Sunday, December 13, 2020

Costumes of the Indigenous Taiwanese Peoples part 3: the south; Bunun, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma, Yami

Hello all, 
Today I will conclude my series on the costumes of the Taiwanese aboriginals. I will cover the southern peoples. Bunun, Paiwan, Rukai, Puyuma and Yami. 

As you can see from the image above, the costume of the southern tribes tends to be more highly ornamented, with emphasis on applique, patchwork, beadwork and embroidery rather than weaving. One notable characteristic of the Paiwan, Rukai, and some Bunun is the gathered skirts worn by the men. 

This is recorded in Han Chinese Art from historical times.

Particularly significant to the culture of these people are three animals; Muntiacus Reevesi, Reeve's Muntjac,  Neofelis Nebulosa the Clouded Leopard, and Deinagkistrodon acutus, the 'hundred pace viper'. Pelts and horns of Reeves Muntjac and Clouded Leopard are worn; although the Clouded Leopard is now extinct in Taiwan. The viper is a common motif in their ornament.


 Historically the Bunun were also called Vonum, or  布農 in Chinese. They number about 60,000 and are the fourth most numerous group of Indigenous Taiwanese. The Bunun originally inhabited the western plains, but moved to the highlands as a result of conflicts with the Pingpu and Han Chinese settlers, and in the past were feared as fierce warriors and headhunters. The Bunun, like the Miao and other peoples in China, believe that there was once more than one sun. The Bunun shot down the second sun, which became the moon, and since then their cultural rituals have revolved around the phases of the moon. The Bunun live in central Taiwan, south of the Atayal and west of the Amis.

The Bunun men's costume is somewhat intermediate between north and south. Some Bunun men wear the woven tunic with the chest cover, as the men in the north do. 

This man is wearing a hat made of the head of a Muntjac, probably with antlers attached. 

This type of leather hat that protects the back of the neck is common among the Bunun.

The man in the center here is wearing chaps, a circular ornament on his head made of fangs, and a Clouded Leopard skin. 

Other men wear the short embroidered jacket more typical of the Rukai and Paiwan. I would assume these live further south. They may be heavily embroidered with cross stitch in the manner of the Rukai, but less richly.

Here we can clearly see the Muntjac antlers on the headdress.

Women wear a long skirt, a long top with two panels that hang front and back, possibly borrowed from the Han Chinese, and a sort of diadem over a head kerchief. The robe often has cross stitch embroidery, similar to that of the Rukai.

Just a few more images.


The Rukai , or Tsalisen, self designation Ngudradrekai. 魯凱族  in Chinese, number about 13,000, thus being the 7th largest of the peoples of Taiwan. They speak a distinct language, but were formerly considered to be part of the Paiwan, with whom they share much in the way of costume and culture. The Rukai live in the highlands north of the Paiwan, and south of the Bunun. The Rukai have a rather feudal societal structure. All of the land belongs to the aristocracy, and commoners have to pay the Lord a part of their harvest in exchange for the use of the land. Woodworking is well developed.  

The costumes of the Rukai closely resemble those of the southern Bunun and the Paiwan. Their clothes are often extremely elaborately embroidered, and may have a base color of black, blue, red, or white. White clothing is mandated for pilgrimages to some sacred mountains. The men wear short embroidered jackets, and I think it likely that the Bunun borrowed these from the Rukai. Chaps are more common, and are often worn over the gathered skirts by men. 

Note the use of boar and muntjac tusks on the headdresses.

The lily like flower on the headdress has strong meaning for the Rukai. 

Here is a man's short jacket and skirt.

Here a bride and groom drink toasts from a double cup.

The man on the right is wearing a vest of Clouded Leopard skin. 

A man's short jacket with extensive embroidery.

A woman's gown.

A woman's skirt.

Two men's skirts.

Men's chaps.


The Paiwan,  排灣 in Chinese, number about 100,000, thus being the second largest people of Taiwan. They inhabit the south of the island. They also revere the Clouded Leopard and the hundred pace viper. One of the commonest motifs used in their ornament is a pair of vipers. Paiwan culture is based on aristocracy, like the Rukai. The Paiwan named themselves after the mountain which originated them, according to myth. The Paiwan are comprised of several different tribes. They believe that the supernatural plane parallels this one, and influences what happens here. 

The costume of the Paiwan is very close to that of the Rukai. It is often difficult to distinguish the two. However, where the Rukai use embroidery, the Paiwan often use beadwork or patchwork. 

A couple of examples of fine woven work on mourning shawls. 

Anthropomorphic figures executed in beadwork or applique is typical of the Paiwan.

The Paiwan have a tradition of hand tattoos. 

Men also have tattoos on the torso. 

An example of a patchwork garment. 

A vest with human and viper applique on the front, and Clouded Leopard pelt behind.

Beadwork on a jacket.

Men's skirts with beadwork.

Woman's robe with beadwork, including hundred pace vipers.

Woman's skirt with woven design.


The Puyuma, also called Pinuyumayan, Peinan, Beinan, Piumachok, or  卑南族   in Chinese. They number about 10,000, and are the sixth most numerous people of Taiwan. The Puyuma have a clan based social system. Because of similarities in culture, they were originally classed as Paiwan, but they speak a very distinctive language. Like all of the native Taiwanese, their major crop is millet. They live between the Amis and the Paiwan on the southeast coast of the island. 

The men's costume combines a plain jacket like the Amis with patchwork chaps, like the Paiwan. The chaps have a distinctive woven design. They wear short pants with an embroidered hem or a hip wrap instead of a skirt. 

Some men wear a vest patterned like the chaps with more modern clothes. I am not sure if this is a modernization of the costume, or if it was a traditional prerogative of chiefs and important individuals. 

Women wear a jacket similar to the Amis, or a white blouse with the chest cover. This is often accompanied with a skirt of bought material, flowered print or Chinese weave. Older photos show a wrap skirt with a patchwork design similar to the men's chaps and vest, or a woven design. 

Some more images.

Here we see women wearing the breast cover without a blouse. This was likely the original mode of dress.

These next couple of images show women wearing jackets similar to the mens'.

Some examples of cross stich.

Yami or Tao

The Yami are not properly a Taiwanese tribe. They are also called Tao, and number about 5000. They inhabit Orchid Island off the southwestern coast. Their language and culture are closer to that of the Philippines; it is thought that they migrated from Batan some 800 years ago. They are a maritime people, and live on fish, taro and yams, rather than millet. The close connection with the sea is like that of the rest of the Malayo-Polynesian peoples. 

The Yami costume is very simple, for the men consisting of a breechcloth, and perhaps a vest. Metal helmets of a distinctive shape are also worn. Cloth is woven in simple designs of blue and white. 

Women wear breast covers, vests, wrap skirts of the same blue and white cloth, as well as elaborate necklaces for formal occasions. 

They seem to have a hair swinging dance, like the Wa.

Their boats are a very significant part of their culture.

This concludes my survey of the costumes of the Indigenous Peoples of Taiwan. I hope that you have found this to be interesting and informative. Perhaps you could adapt some of the embroidery, weaving or beadwork designs to a project for your own home. 

Roman K


Source Material:

Wei Te Wen, 'Culture of Clothing among Taiwan Aborigines', Taipei, 1998

 CHEN GUO QIANG, 'Taiwan Gaoshan the original textile', 2014

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