Boys coming by in turn to sing and dance in front of the elders, 1989. PHOTO BY UBE YAMAGUCHI.
As one of Taiwan’s aboriginal tribes, the Ami continue to live together in villages and practice their ancient customs and rituals. The most significant of their traditional celebrations, commonly known as the Harvest Festival, is still held annually throughout Taiwan.
The Ami is the largest of the nine tribes of indigenous people on Taiwan, numbering approximately 158,000 in 2007, according to statistics from Taiwan’s Council of Indigenous Peoples. They were known to the Chinese settlers as “the mountain people” because they retreated to the mountainous center of Taiwan when large numbers of Chinese immigrated in the seventeenth century. They still live primarily in the hilly area in the southeastern part of Taiwan and along the east coast. Many Ami are fishermen, but their main source of income comes from agricultural products such as rice, millet, sweet potatoes, seedless watermelons, sugar cane, mulberry leaves, tea, and tobacco.
The Ami people are organized into villages headed by a chief, and the family structure is matrilineal, meaning that the women own property, and the eldest daughter inherits the family property. Recent research, however, focuses on other important social organizations such as the household and age-set systems. In many indigenous cultures young men who are initiated at the same time through rites of passage into adulthood are grouped into age sets, each of which will eventually enjoy increasing power and respect as it approaches elder status. Age-set organizations are common to all traditional Ami tribes.
The religious beliefs and activities of the Ami revolve around divine spirits, divination, and ancestor worship. Rituals and traditions continue to play a significant role in the Ami culture. The largest and most important ceremony is the annual millet harvest festival, also known as the “Good Year” Festival. Just like Chinese and Western New Year celebrations, this is a time for families and friends to gather together and reinforce both personal and divine relationships. Each village decides for itself when the Harvest Festival starts, usually in late August or early September, and how long it lasts, usually between one and seven days. Tribal officials announce the dates at least a month in advance; because it marks the end of one growing season and the coming of another, the festival starts at night.
The festival is a time in which the rigorous organization of the age-set system in Ami culture is still apparent. Women are not allowed to participate in the festival on the first day, but they play an important part in the closing ceremonies. The villagers dress in colorful traditional attire and sing and dance in honor of the spirits; rice and homemade wines are served. Sports and symbolic open-sea fishing are also observed as part of the festivities. The biggest festival is held in Hualien, the largest town on the east coast. It has become one of Taiwan’s main tourist attractions.
Digital Museum of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples. (n.d.). Amis. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from http://www.dmtip.gov.tw/Eng/amis.htm
Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Window on Taiwan: Holidays and ceremonies. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from http://public.cm-media.com.tw/wrtweb/e_wrtweb/1001503/yu_c3.htm
Republic of China Council of Agriculture. (n.d.). Tourism: Ami harvest festival. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from http://eng.coa.gov.tw/content_print.php?catid=10085
Republic of China Council of Indigenous Peoples. (n.d.) Amis. Retrieved December 20, 2008, from http://www.apc.gov.tw/english/docDetail/detail_ethnic.jsp?cateID=A000201&linkParent=147&linkSelf=147&linkRoot=101
Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Ami Harvest Festival. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 47–48. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
Ami Harvest Festival (?m?izú f?ngniánjì ??????)|?m?izú f?ngniánjì ?????? (Ami Harvest Festival)