ˇ·1994 Exhortations of the Little PeopleˇX a collection of unique Saisat ritual songs and dances
Most of the 4,000 members of the Saisat tribe are concentrated in two areas: the northern brand being located in Hsinchu and Wufung Hsiung and the southern branch of the tribe residing primarily in the areas of Miaoli Hsien, Nanchuang Hsiung and Shih Tan Hsiung.
The Small People's Dance is the most unique and important dance performed by both the northern and southern branches of the Saisat tribe. Ta Ay (the Saisat word for Small People)visit bi-annually, first passing through the region where the southern branch lives then to the northern branch. The Formosa Aboriginal Singing and Dance Troupe performs the Small People's Dance of the northern tribe based in Wufun Hsiung.
Origins of the Small People's Dance can be found in a popular story among the Saisat. Legend has it that the small people lived across the riverbank, neighboring the Saisat tribe. The small people crossed a Pee Pah tree bridge each year and assisted the Saisat with the harvest while teaching them many of their songs, dances and other rituals. At the end of each successful harvest, the Saisat and the small people celebrated with joint festivities.
Unfortunately, during one of these harvest celebrations, a member of the small people's tribe took advantage of a Saisat maiden. This incurred the wrath of the Saisat men who took revenge by cutting down the Bridge while most of the small people were trying to cross it. The small people were plunged into the waters below and perished, all but two: a man named Ta Ay and a woman named To Way.
The two surviving small people were saddened by the tragedy but did not blame the Saisat. Instead, they wrote a list of wise thoughts on how to life and taught were incorporated into the gravest rituals of the Saisat so that subsequent Generations of both the Saisat and small people would remember and heed these words of wisdom.
After teaching the songs to the Saisat, the two small people traveled to the east. Before leaving, they warned the Saisat that the harvest rituals must be performed regularly or else the Saisat tribe would face starvation and eventual extinction. Thus the Saisat tribe's annual harvest celebrations were originally an annual event, government regulations have caused the Saisat to change this to every other year.
As the Saisat tribe was originally spread over a very large geographic area, the small people had many points of contact with them. The Small People's Ritual takes place every other year in mid-October. One month before the dance, the northern and southern tribes set a date to meet based on the mung grass harvest time. The small people also begin preparations to return. Saisat tribe members start to practice the small people songs, which are not allowed to be performed at any other time of year.
One week before the dance, the northern and southern branches of the tribe meet at Miaoli Nanchung at a general meeting called the aiyalaho. Tribal concerns are discussed and plans are made for the coming 2 years before the next meeting. Final details are confirmed for the harvest dance.
The launch the harvest festival, a pig is first slaughtered. Any unresolved differences between members are brought before the elders. Reports are made to the deceased small people so they can give their blessings to the Saisat tribe.Groups of different surnames are led by those names Chu, who sing the first song of the festivities shortly before day (raraol).
Millet and rice is the then cracked and ground to make glutinous steamed cakes. Wine and fish are prepared and returning small people are invited to feast. The following 3 nights feature non-stop song and dance. At dawn on the fourth day, the Saisat sing farewell songs to send off the departing small people.
The harvest ritual includes 15 songs in total, a precious part of the Taiwanese Aboriginal cultural heritage. The songs encompass each aspect of daily life-with a total of 34 verses and 229 lines. Each verse employs a plant name to rhyme the lines, creating a very poetic result. Three different patterns of repeating the various verses are used during the singing. The end of each pattern is marked by a long vocal interval. Non-specific vocal intervals are employed throughout the performance in very elaborate rhythm patterns, expressing the full range of feeling that the Saisat have for the small people.
The complete harvest songs take over four hours to perform in their entirety. The stage performance only chooses the first three or four lines of one verse in each song. Matched with dance steps, the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe also recreated the setting in which the songs were originally meant to be performed.
The meaning of the words have been explained by Mr. Yao-chung Chu to the Formosa Aboriginal Song and Dance Troupe, who spent time in Wufung Hsiung in 1992 to learn the dance and abort the small people. The solemnity of the event cannot be overstated since the ritual is only originally allowed to be performed during harvest and includes an homage to the small people. We have obtained permission form the Hsinchu Saisat branch to perform this dance and have asked for the blessings of the small people for our performance.