The Aboriginal Crafts of Taiwan -- Woodwork

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Art in Objects from Daily Life 

Woodworking is am important part of the cultures of the aboriginal tribes of Taiwan. Ornately carved wooden objects were used in every facet of their daily lives, from spoons to boats. The decorative patterns that adorn them illustrate not only the skill of aboriginal woodcarvers, but also give us a glimpse into their spiritual world.

Augury was an important activity among the indigenous people of Taiwan. People would turn to augury before hunting, sacrifices, marriages, house-building, or opening up new land for farming.

This box is the kind of container used to hold the ritual implements for divination used by shamans. The shamans of the Paiwan people were usually women.

The kind of box is carved out of a single piece of wood, with an open top and no lid, but instead a twine net covering.

Wooden jars usually functioned like ceramic pots, and were believed to possess extraordinary power in the traditional cultures of Taiwan's indigenous tribes.

Besides containing wine or keeping seeds, wooden jars were also used in certain religious rituals.

The motifs carved on mainly depict snakes, human heads, boar and deer.

The Paiwan tribe’s wooden jars are mostly made from rigid logs which were hollowed out and carved with decorations.

This jar is carved with a snake motif, which is the animal totem of the Paiwan tribe.

Knives were usually made in the shape of a leaf, less than 33cm in length, with a wooden scabbard, and were worn around the waist using a rattan belt.

The scabbard is decorated with geometric patterns. The parts with lighter color and the two ears are the places where rattan strips were wrapped.

Except the Tao (Yami), all the other aboriginal tribes on Taiwan have adopted the habit of smoking, and all use pipes.

People usually use wood as the bowl, and bamboo as the tube. Pipes are usually decorated with motifs of people or animals.

This pipe’s tube was lost before it entered the museum’s collection.

In old times, alarm bells were used by some tribes like the Rukai to send messages, while today they are still used to send signals. The wooden handle is round on top, like a spoon.

These bells were tied around a messenger’s waist, ringing as they walked, or kept in the public places like temples.

Ships were an important mode of transportation for the Tao(Yami). Between 21 and 27 wooden boards were pieced together to form a ship’s hull.

The builders used a specific kind of axes which were used only for building ships. There is a traditional Yami saying that “Wooden boat craftsmanship makes a true Yami man .”

Wooden spoon are the most common household utensils for the Paiwan and Bunun tribes.

Made of boxwood (var. Buxus) or Orange Jessamine (Murraya paniculata), the spoon consists of a small shallow bowl, oval, round or in the shape of a leaf, at the end of a handle.

The angle between the bowl and the handle is shallower for those made by the Bunun than for those of the Paiwan.

Hunting was once an important traditional part of the subsistence lifestyle for indigenous Taiwanese tribes.

In the past, each tribe had their own hunting grounds, and these boundaries were respected.

The main hunting weapons were match-lock guns, bows and arrows, darts, knives, nets, and sometimes traps.

Each tribe distributed the game equally among its members, with the head and the tail reserved for the hunter.

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China
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