Life for an Atayal woman in the past certainly wasn’t easy.
If, by some awful twist of fate I’m sent back in time, Atayal tribes circa the 1800s would be the last place I’d want to be transported to.
As I’ve discovered from my visit to the Wulai Atayal Museum, I lack the necessary skills to function as a woman of the tribe. I can neither weave nor cook. I’m not skilled in the arts of divinity. (My only hope of survival then would be to entrance the village chief’s handsome son with my queer manners and exotic looks, and trick him into marrying me.)
Such details of the culture and customs of the Atayal are vividly brought to life at the Wulai Atayal Museum. Established in 2005, the Museum showcases important aspects of Atayal life: hunting and agriculture, ancestor worship, facial tattoos and weaving.
Of these, weaving is what the Atayal are most famous for. To earn a tattoo on the cheeks (and thus make a good match in marriage), Atayal women had to perfect the art of weaving. Before technology was introduced, the whole weaving process had to be done by hand from start to finish. Women began by planting ramie, harvesting the crops, boiling and bleaching the ramie plants, spinning yarn out of the ramie fiber, then finally weaving it on a traditional loom.
The men didn’t have it much easier either. The honor of having a tattoo on the cheek or chin must be earned by first hunting a head. Yes, you read that right. A head as in the head of a dearly departed human being. Yikes!
The Atayal believed that head-hunting, or maga in Atayal language, guaranteed a place in the spirit realm with their ancestors. Of course, the practice of head-hunting and face tattooing have long since vanished.
Beyond being another tourist spot in Wulai, the Museum truly offers visitors a chance to understand Atayal culture. Through photographs and artifacts, Atayal culture and memories are preserved, and their stories told through time.
No. 12, Wulai St, Wulai Village, Wulai, New Taipei City
Monday to Friday from 9.30 AM to 5 PM
Saturday to Sunday from 9.30 AM to 6 PM