This is a translation from the Chinese original “「原住民是世大運開場的神救援」連鯨魚也有梗!世大運原民精彩演出,你看的是熱鬧還門道?” by Vanessa Lai and originally uyuublished by Mata Taiwan. Translation by Chieh-Ting Yeh.


Now that the 2017 Summer Universiade in Taipei is over, do you still remember the opening ceremony? Did you know that two-thirds of the performance had references to indigenous Austronesian culture?

The Whale and Formosan Austronesian Culture

The opening ceremony was directed by Chieh-hua Jeff Hsieh (謝杰樺), choreographed by Fangas Nayaw (of the Amis people) and Wang Chieh (of the Pinuyumayan, or Puyuma people), involving students from high schools and colleges around the nation plus performances by nine indigenous performers. The flagbearer Yang Chun-han (楊俊瀚), who later took the gold in the 100 meter sprint, is also Pangcah from Yuli, Hualien.  

The theme song was composed by musician Utjing Tjakivalid (舞炯恩.加以法利得) of Pingtung’s Paiwan people, mixing traditional communal songs and contemporary elements. The “Iyugiyugi! Senasenai!” in the lyrics means “Let’s Dance, Let’s Sing” in Paiwan.

The first imagery in the ceremony was a whale, which symbolizes the ocean giving rise to the island. Many indigenous Austronesian peoples have legends about whales, speaking to their intimacy with the ocean for thousands of years. The northern Pangcah’s sea god returns to the form of a whale; the Sakizaya myth says their ancestors, lost at sea, were saved by whales; the Pinuyumayan has a sea offering to the whale god after harvesting millet; and the Tao people of Orchid Island believe that if a whale is spotted during a fishing expedition, that is a sign of a bountiful catch.

Atayal’s Ancestral Eyes and Aging Communities

Yagu Tanga (王祥如), an Atayal singer and a college freshman, sang the Atayal weavers’ song “Tminun,” along with the diamond-shaped patterns of traditional Atayal fabrics. The diamonds symbolize the eyes of the ancestors watching over them.

Yagu Tanga wore a traditional northern Atayal bridal dress, with different shades of red and maroon—the colors from the local yam used for dyeing. The intricacy of the diamond shapes shows off the bride’s weaving skills and is a rite of passage for Atayal women.

The Atayal lives primarily in the high mountains of northern Taiwan, within the borders of affluent New Taipei, Taoyuan, and Hsinchu metro areas. But while the plains are highly developed, the Atayal mountain communities suffer from population decline. Only the elderly are left, living sparsely throughout the hills, which makes issues such as long term care important for these communities.

Pinuyumayan’s Life Valley

Next up was singer Sangpuy Katatepan Mavaliyw (桑布伊) of the Katripulr community in Taitung. He performed in New York’s Central Park this summer, as well as winning multiple accolades at this year’s Golden Melody Awards. Sangpuy is a long time activist for indigenous land rights, and the name of his latest album Yaangad means “life” in Pinuyumayan.

Sangpuy sang the song Verelruwan (“Valley of Forests”) from this album, in which he searches for the fertile land:

meredek iniyam i ka’idangan.(We arrived at the source of the water)lemavat lremayat kana zinanuman.(We cross the river and walk in its direction)
atu pinizuwa zatu ivavelay.(It gives us our treasures)
kana pinidare’an kana kalawayan.”(It is the land in front of us)

Behind Sangpuy’s rich voice, his hometown is facing a slew of development controversies. The Katripulr community is protesting the Taitung government’s removal of ancestral burial plots (the Pinuyumayan bury their deceased within their homes, and removing them would sever the connection of their community to the land); there is also a plan for a solar power plant within the Katripulr traditional grounds, which has not been formally recognized by the county authorities.

Paiwan and Loss of Identity from Typhoon Devastation

The images of Paiwan artist Etan Pavavalijung (伊誕.巴瓦瓦隆) was also displayed. Etan comes from the Davaran community of Pingtung, and his art features concentric circles, emphasizing the idea of common roots to the land.

In his art, he uses traditional Paiwan patterns called “vecik,” which is created through the act of “venecik,” meaning to write or carve. It involves finding patterns in nature, and stacking, repeating them to create new images.

Etan’s art ponders the coexistence of humans and nature; it’s a theme that he has felt deeply since Typhoon Morakot devastated his hometown in 2009. In an interview he said, “I felt the overwhelming sense of loss, not just physically but in intangible things like beauty and culture.”

“The Movements are the Lyrics”

Three singing groups performed at the opening ceremony. One was by the Chu-Yin Culture and Arts Troupe, with the song of the elder Difang Tuwana singing the song Sapiliepah a Radiw, the elders’ drinking song. The group’s name refers to a mortar and pestle, which symbolizes strength and life, and is a big part of the Amis traditional festivals.

The songs from the Falangaw community of the Pangcah people is unique even among the Pangcah people themselves; it begins with an improvised male lead, and then each singer adds another harmony into the mix. It’s an art form that requires the utmost trust and skills among the singers.

Even though there seems to be no textual lyrics, elder Difang’s son says, “you say they are not singing lyrics, but their movements are the lyrics.”

Another group was the Taiwu Ancient Ballads Troupe, which sang the Paiwan song Lulimai, meaning “Golden Joy,” a harvest appreciation song. The Taiwu Elementary School students make of the troupe, singing Paiwan traditional songs gathered from the knowledge passed down by the elders, and has performed all over the world.

In the center of the performance was a swing, a traditional activity of southern Taiwan peoples like Paiwan or the Rukai, which has meaning in courtship or harvest. Only women are allowed in the swing, and the men pull the ropes.

In the second half, the hip-hop group Boxing opened with elements from Taipei, such as night markets. Boxing is made up of six Paiwan boys, and are proteges of the platinum singer A-mei.

The linguistic diversity of Taiwan is just beginning to be recognized by the Indigenous Languages Development Act passed this year, and we now have the first official government notice posted in indigenous languages.

Pangcah/Amis and Traditional Lands

Then the Pangcah singer A-Lin (Lisang Pacidal Koyouan) takes to the stage, with rainbow motifs as her backdrop. Many people know her for her healing melodies, but her 2012 song “The Last Paradise” is written to protect the shores of her homeland.

At the time, her homeland of Pisirian, a seaside town in Taitung, already has three large scale, government assisted, beach resort developments planned. Just last month, 20 Pangcah tribes gathered in Taitung with satellite images proclaiming their traditional lands.

Earlier in February, the Council on Indigenous Affairs announced the regulations for traditional indigenous lands, but carved out privately held property from being considered part of traditional lands. Activists such as Panai Kusui and Mayaw Biho have been protesting for over half a year, and are still camped out at 228 Memorial Park in downtown Taipei.

Recognition for Pingpu Indigenous Peoples  

At last, the baseball veteran Chen Chin-feng, from Tainan’s Siraya pingpu people, lit up the torch with a ball of fire launched from his bat.

Not only was Chen Chin-feng from the Siraya people, the icon of the whale was inspired from the painting The Free Taiwan by Siraya artist Chen Gang-yi. The whale even influenced the Taiwan Independence Whale Flag and “Taiwan Republic” stickers.

In the past 20 years, the Siraya and many other indigenous peoples are still not formally recognized have been hard at work reviving their cultures and rebuilding their identities. Two weeks ago, the Executive Yuan proposed amendments to the Indigenous Rights Act which formally recognizes the pingpu indigenous peoples, but creates a separate legal category whose rights are not clearly laid out. The road to recognition and equality is still a long one ahead.


The opening ceremonies of the 2017 Taipei Summer Universiade was able to seamlessly use modern technology and techniques to express indigenous cultural elements, interpreted by indigenous singers, dancers and artists. The new face of indigenous cultures were applauded by indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike.

But indigenous cultures have their roots in the mountains, in the oceans, in the land—and cannot survive without actually living with the land and identifying with the heritage. Mata Taiwan hopes to shine more light onto the existence of indigenous peoples of Taiwan.

(Feature photo from Taiwan’s Public Television Service)





Mata Taiwan

Founded in 2013, Mata Taiwan is the largest online media in Taiwan calling for the awareness of indigenous rights. Named after ‘mata’, a common word for “eyes” shared by nearly all the Austronesian peoples, Mata Taiwan is devoted to being the eye for everyone to see the true colours of the indigenous peoples in the world.