A Tsou tale: Homeyaya

by on Tuesday, 01 February 2011 Comments

As with the rest of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples, the Tsou (鄒族) of Alishan have had difficulty maintaining their distinct culture and language under the Japanese and Chinese regimes of the 20th century. As with other tribes, most of the 7,000 Tsou are Christian, but they are more committed than most to the continued practice of pre-Christian religious ceremonies. The Tsou have a number of significant annual rituals, such as the Mayasvi (瑪雅士比) ‘Victory Ceremony,’ but it is the Homeyaya (小米收穫祭) or millet harvest festival is that calls all Tsou back to their home villages every summer.

Held sometime after the annual harvest, Homeyaya does not have a fixed date. Major festivals like Mayasvi or Homeyaya can only be held in the kuba, or ritual pavilion, of a village with a traditional chief—conditions which today are only met by the villages of Tapangu 達邦 (Dabang) and Tfuya (特富野). These larger communities known as ‘Hosa’ are the center of Tsou tradition, and many of the wealthier families have traditional bamboo rooms attached to their modern Taiwanese style houses. The private religious ceremony is held at night, finishing before dawn, which marks the beginning of the festival component, both more celebratory and more public. Guests visit the home of every friend and relative that has one of those traditional rooms, eating and drinking at long, low tables stocked with Taiwan Beer and rice wine (米酒) and local foods like wild boar, deer, or chicken. The Homeyaya concludes with a convocation of the village elders.

While Tsou settlements such as Laiji Village (來吉) were devastated by Typhoon Morakot in 1999, Tapangu survived.






The entrance to the Tapangu Hosa



The ceremonial rooms are constructed out of bamboo in the traditional style, and decorated with hunting tools and trophies



Locally raised and hunted meat is served along with soup in a bamboo pipe bowl.




A Tsou elder and his wife


The kaba or ritual pavilion


The kaba or ritual pavilion. The signs read ‘No admittance except for ritual personnel’ and ‘No women allowed’


Homeyaya ends with a council of Hosa elders


Cultivation of Alishan tea is a major industry for the village


For more information on the Tsou traditional ceremonies please browse the following links:
Roy Berman

Roy Berman was born and raised in New Jersey, in the suburbs of New York City. He has studied in Kyoto, Japan and Taipei, Taiwan and visited a number of other countries. He is currently studying in an MA course at the Kyoto University Graduate School of Education, researching the history of colonial education in Taiwan and the Philippines.

He also runs a group blog mainly devoted to Japanese and East Asian politics and history which can be found at www.mutantfrog.com.

Website: www.mutantfrog.com.

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