Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Many first-time travelers to Taiwan are surprised by its cultural diversity, especially by the rich history and traditions of its indigenous peoples. Currently, there are 13 officially recognized indigenous tribes: the Amis , Atayal , Bunun , Kavalan ( Kamalan), Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Sakizaya, Thao , Truku (Taroko), Tsou, and Yami ( Tao), with a total population of around 450,000.

ALTHOUGH MANY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES LIVE IN VILLAGES in the mountains and along the east coast, a significant number have settled in urban areas such as Taipei in search of job and study opportunities. This is especially true among the younger aborigines, which has led to a cultural crisis as traditions and languages are not being effectively passed on. Fortunately, in recent years more and more attention has been paid to this problem and efforts are being made to preserve indigenous languages and traditions, including the establishment of Asia's first indigenous TV channel, Taiwan Indigenous TV (channel 16).

In addition, as ecotourism has gained in popularity, so has a thirst for exploration of Taiwan's indigenous culture, as many indigenous areas are surrounded by natural beauty.

But, before heading to the villages, it is a good idea to acquire some basic information about the culture. A good place to do that is at the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines ( www.museum.org.tw), located a stone's throw from the National Palace Museum in Taipei. This museum opened in 1994, and was for a time Taiwan's only museum dedicated to its native peoples. There are four floors of exhibition areas featuring arts and handicrafts, weapons, tools, clothing, musical instruments, and dwellings, as well as a large theater that shows short films on Taiwan's indigenous legends.

IN THE SMALL CITY OF TAITUNG , on Taiwan's east coast, a large cultural festival, the Festival of Austronesian and Formosa Indigenous Cultures , is held each summer. This festival invites native groups from Austronesian countries to display their handicrafts, customs, songs, and dances. Taiwan's indigenous peoples are believed to be part of the Austronesian-language family, which boasts the largest distribution of any language family in the world, and includes not only the indigenous peoples of Taiwan but also the Maori of New Zealand and the peoples of Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. It is interesting to note, however, that although there are some similarities in their languages, Taiwan's indigenous tribes each has a unique language not understood by people of other tribes.

This festival takes place in a park not far from the National Museum of Prehistory ( www.nmp.gov.tw), which is also a good place for learning about Taiwan's indigenous culture. Its gift shop sells a good selection of books on this subject, as well as CDs of traditional and contemporary indigenous music.

Summertime is also the time when the Amis tribe, concentrated in the coastal mountains and plains of Hualien and Taitung counties, holds its harvest festival. This usually lasts for several days, during which the members of the tribe (in various combinations, such as young warriors, females only, etc.) dance in a circle to the chants of a tribal elder. The dates for the festival differ among the villages, but are usually around the middle of July for Taitung and around the middle of August for Hualien. Most of the villages welcome visitors to join in on the celebrations, including the dancing.

Other options for mixing cultural and ecotourism exist in Hualien, where many of the whale-watching tours that depart from Shihtiping and white-water rafting tours that depart from Rueisuei are operated by local aborigines, and sometimes include packages with dinner and other activities in nearby villages.

In central Taiwan, near Sun Moon Lake in Nantou County , is the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village ( www.nine.com.tw). This is an outdoor museum with life-size models of traditional dwellings. Next to these models, indigenous people dressed in traditional costume demonstrate art forms such as weaving and woodcarving. There is also an outdoor stage area for indigenous song-and-dance performances.

The Indigenous Peoples Cultural Park in Majia Township, Pingtung County , is also an outdoor museum offering similar attractions. The park is managed by the Council of Indigenous Peoples, the main government agency tasked with handling indigenous affairs. Information about Taiwan's indigenous tribes and the culture park is available on the council's website (www.tapc.gov.tw). There is also a section on travel to indigenous villages. Suggested itineraries for those villages can also be found on the Tourism Bureau's website (www.taiwan.net.tw).

AS THERE ARE LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF INDIGENOUS VILLAGES in Taiwan, the travel opportunities are almost limitless. One of the most accessible is Wulai , an Atayal village located in the hills upriver from Sindian in Taipei County. This area has gained a reputation for its natural hot-springs and scenic attractions, rather than for its indigenous culture. But if you head to Wulai Old Street you will find a plethora of indigenous-cuisine restaurants and handicrafts stores. This is also the location for the Wulai Atayal Museum , where you can learn more about this tribe.

Near the opposite end of the island is Sandimen in Pingtung County, just a few minutes' drive from National Freeway No. 3 along Provincial Highway No. 24. Here is a collection of Paiwan artist workshops where you can purchase glazed-bead jewelry, embroidered cloth, woodcarvings, pottery, and leather items. If you have the time, continue along Provincial Highway No. 24 to the Rukai village of Wutai . In this village, attractions include a cultural-artifacts hall and a path along which there are stone carvings that depict Rukai ceremonies and traditions, as well as a stone church and a traditional slate dwelling. There are more than a dozen homestay options in this village, so finding a place to stay where you can in more intimate fashion learn about the way of life of the Rukai is not difficult. You will need a mountain permit to enter this village, which can be applied for at any foreign-affairs police station.

Alishan National Scenic Area in Chiayi County is famous for its narrow-gauge alpine railway, mountain forests, and gorgeous sunrises. But it is also home to eight Tsou villages. Each has developed tourism facilities such as restaurants, homestays, cultural museums, and artist workshops. For more information, visit the dedicated website ( www.ali.org.tw).

Maolin National Scenic Area in Kaohsiung County possesses Bunun, Paiwan, and Rukai villages within its boundaries. The Rukai village of Duona contains a collection of traditional slate houses, a rare sight in modern Taiwan. Near Duona are natural hot springs located next to a crystal-clear river. This village also boasts a handful of homestays and restaurants. More information is available online ( www.maulin-nsa.gov.tw).

INDIGENOUS HANDICRAFTS AND ARTWORKS make great and unique souvenirs of your travel to Taiwan. They can be purchased directly from artists in their village workshops, from the gift shops in the above-mentioned museums, or online from Tribe-Asia ( www.tribe-asia.com). Tribe-Asia is also working to develop itineraries for foreign travelers to visit indigenous villages. Its first is a two-day tour to Wangsiang Village in Nantou County in conjunction with Green Island Adventures ( www.greenislandadventures.com). This is a Bunun village with excellent views of Yushan , northeast Asia's tallest peak, and a number of its residents are eco-tour guides certified to lead hikers to the numerous summits of this massive, majestic rock. This village also boasts a hiking trail, once the exclusive domain of hunters, and is situated only a few minutes' drive from Dongpu Hot Springs .

From this small sampling, it should be clear that there are many exciting ways to experience Taiwan's indigenous culture and to meet its indigenous peoples. So get ready for an unforgettable travel experience.


Lovely Lotus Flower Fields

Little Streets and Small Alleys

Noodles, Buns, and Dumplings

Shin Kong Chao Feng Resort Ranch

Hao Bu Hao Chi?

Taitung by the sea

Sleep, Eat, and Buy Options in Alishan’s North Sector

Mt. Guanyin

A Night at the Market

Alishan North

Green and Sleepy

Sandiaoling Waterfall Trail

Taiwan and Hotpot

Jinyue Indigenous Village

Seven Stars Mountain

DaMorLee Leisure Farm

Quick Trip to Taipei

Up into the High Mountains

Romantic Evenings in Kaohsiung

Railways to Bikeways

Xiang Luo Lei Restaurant

Land Ho! Penghu – Beckoning You

The Guanshan Town Circle Bicycle Path

The Heart of Hualien

Dageeli Tribe Restaurant

Coastal Hualien

Ximending (West Gate District)

Bunun Hunters Restaurant

Hello Hualien!

The Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area

Tianwei Highway Garden

Prowlin’ in Maolin

Strawberry Town

The Maolin National Scenic Area

Stairways to the Sky

Pedaling Along

Daluan Restaurant

Around the Northern Tip

Hats and Mats

Orange Country

Travel Taiwan, Film Taiwan!

A Place to Relax

Through the Grapevine

The Tatami of Dongshi


Lion’s Head Mountain and Beipu

Exploring the Valley of the Glowing Sky

Fruit of the Angels

Its Cake Culture

The Amazing Bamboo

Yilan’s Kumquats

Lovely Nanzhuang

The Sea of Flowers in Xinshe Festival

Healthful Eating and Delicious Flavors

The Black King Kong of Yuanchang

From Art Brush to Beauty Brush

A Strange Fruit

The Sound of Drums

Zuoying Wannian Folklore Festival

The Hot Springs of Beitou

Simakusi (Smangus)


Water Frolics

Overnighting on the Northeast Coast

Giant Buddha, Old Temples, and Glass Art

Mt. Beidawu

The Most Joyous Thing in the World is Music

Taiwan Fun on the Tropic of Cancer

FUN WITH CHINESE - Men in the Fields during Rain

NK 101 Tea @ Style

Taitung Backpack Bus Trip

The Life of Pi

Taipei’s East District Where the Art of Shopping Is Serious Business

Spring Onion Country Yilan's Sanxing Township Offers Ideal Conditions for Cultivating Scallions

Sandy Beaches, Rocky Coastline, Quiet Country A Whirlwind Tour Round Hengchun Peninsula

What Happened at Wushe

Confucius Day

Keeping It in the Family: I Wan Jan Puppet Theater

Taiwan Has a Unique Culture

Welcoming the Year of the Rabbit and the ROC's 100 Years

All the Flowers You Can Dream Of

Music from the Marshland

Pristine Scenes

Fierce Faces

Following the Tide

A Wonderful World Out There

Off to the Beach and the Rocks

Taiwan’s Easy Rider Goes Into the Wild


Taipei Int'l Flora Expo




Taiwan's Ultra Man Going Beyond Extreme

Rice by Any Other Name

Taiwan is Beautiful!


Slate Houses and Mud Rivers

From Fir Formosa

Touring Kaohsiung by KMART


Taoyuan HSR Station

Taking Taiwan's Slow Train

Bus Trip to Central Taiwan

Establishing a Beautiful Taiwan

High Mountain Ecology

Exploring High Mountain HighsTaiwan at Her Peaks

Cultural Tourism in Taiwan:What's in It for You?

Getting to Know Taiwan's Indigenous Cultures

Leaving Stress Behind

Taiwan! "Feel Good" Country

Exploring Taiwan's Rural Side

Aboriginal Tribes & Festivals

The Famous Lantern Festival in Taiwan

Night Markets in Taiwan

Great Arts, Culinary Exhibitions and Events in Taiwan's National Palace Museum and Other Places

Mountains in Taiwan

Water Fun in Taiwan

Taiwanese Arts, Arts Festivals and Interesting Artifacts

"Taiwan's Ghost Festival and Other Religious Events"

Dragon Boat Festival

City: The Tallest Building Taipei 101 & Kaohsiung's Love River

National Scenic Area (IV)-Dapeng Bay National Scenic Area, Penghu National Scenic Area, Matsu National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (III)-East Rift Valley National Scenic Area, East Coast National Scenic Area, Maolin National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (II)-Sun Moon Lake National Scenic Area, Alishan National Scenic Area, Southwest Coast National Scenic Area

National Scenic Area (I)-North Coast & Guanyinshan National Scenic Area, Northeast Coast National Scenic Area, Tri-Mountain National Scenic Area

Offshore Islands- Penghu、Kinmen National Park、Matzu、Green Island(Lyudao)、Orchid Island(Lanyu)

Eastern Taiwan- Taroko National Park、East Rift Valley、Rueisuei & Hongye、Jhihben

Southern Taiwan- Alishan、Tainan、Kaohsiung、Dapeng Bay & Little Liouciou、Kenting National Park

Central Taiwan- Miaoli、Taichung、Changhua、Nantou、Yushan National Park

Northern Taiwan -Taipei City、Yangmingshan & Beitou、Danshuei、Wulai、Jioufen & Jinguashih、Yilan、Taoyuan & Hsinchu