As an effort to acknowledge and appreciate the culture and craftsmanship of Taiwan indigenous peoples’ textile, the National Palace Museum has invited the following six museums to curate this joint exhibition: Museum of the Institute of Ethnology of the Academia Sinica, Museum of Anthropology at the National Taiwan University, the National Taiwan Museum, the National Museum of Prehistory, the Beitou Museum, and the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines. Organizing by the various characteristics of each indigenous textile collection, visitors of this exhibit will discover traditional materials, such as bark clothes, leather clothes; traditional techniques, such as weaving, beadwork, embroidery and appliqué technique; and find the variations of styles and techniques which had been developed over time and been adopted over a wider area. These textile articles have different cultural meanings for different ethnic groups and regions, and they are made for various occasions and social ranks. In this exhibit, there are a total of 268 unique objects, which will be displayed in two periods (6/1~9/2 and 9/8~12/9).
Through curating this joint exhibition, public and private museums in Taiwan collaborate and exchange resources and their research as well as to share their exhibits. This exhibition will present the Taiwan indigenous heritage via displaying these precious textile collections, and invite visitors to treasure and sustain the indigenous culture and its arts.
Overview of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples
Taiwan indigenous peoples belong to the Austronesian or the Malayo-Polynesian language family, which is mostly distributed widely in the Pacific region. The people from this particular language family have been found as far west as the island of Madagascar off the southeastern coast of Africa and as far east as Easter Island, near the western coast of South America. Taiwan is universally recognized as the northernmost location and New Zealand takes the southernmost position.
The Map of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples
After 1945, it is commonly use the terms such as "Mountain People," "High Mountain People" and "Mountain Siblings" to address Taiwan indigenous peoples until the government officially recognized the name of “Yuanzhumin (meaning indigenous inhabitants)” in a constitutional amendment passed in 1994. Currently, there are a total of 16 legally recognized Taiwan indigenous peoples in Taiwan, whose total population is around 560,000. These peoples are the Amis, Paiwan, Atayal, Bunun, Puyuma, Rukai, Tsou, Saisiyat, Yami/Tao, Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, Seediq, Hla’alua and Kanakanavu. In addition, there are some self-identified ethnic groups who had early contact with Han Chinese people and have not been legally recognized as indigenous, such as the Katagalan, Taokas, Pazeh, Kaxabu, Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, Siraya, Taivoan and Makatao peoples. They are collectively referred to as the Pinpu (plains indigenous peoples). The plains indigenous peoples still live in some urban areas and plains on the west, north, south and northeast coast of Taiwan.
Tree bark pressing and hide tanning
In the chapter on Bore Bristle Tribal Village in Fengshan County in the Illustrated Survey of People in Tributary States of the Imperial Ching Dynasty, Scroll III, the Taiwan indigenous peoples were described as follows: both male and females keep their hair down; most of them wear no clothing, and some may don clothing made with deer hide. Garments of the more affluent members of the tribe may occasionally be adorned with a crude form of brocade or embroidery. They make fabric by pounding tree bark and pressing it together into one piece. It was a vivid portrait of the Taiwan indigenous peoples in the early days. Fabric made with tree bark is mostly used by the Paiwan and the Amis. At the time, tailoring tools were not available, and the people would soften and press a few pieces of tree bark into one by pounding them with force, cutting a hole in the center for the head, and putting it on that way. This kind of clothing is befittingly called "head through." As sewing tools became available, the fabric was cut into shapes and sewn together to form simple garments. Mountain peoples such as the Tsou and the Bunun, as well as southern peoples such as the Rukai and the Paiwan often used the hides of animal they had hunted for clothing. These animals included leopards, bears, deer, mountain goats, wild boars, muntjacs and bobcats. When hides were used for clothing, animal skins were carefully removed, the fat underneath was scraped off, the hide was then stretched, sun-dried and then tanned. Traditionally, the entire hide-making process – from hunting to making clothes – was men’s work, whereas women were responsible for weaving. Gender-specific division of labor such as this is common in indigenous peoples.
Women in indigenous peoples were traditionally master weavers. They used portable horizontal looms with a strap which went behind the weaver’s back. Each group’s loom had small variations in the foot-operated warp beam, but weave patterns used across different groups were similar: plain weave, twill weave, diamond weave, and the more advanced weavers could also produce sateen weaves and brocade weaves. Weaving techniques and designs were passed down from generation to generation in the family or from the skillful women in tribal communities. Indigenous weaving work often used materials that were sourced nearby; nettles, bananas and common mulberry tree fibers were spun into yarn, while plants and minerals, such as dioscorea, subcostate crape myrtle, turmeric and black mud were used as natural dyes to create different colors. The dyed yarn could be paired with animal hides, mother of pearl, wool and cotton thread to make clothing. The process of weaving started from gathering dry stems, stripping the bast, removing glue, drying, then picking fine shreds by hand to gather fibers, spinning threads into yarn, spooling yarn, boiling, drying, and warping yarn before yarn can be used on the loom for weaving.
Not all of the Taiwan indigenous peoples s know how to embroider. The Atayal, Seediq, Truku, Saisiyat, Thou and Yami/Tao, for instance, are not familiar with the craft. Some research indicates that Taiwan indigenous people’s stitching techniques may have been a Dutch introduction dating from their occupation of Taiwan in the 17th century. The Dutch are known for their advanced stitching skills. At the time, Dutch girls started sewing at the age of six or seven by copying stitch samples. Cross stitches can be found on bedding or on the edges of gloves or towels. Cross stitch is produced by stitching towards a consistent direction, thus producing neat, smooth images of trees, birds, animals, figures and geometric patterns. Dutch influence is especially noticeable in the embroidery works of the Siraya and the Taivoa, two of the plains indigenous peoples, when one compares the stitching patterns and images in the designs of these peoples with those of the Dutch. Embroidery is made using either bamboo or metal needles and colored threads. Common stitches include the cross stitch, chain stitch, straight stitch and pick stitch. However, only the Rukai know the technique of satin stitch.
Among all the Taiwan indigenous textile cultures, two of the southern peoples with nobility hierarchies, the Paiwan and the Rukai, were the only ones that used the appliqué technique (also known as appliqué embroidery). Patterns were traced in cloths of different colors, cut, then the cutouts were sewn onto garments using stitching threads. Sometimes, the cloth was folded before it was cut, which created symmetrical patterns or radiating lines. In the past, material was scarce, and appliqué was a great way to make something useful out of every bit of scrap. Later on, this technique was used for artistic expression, enriching clothing with different colors, textures and patterns. Expressions conveyed through clothing provide us with a window into Taiwan indigenous culture. The indigenous people’s respect for gods and spirits as well as their appreciation for natural resources are expressed through their careful use of clothing material and their diverse cloth-making techniques, although only nobles are allowed to use these refined garments.
Among the Taiwanese indigenous textile cultures with beadwork technique, only the three northern tribes, the Atayal, the Seediq, and the Truku, and the two southern tribes, the Paiwan and the Rukai, used beads made with shells and glass. The three northern tribes favored beads made with shells of giant clams that were cut and polished into tiny spheres. Beads were usually sewn onto fabric made of ramie without any patterns, and such garments were worn only on special occasions in the past. Later on, beaded clothing was used in part as bride prices. During the Japanese colonial period, beads were used as high value currency. However, some research shows that the shell-bead cloth was made by the Amis tribe by the sea. It is also noted that the tribes with nobility hierarchies, the Paiwan and the Rukai, traded with the Dutch to obtain colorful tiny glass beads and made beadwork with them by attaching them together with thread, and then sewing them onto clothing, hats or accessories, and created designs for different statuses and ranks in the tribe. When one wears a bead-adorned garment in festivals, ceremonies and weddings, it is a show of personal wealth and influence. Examples of patterns in the beadwork include a person's head, their entire body, the sun or snakes.
The accessories of Taiwan indigenous peoples are of critical importance to their textile culture and carry a broad range of cultural meanings by virtue of their close connection to the customs, social norms, social organizations and hierarchies of each ethnic group. Accessories shown in this exhibit include hat ornaments, pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, waist ornaments, leg coverings, bags and more. Each piece is magnificent and unique in its own way. Women in the tribal communities were used to making accessories with what they could find in the natural environment or obtain by trading with non-native people. Materials used include agate, glass beads, polished conch shells, seashells of different species, boar tusks, animal pelts, animal bones, eagle feathers and pheasant feathers, white buttons, old Japanese coins, metal pieces such as copper, silver, nickel, as well as plastic beads and sequins.