Sakizaya people
Palamal, the Ceremony of Fire
Total population
997 (June 2020)
Regions with significant populations
Sakizaya, Mandarin, Formosan languages
Ancestor Worship, Animism, Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Amis, Kavalan, other Taiwanese aborigines

The Sakizaya (native name: Sakuzaya, literally "real man"; Chinese: 撒奇萊雅族; pinyin: Sāqíláiyǎ; occasionally Sakiraya or Sakidaya) are Taiwanese indigenous peoples with a population of approximately 1,000. They primarily live in Hualien (formerly known as Kiray), where their culture is centered.[1]

The Sakizaya are an Austronesian people, mostly related to other Taiwanese indigenous peoples, and have cultural, linguistic, and genetic ties to other Austronesian ethnic groups, such as those from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar, and Oceania.

The Sakizaya traditionally practiced ancestor worship, which includes the worship of a pantheon of gods and ancestral spirits. However, most have converted to Christianity. Their society is mostly matrilinear, and women often have the authority. On 17 January 2007, the Taiwan government recognized the community as a distinct ethnic group. Before this, the people was previously classified as Amis, the group where they "hid" after they, and their Kavalan allies, fought a devastating battle against Qing invaders during the late 19th century.


Due to their intermingling within other peoples, the original genetic identity of the Sakizaya is uncertain. According to one study, they are intimately related to the Northern and Middle Amis.[2] They also seem to share certain genetic traits with other indigenous groups, as well as with the Taiwanese Han, though this may have been a result of intermarriage. The C2 and C3 haplogroups are absent in their population.

Early history

Much of the history of the Sakizaya is unknown. It is unclear when the Sakizaya, or their ancestors, first arrived in Taiwan. According to some experts, the first human inhabitants of the island arrived 15,000 years ago and were dependent on marine life for survival.[3] Neolithic peoples began arriving 6,000 years ago, which allowed the advent of agriculture, domestic animals, polished stone adzes, and pottery.[3] The presence of these adzes imply a relation with the Penghu islands, where these objects are common.[3]

Colonial era

The first contact with the community outside of Formosa occurred during the 17th century, when the Dutch and the Spanish arrived.[4] It was during this time when a 1636 Spanish document was written about the name and activities of the people.[5] Since then, there were not any reports of external contact until the 19th century.

Karewan Incident

In 1878, the Sakizaya, and their Kavalan allies, fought a devastating battle against Qing invaders.[6] This event ended in disaster for both communities causing many of their members to be slaughtered in an event called the "Takobowan incident [zh]"[4] (also known as the “Galeewan Incident”[7] or “Kalyawan Battle”).[2] Others were displaced by Han settlers.[7] The remaining Sakizaya, meanwhile, were forced to blend with other peoples, such as the Ami, with the intention of protecting their identity.[8]

When the Japanese ruled Taiwan in 1895, anthropologists classified the people as a subgroup of the Amis.[9] The people, however, discreetly maintained their own culture and language which continued during the next century.[8]

Modern times

In 2004, the community presented a petition for official ethnic group status to the Council of Indigenous Peoples based on historical, linguistic and cultural data.[10] This was officially filed on 13 October 2005.[11] Eventually, the petition was approved on 17 January 2007, recognizing them as a distinct ethnic group.[10][12]

Like other Taiwanese Aborigines, the Sakizaya face contemporary social and economic challenges.[13] These include urbanization of the youth, a phenomenon that may affect their culture.[14]


The Sakizaya language was classified as a dialect of Nataoran Amis,[15][16] a Formosan language that belongs to the Austronesian language family.[15] However, the National Chengchi University opened the classification to debate, stating that Sakizaya remains 60–70 percent different from the Amis language despite the two groups living together.[5] Currently, there are about 2,000 speakers of the language.[5]

The people also speak several other languages. These include languages spoken by the peoples where they have hidden such as Amis,[5] and Mandarin, the official language of the country.[17]


The Sakizaya practice a variety of religions. These include traditional beliefs that mixes aspects of ancestor worship and animism.[18] Some may also practice Christianity.[19]

The traditional religious beliefs of the Sakizaya are currently experiencing external pressures since many of the tribesmen may have converted to Christianity.[19] The threat is heightened by the increasing importance of Christianity to the community.[19]

Ancestor worship/animism


The people are known to practice ancestor worship.[5] They believe on a pantheon of ancestral spirits and deities known as dito, similar to the kawas of the Amis,[18] as well as the anito of the Filipinos. They are considered to be "fickle as the weather"[18] so priests or mapalaway are necessary to communicate with them.[18] They are invisible to most people though they are known to wear red.[18] Several beliefs are associated with these spirits, such as pregnancy and death.[18] The homeland of the dito is Meilun Mountain in Hualien, which is also the place where the deceased pass through before finally resting in the sea.[18]

Gods and rituals

The Sakizaya have several gods. A few examples include Malataw‧Otoki, the deity the spirit of the world, Olipong, the god that "drives away illnesses", and Talaman or Takonawan, the god of the poor.[18] An individual's personal dito become the god of death once they have died.[18]

Rituals are practiced to appease the dito[18] and often mimic rituals performed by other Austronesian peoples.[20] The practice of these are dictated according to the seasons: spring or pasavaan, summer or ralod, fall or sadinsing, and winter or kasinawan.[20] An example of these is the Palamal or the "Worship of the Fire God".[4]

According to a Japanese document, several rituals are associated with the main staples, millet or havay and dry rice or tipus.[20] These included the "Millet Sowing Ritual", "Fishing Ritual", "Collecting Ritual", "Harvest Ritual", and "Storing Ritual", which are all based on the growth of the millet.[20]


Another religion practiced by some Sakizaya is Christianity. The religion first arrived in Formosa during the age of European colonization. Its formal arrival occurred in 1627, during the arrival of Georgius Candidius, the first ordained minister to set foot on the island.[21] According to this missionary, the conversion of the natives was effective.[21] The conversion was so successful that native clergymen soon became a necessity.[21] This success, however, was short-lived since Christians faced persecution after the arrival of the Chinese.[21] It was not until late in the 20th century that this religion began to achieve its resurgence.[19]

Currently, almost 70 percent of Taiwanese Aborigines practice Christianity,[19] though the exact number of Sakizaya practicing this religion is uncertain. The religion has become effective in maintaining social unity,[19] which has been held by traditional practices.

Society and culture

Only a few aspects of the Sakizaya's society and culture have been revealed. It is known that they have a matrilinear society. Women often have the authority in the household.[14]

In terms of survival, fishing and hunting are important.[14] Rice cultivation also forms a significant aspect of their food production. This practice is thought to have been acquired through the Kavalan.[14] Millet is important as a food source and as a way in determining the occasions of festivals.[14]

Golden robes are usually worn by important community leaders during special celebrations.[4] Headhunting was once prevalent[22] but has fallen out of practice.[23]

The culture of the Sakizaya is under threat due to the small but steady urbanization of Sakizaya youth.[14] Efforts to preserve their culture have been initiated by the government,[24] which believes this could be beneficial to ecotourism.[24]

Age-class systems

According to Japanese researchers, Sakizaya men are divided into age-class systems, known as sral, where they stay for about five years.[14] Between infancy and 15 years of age, boys are classed into the child class or wawa.[14] They soon participate in a ritual known as Masatrot and are trained in a youth-house or talaon, where they learn to obey orders as well as certain commands.[14] Once they accomplished this, they would move to the preparatory youth class or kapah and stay there until they are 23 years of age, when they finally reach the superior class.[14]

See also


  1. ^ "原住民族委員會全球資訊網 Residence of Indigenous Peoples". Archived from the original on 2020-08-14. Retrieved 2020-08-11.
  2. ^ a b Tsai, Li-huang (2005). A comparative study of Sakizaya and Amis in Hualien by mitochondrial DNA sequences analysis (M.A.). Tzu Chi University. OCLC 74192223. Archived from the original on May 29, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2008.
  3. ^ a b c Rolett, Barry V., Jiao, Tianlong & Lin, Gongwu (2002). "Early seafaring in the Taiwan Strait and the search for Austronesian origins." Journal of Early Modern History. 4.1:307–319.
  4. ^ a b c d Sakizaya becomes the 13th indigenous group. Taiwan Journal. Published on January 26, 2007. Retrieved on May 5, 2007.
  5. ^ a b c d e The Secret's Out Archived 2007-05-05 at the Wayback Machine. Taiwan Review. Published on April 4, 2007. Retrieved on May 5, 2007
  6. ^ Faure, David. 2003. 'Mountain Tribes Before Japanese Occupation', in ed. David Faure, In Search of The Hunters and Their Tribes, SMC Publishing Inc. Taipei. May 4, 2007. pp. 19–21
  7. ^ a b Sakizaya Geographic Distribution[permanent dead link]. Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved on February 28, 2008
  8. ^ a b Taiwan recognises 'lost' people Archived 2007-02-17 at the Wayback Machine. BBC News. Retrieved on January 19, 2007
  9. ^ Engbarth, Dennis (18 January 2007). "Sakizaya becomes Taiwan's 13th native tribe". Taiwan News. Archived from the original on 18 June 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Sakizaya ratified as thirteenth indigenous tribe Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine. The China Post Vol. XLI, No.18,5484. p.19. Retrieved on January 17, 2007
  11. ^ Chuang, Jimmy (14 October 2005). "Tribe wants official recognition". Taipei Times. p. 2. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  12. ^ Chuang, Jimmy (18 January 2007). "Premier finds inspiration in recognition of Sakiraya". Taipei Times. p. 4. Archived from the original on 25 June 2016. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  13. ^ Hsu, Mutsu (1991). "Culture, Self and Adaptation: The Psychological Anthropology of Two Malayo-Polynesian Groups in Taiwan". Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica. ISBN 957-9046-78-6.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sakizaya Cultural Feature[permanent dead link]. Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved on February 28, 2008
  15. ^ a b Amis, Nataoran: A language of Taiwan Archived 2007-06-10 at the Wayback Machine. Ethnologue. Published in 2005. Retrieved on June 1, 2007
  16. ^ Tokyo University Linguistic Papers Vol. 13 : Abstracts Archived 2005-03-12 at the Wayback Machine. Tokyo University. Retrieved on June 1, 2007
  17. ^ Taiwan People Archived 2021-01-22 at the Wayback Machine. CIA Factbook. Retrieved on June 11, 2007
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sakizaya Religion and Belief[permanent dead link]. Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved on February 28, 2008
  19. ^ a b c d e f Stainton, Michael (2006). "Hou Shan/Qian Shan Mugan: Categories of Self and Other in a Tayal Village" in Yeh Chuen-Rong (ed.) History, Culture and Ethnicity: Selected Papers from the International Conference on the Formosan Indigenous Peoples. Taipei: SMC Publishing Inc. ISBN 978-957-30287-4-1
  20. ^ a b c d Sakizaya Rituals and Legend. Taiwanese Council of Indigenous Peoples. Retrieved on February 28, 2008
  21. ^ a b c d Formosa under the Dutch, Described From Contemporary Records, 2nd Edition
  22. ^ Hsu, Mutsu (1991). "Culture, Self and Adaptation: The Psychological Anthropology of Two Malayo-Polynesian Groups in Taiwan." Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica. ISBN 957-9046-78-6. pp.29–36
  23. ^ Montgomery-McGovern, Janet B. (1922). Among the Head-Hunters of Formosa. Boston: Small Maynard and Co. Reprinted 1997, Taipei: SMC Publishing. ISBN 957-638-421-4
  24. ^ a b Anderson, Christian (2000). "New Austronesian Voyaging: Cultivating Amic Folk Songs for the International Stage" in David Blundell (ed.), Austronesian Taiwan: Linguistics, History, Ethnology, Prehistory. Taipei: SMC Publishing