Paiwan people
Paiwan man playing a bamboo nose flute.
Total population
104,555[1] (Nov 2021)
Regions with significant populations
Paiwan, Mandarin
Animism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Malayo-Polynesians, Taiwanese indigenous peoples

The Paiwan (Paiwan: Kacalisian; Chinese: 排灣; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: Pâi-oan; Zhuyin Fuhao: ㄆㄞˊㄨㄢ) are an indigenous people of Taiwan. They speak the Paiwan language. In 2014, the Paiwan numbered 96,334. This was approximately 17.8% of Taiwan's total indigenous population, making them the second-largest indigenous group.[2][3]

The majority of Paiwan people live in the southern chain of the Central Mountain Range, from Damumu Mountain and the upper Wuluo River in the north of the southern chain to the Hengchun Peninsula [zh] in the south of it, and also in the hills and coastal plains of southeastern Taiwan. There are two subgroups under the Paiwan people: the Raval and the Butsul.[4]

The unique ceremonies in Paiwan are Masaru and Maleveq. The Masaru is a ceremony that celebrates the harvest of rice, whereas the Maleveq commemorates their ancestors or gods.


A Paiwan family house in Sandimen.
Photo of Paiwan people during the Japanese rule of Taiwan taken by Torii Ryūzō. Note the non-traditional Chinese attire

The name "Paiwan" may have originated from a myth. According to the myth, Paiwan ancestors lived in a location on Dawu mountain (Tawushan) that was called "Paiwan", where heaven is said to exist. Paiwan people have spread out from this location, so the name of the original place was assumed as their group name. According to some group members, "Paiwan" also means "human being".[4]

Taiwan in 1901, with the Paiwan marked as "Paiwan Group of Savages" on the southern tip of the island.

One of the most important figures in Paiwan history was supreme chief Tok-a-Tok[5] (c. 1817–1874),[a][6] who united 18 tribes of Paiwan under his rule, and after defeating American Marines during the Formosa Expedition in 1867 he concluded a formal agreement with Chinese and Western leaders to ensure the safety of foreign ships landing on their coastal territories in return for amnesty for Paiwan tribesmen who had killed the crew of the barque Rover in March 1867 (see Rover incident).[7]

In 1871, a Ryūkyūan vessel shipwrecked on the southern tip of Taiwan, and 54 of the 66 survivors were beheaded by the Paiwan indigenous (Mudan Incident). When Japan sought compensation from Qing China, the court rejected the demand on the grounds that Taiwan's "raw" or "wild" natives (Chinese: 臺灣生番; pinyin: Táiwān shēngfān) were outside its jurisdiction. This perceived renunciation of sovereignty led to the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1874 in which chief Tok-a-Tok was killed in action[citation needed].

During the Chinese Civil War, between 1946 and 1949, many Paiwan men were forcibly enlisted in the Kuomintang forces. When the war ended, some of the Paiwan remained behind in China and formed their own communities.[citation needed]

Tsai Ing-wen, elected as President of Taiwan in 2016, is 1/4 Paiwan via her grandmother.

In 2023 the skulls of four Paiwan warriors taken as trophies during the Japanese invasion of Taiwan in 1874 and transferred to the collection of the University of Edinburgh in 1907 were returned to the tribe.[8][9]


Unlike other peoples in Taiwan, Paiwan society is divided into classes with a hereditary aristocracy. The Paiwan are not allowed to marry outside their group. On the day of their "five-yearly rite," all marriage-seeking Paiwan men try to cut down as many trees as possible and offer the firewood thus procured to the family of the girl they want to marry.

Tattooed hands are a tradition of both Paiwan and Rukai peoples. Noble women used to receive these tattoos as a rite of passage into adulthood. However, since the Japanese colonial era, the practice has been less common as it was discouraged and fined during that time. In the tradition, shamans would tattoo hands in different patterns for different personal backgrounds. Less noble women could have received it, but they had to pay a hefty price on top of inviting all members of the community to a banquet with the purpose of gaining the community's approval. Less noble women had different tattoo designs than noblewomen. The painful tattooing process represented dignity and honor and the suffering that one could endure. The tattooing process lasts as long as it needs to with consideration for many taboos and nuances, such as praying. For example, pregnant women were not allowed to watch the process and no one watching was allowed to sneeze. If any taboos were broken, the ritual would be put off until another day chosen.[10]

In February 2015, Li Lin, the oldest Paiwan with hand tattoos, died at the age of 102. Li Lin had her hand tattoos starting at the age of 14 before marrying a village head as a common girl.[11] She played a large role in promoting the cultural art form and continues to be an icon of cultural identity even in her death.[12]


Those of the indigenous Paiwan group have a unique kind of clothing scheme with details that differentiate societal class, gender, and ceremonies. Materials used for clothing started out as bark fibers and pelts, but linen, cotton, and wool fabrics later became popular. The men wear circular-collar long-sleeved short chest coverings with buttons down the front and kilts, and a shawl slung over the shoulder. Women of the indigenous group as well wear circular-collar robes but with buttons going down along their right side with panel skirts, and leggings. In addition, they wear head scarves, elaborate head rings, or forehead bands. In solemn ceremonies, Paiwan men wear ceremonial headwear, long vests, leg coverings, and sword baldrics. As for dance attire there is no difference in clothing, however it is common to wear one’s nicest clothes for special occasions. When children grew up and were about to get married, the mothers personally made their traditional clothing for them.

Intricate and grand patterns, totems, and clothing are exclusively for nobles and the chief in the Paiwan group. Be it designs with human heads, human figures or hundred pace vipers, these patterns are used to decipher those of high class society from the rest of the members belonging to the group. The chief and others belonging to the high society of the Paiwan people also use tattoos to distinguish themselves, too. Commoners with special achievements are honored with tattoo(s) on their body and/or hands.

Embroidery is popularly done with bright colors over dark, commonly black, backgrounds. Embroidery is important to the Paiwan people because it is used for Telling stories, sharing one’s memories, and legends/folktales. Hundred-pacer snakes, elements, and symbols such as the Sun and Sun god are used solely for the nobility. These represent and bring power to those who have these symbols. Designs with human heads and ancestral spirits signifies protection, while warriors and crossed-shaped patterns are symbols shamans can use to ward off evil. Patterns with hunting knives and animals are common as well, and when you see butterflies it is to symbolize innocent young girls, as flowers and grass are for ordinary people.[13][14][15]


A representation of a Paiwan ceremonial rack of skulls in Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village.

Traditionally the Paiwan have been polytheists. Their wooden carvings included images of human heads, snakes, deer, and geometric designs. In Taiwan, the Bataul branch of the Paiwan peoples holds a major sacrifice – called maleveq – every five years to invite the spirits of their ancestors to come and bless them. Djemuljat is an activity in the Maleveq in which the participants thrust bamboo poles into cane balls symbolizing human heads.[16]


Shamanism has been described as an important part of Paiwan culture. Paiwan shamanism is traditionally seen as being inherited by blood-line. However, a decline in the number of Paiwan shamans has raised concerns that traditional rituals might be lost; and has led to the founding of a shamanism school to pass on the rituals to a new generation.[17]


Thousands of Paiwan people in Taiwan converted to Christianity in the late 1940s and 1950s, sometimes whole villages. Today the Presbyterian church in Taiwan claims 14,900 Paiwan members, meeting in 96 congregations. The New Testament has been translated into Paiwan. The Catholic Church is also very active. The number of young people attending though is falling.[18]


In May 2015, two Paiwan totem poles were listed as ROC national treasures by the Bureau of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture. Both of these artifacts were acquired by the National Taiwan University during the Japanese colonial period (1895–1945). They were submitted for national treasure listing earlier in 2015.[19]

The Paiwan language is one of Taiwan's 42 indigenous tongues and dialects, being one of nine that are listed as vulnerable on the UNESCO atlas of endangered languages.[20]

Notable Paiwan people

See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ His Paiwan name was written in Chinese characters as or , both pronounced Tok-ki-tok in Hokkien. These names were also transcribed into English as Toketok or Tauketok.


  1. ^ "The Tribes in Taiwan" (in Chinese (Taiwan)). Council of Indigenous Peoples. 20 December 2010. Retrieved 2022-01-13.
  2. ^ Hsieh, Chia-chen; Wu, Jeffrey (February 15, 2015). "Amis Remains Taiwan's Biggest Aboriginal Tribe at 37.1% of Total". Focus Taiwan News Channel. Central News Agency. Archived from the original on 2015-02-16.
  3. ^ "Table 28: Indigenous Population Distribution in Taiwan-Fukien Area". Preliminary Statistical Analysis Report of 2000 Population and Housing Census. National Statistics, Republic of China (Taiwan). Archived from the original (RTF) on October 30, 2014. Retrieved August 30, 2006.
  4. ^ a b "Paiwan". Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples. Archived from the original on January 4, 2010. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th ed. (1879), "Formosa".
  6. ^ See also his article on the Chinese Wikipedia.
  7. ^ Davidson, James W. (1903). The Island of Formosa, Past and Present: History, People, Resources, and Commercial Prospects: Tea, Camphor, Sugar, Gold, Coal, Sulphur, Economical Plants, and Other Productions. Macmillan & Company and Kelley & Walsh.
  8. ^ France-Presse, Agence (4 November 2023). "Scottish university returns tribal warrior skulls to Taiwan". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  9. ^ "UK university returns warrior skulls to Taiwan's Indigenous Paiwan people". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 6 November 2023.
  10. ^ Chen, Hsien-yi 陳賢義 (9 July 2009). "Paiwan and Rukai Tattoo Art Fading Fast/Páiwān Lǔkǎi wén shǒu wénhuà yánzhòng". Taipei Times (in English and Chinese). Translated by Svensson, Perry. p. 15.
  11. ^ "Paiwan elder with hand tattoo dies at 102". Taiwan Today. 2015-02-10. Retrieved 2023-02-07.
  12. ^ "Paiwan Elder with Hand Tattoo Dies at 102". Taiwan Today. February 10, 2015. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  13. ^ "Paiwan". The web site of Council of Indigenous Peoples. 2010-12-20. Retrieved 2023-12-15.
  14. ^ Kwok, Madeline (1978). "Dance and Cultural Identity among the Paiwan Tribe of Pingtung County, Taiwan". Dance Research Journal. 11 (1/2): 35–40. doi:10.2307/1477845. ISSN 0149-7677. JSTOR 1477845.
  15. ^ "Rhythms Monthly 247 | Tzu Chi". 2019-04-04. Retrieved 2023-12-15.
  16. ^ Hsieh, Chih-hung 謝志鴻 (2007). Páiwānzú wǔ nián jì de zōngjiào yì hán yǔ shēntǐ huódòng 排灣族五年祭的宗教意涵與身體活動 [Religious Connotation and Physical Activities of Maljeveq in Paiwan Race] (Master's thesis) (in Chinese). Guoli ping dong jiaoyu daxue. p. 67. hdl:11296/9k8937.
  17. ^ Collins, Nick (21 September 2009). "School of Witchcraft Opens in Taiwan".
  18. ^ "Aborigines Losing Their Christianity?". The View from Taiwan. September 25, 2007. Retrieved April 11, 2020.
  19. ^ "Paiwan Totem Poles Listed as ROC National Treasures". Taiwan Today. May 25, 2015. Retrieved December 3, 2015.
  20. ^ "Cabinet OKs Indigenous Language Development Bill". Taiwan Today. November 27, 2015. Retrieved December 3, 2016.
  21. ^ "Indigenous Singer Abao Biggest Winner at Golden Melody Awards". Focus Taiwan (CNA English News). Central News Agency. 2020-10-04. Archived from the original on 2020-10-06. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  22. ^ "Taiwanese Artists Grab Top Prizes at Golden Melody Awards". South China Morning Post. Associated Press. 2020-10-05. Retrieved 2020-12-01.
  23. ^ Feng, Emily (2023-01-01). "One of Taiwan's biggest pop stars is challenging the boundaries of Taiwanese identity". Weekend Edition Sunday. NPR. Retrieved 2023-01-02.