July 29, 2012

0292 TAIWAN - Two Puyuma warriors

Larger than Saisiyat tribe (about which I wrote here, and here), with about 10,000 members, Puyuma (also known as the Peinan or Beinan tribe) is divided into the Chihpen and Nanwang groups, on the east coast of Taiwan. Initially, the Japanese anthropologist Mabuchi Toichi considered it as part of the Lion Tribe, along with the Paiwan and the Rukai, but ulterior, because of unique Puyuma’s ancestral family system (karumahan) it was separate as an independent ethnic group. Even if the population of the Puyuma is not great, its influence on the history of eastern Taiwan is very significant, because the tribes occupy a teritory located at the confluence of several main rivers, in the Taitung alluvial plain, which controls the entrance to the mountains, and furthermore they have an open attitude regarding the contact with the outside world.

The earliest records about the group date from the time of the Yuan dynasty (1234 -1368). Later, Puyuma cooperated with the Dutch, and when these has left, they took over the area and expanded their power to north. In the late 18th century, the Puyuma's chief received the title of "Great King of the Puyuma" from the Qing emperor, and the Amis and Paiwan, two of the largest aboriginal tribes, paid him tribute.

Puyuma social structure are based on kinship ties. The smallest social unit is the family (ruhma), then lineage (sarumahnan), and the clan (samawan) is the largest, a village (zakal) being composed of several clans. Normally, a clan has a large ancestral spirit house (karumahan) managed by its priest (rahan), who is also in charge of related seasonal rituals, such as the millet harvest festival (murahijavan), and the grand hunting festival (mangayau).

In addition, there are Men’s Houses (palakawun) in every tribe, which serve as the military camps at the entrances of the villages, but also are the main organizations where tribal decisions are made. Members of the Men’s House are male adolescents and adults. In order to defend the tribes, the Puyuma also have another social organization, The Age System, rigidly structured as an army, which work together with the Men’s House. As for the leadership, one type of leader is the clan’s priest (rahan), and another one is the ayawan, which generally means the head of the group.

The Puyuma tribe is a matrilineal society, in which men marry into women’s families and the children take their mother’s last name. Somewhat surprisingly, this society was once identified by the Japanese as producing the strongest warriors among Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes. This warriors are trained in Men’s Houses, which are notorious for their Spartan regimen, that transforms a boy into a man and ultimately into a fierce warrior. These are a self-contained organization, only for men, where no women are allowed to enter. Once a man is admitted to the House he is forbidden to have sex with a woman or he will be seriously punished. Once a man is married, he no longer belongs to the Men’s House.

When a male reaches 12 or 13 age, he is first checked into one of the Boys’ Dormitories (takuvan), stilt houses built off of the ground, in contrast to the Men's Houses, which sits directly on the ground. Each young male is trained in combat and survival skills, and also learns construction and memorizes his tribe’s mythology. The Boys’ Dormitories are divided into four to five different grades based on the child’s age: malanakan (13-14 years), ribatukan (14-15 years), kitubangsar (15-16 years), and malatawan (16-18 years). After he reaches the age of 20, he is qualified to enter the Men's House.

Since the men in picture are young and well armed, they are probably part of the Men's House. Traditionally, the Puyuma follows strict authority system of age, which reflect their attire. After men enter into the adolescent community, their clothing is subject to the age of their training. At the beginning, they wear a blue short skirt around the waist, with naked chest and no shoes. After the completion of the training, they wear colorful clothes, with long sleeve, short shirt, with shorts, along with pants covering the back. In addition, they wear knives, silver necklaces and glass beads. Those in the picture seem to fall into this category.

About the stamps
The first stamp on the right is one of the four of the Scenery Postage Stamps - Penghu series, issued on February 24, 2010:
• Little Taiwan, Qimei Islet (NT$5) – it's on this postcard
• Basalt Rocks, Xiaomen Islet (NT$5)
• Heart Stone Weir, Qimei Islet (NT$10)
• Whale Arch, Xiaomen Islet (NT$10)

The other 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 (3.50 TWD and 5 TWD) with different colors for the inscriptions and the denominations:

• The National Palace Museum (3.50 TWD) - it’s on other postcard
• The Taipei 101 (3.50 TWD)
• Sun Moon Lake (3.50 TWD) - it’s on other postcard
• Yushan (The Jade Mountain) (3.50 TWD) - it’s on other postcard 
• Alishan (3.50 TWD) - it’s on other postcard
• Love River in Kaohsiung (3.50 TWD)
• Kenting (3.50 TWD) - it’s on the postcard
• The Liushidan Mountain (3.50 TWD)
• The Taroko National Park (3.50 TWD) - it’s on the postcard
• Jiufen (3.50 TWD)

Puyuma - Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous People
Puyuma tribe - Taiwan Indigenous Culture Park
Puyuma costume - edu.ocac.gov.tw
Making a man out of a boy - Taiwan Culture Portal
Scenery Postage Stamps - Penghu - Stamp Treasure
Personal Greeting Stamps –Travel in Taiwan - Stamp Treasure

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


  1. A fascinating glimpse of Taiwan scenery and indigenous culture. Super collection of cards and stamps.

  2. Very interesting that the Puyuma tribe is matrilineal! The really very fun and brightly coloured stamps (which could almost be illustrations from a children's book) are a little at odds with the subject of the postcard. I have never thought about the indigenous culture of Taiwan before - so this was very fascinating.

  3. I learn so much from Sunday Stamps each week. thank you for participating.

  4. An interesting post and thanks for showing the lovely stamps.

  5. Very interesting details and the stamps are really attractive.

  6. You are teaching us a lot each week and your choice of stamps is excellent.

  7. I absolutely like the last sheet of stamps. the artwork is simply beautiful.

  8. I also love the last sheet of colourful stamps.
    you have such informative posts - it always takes me awhile to read through them!

  9. I like the simple colorful design of the stamps, and I liked seeing the whole group of stamps.

  10. Thank you all. I will try to raise your interest every time. :)