share them with us at Sunday Stamps? you don't need to follow the theme.

  2. With pleasure, but I don't know how. :)

  3. great card, i also love the stamps!!(dulcey)