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The Siraya People – Enjoying a Cultural Renaissance

July 17, 2013 DESTINATION No Comments Email Email

When the Dutch arrived in present-day Tainan in 1624, beginning a period of colonial rule over Taiwan that would last until 1662, one of the first and most important indigenous groups they encountered was the Siraya. 

The Siraya was a matriarchal pingpu zu or flatlands-dwelling tribe, most of its members living in the Tainan coastal-plains area, its lands stretching from Tainan all the way down to the Hengchun Peninsula.  The word “Taiwan” is generally believed to have come from the Sirayan place name for the spot at which the Dutch decided to build their port and, later, the grand Forz Zeelandia, the ruins of which are today a tourist draw.

The tribe led a simple agricultural existence, supplemented by coastal fishing and hunting.  The then teeming deer of the southwest plains were the main source of meat.  Han Chinese immigrants streamed into the plains from the 1600s through early 1800s, pushing the Siraya to the east side and into the central-mountain foothills.  Like other pingpu peoples they were largely assimilated, and their language went dormant when the last known Sirayan speaker of earlier times died in 1908.

However, certain ceremonies and religious customs survived, and many people retained consciousness of their Sirayan ancestry,  Today a cultural revival is underway, and the language is being revived through study of such sources as Roman-alphabet bible translations by Dutch missiouaries (the Siraya had no written language).  Language classes are being set up, and annual ceremonies at a number of Sirayan villages become more elaborate each year, drawing more and more tourists.

The most popular is the Night Sacrifice at Jibeishua on the 6th day of the 9th lunar month.  This features a giant sacrificial pig, which is offered to Alimu, the Great Ancestor, and other ancestral deities.  There is a formal invitation to the gods, rice-wine toasting, chanting, and a “calling of the sea” celebration commemorating the safe arrival of the tribe’s ancestors in Taiwan long ago – the Siraya are part of the great Austronesian diaspora.  Jibeishua elders also say this is Alimu’s birthday.

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