¡· 1993 The Passing of the Year

In the cycle of the seasons, the passing of the year has a deep meaning in Taiwan aboriginal society. Under the impact of the Western New Year as well as the Chinese Lunar New Year and other outside cultural influences, however, the original significance of the ancient ceremonies marking the passing of the Year has become obscured.

Wide-ranging observation of ceremonies in Taiwan aboriginal society shows that there is a type of communal ceremony that should be regarded as the ¡§New Year;¡¨ it marks the passing of the Year by bidding farewell to the old, ushering in the new, dispelling evil influences, and praying for good fortune and plenty.

Although ceremonies marking the passing of the year go by different names in different Aboriginal societies, they are usually the grandest ceremonies of each society. They take place following the harvest ceremonies for the main crops, marking the transition to a new farming year.

In the past, the most sacred and important crop grown by most of Taiwan's aboriginal tribes was millet (upland rice and other dry-land crops are also cultivated), and the new seeds were sown only after the passing of the year. This stands in contrast to Taiwan's Han Chinese society, whose main crop is rice grown in paddy fields.

The passing of the year is marked by a series of ceremonial events. Primarily devoted to veneration of gods and ancestral spirits, these ceremonies form an integral part of each tribe's religious system. At the same time they also provide a ceremonial framework within which the men, who have the important responsibility of protecting the tribe, can organize, train, and come to maturity. Tribal societies which have a men's age-grade system hold adulthood rituals so that the men can enter upon a new stage of life along with the passing of the year, and so shoulder even greater social responsibilities. Shamans and priests carry out purification rites for the whole community and pray for successful hunting and plentiful harvests in the coming year. These ceremonies are by no means simply joyful gatherings; they also have a very solemn side.

The aboriginal societies of the Puyuma, Amis and Tsou, all of which have men's houses and adulthood rituals, hold magnificent tribal-wide ceremonies for the passing of the year involving ceremonial songs and dances that continue for several days in succession. Among the Amis tribe this is called the Ilisin, during which it was the custom to build a special ceremonial house, the pantheon of gods (Maratao). Songs and dances were used to invoke and send away the deities and ancestral spirits. Song and dance form an extremely important element in the Ilisin ceremonial rituals; in the words of the songs, along with a multitude of ¡§papokohan no mihcaan¡¨ (the joint of the year). Interestingly, in their ceremony for the passing of the year, which includes the adolescents' monkey ceremony (basibas) and the adults' grand hunting ceremony (mangayao), the Puyuma also sing ¡§this is the joint of the year¡¨ (amawu na amian / amawu na betelan). Like the Ami, the Puyuma hold ceremonies connected with the men's age-grade system. They also perform rites to release grieving families from mourning and to purify the entire community. The Tsou tribe's series of ceremonies, known as Mayasvi, held after their millet harvesting ceremony each year, serves to mark the passing of the year. The most important functions of the Mayasvi ceremonies are to worship the God of War, expel bad luck from the community, and pray for plentiful hunting and harvests in the new year. Other ceremonies include rituals for purifying roads, and marking the first entry of youths into the men's house and their passing into adulthood.

A survey of ceremonies in Taiwan's aboriginal society has shown that some tribal groups' ceremonies have changed out of all recognition, while others have been adapted and restored to some extent. The change or disappearance of these rituals is due primarily to the impact of outside influences. Active efforts were made during the Japanese Occupation (1895-1945) to remove ¡§superstitious and degrading customs¡¨ from aboriginal society, making it impossible for the aborigines to carry out certain ceremonies. With the post-1945 arrival of Christianity, government policies of assimilation and signification, changing crop environments, and the absorption of aboriginal populations by industrialization, it has become even more difficult to maintain the traditional ceremonies of aboriginal society.

Even though the ceremonies marking the passing of the year in Taiwan aboriginal society are steadily growing vaguer in meaning, certain aboriginal communities still uphold their sacred nature and observe the rituals in their proper form. They carefully prepare and carry out each step, introducing certain adjustments to suit changing times, but seeking to preserve the original intent as much as possible. There is also a group of aborigines who are rediscovering their own culture and identifying themselves with it. They have become involved in studying, exploring, transmitting and contributing creatively to their tribal culture in the hope that their ¡§New Year¡¨ may flourish and continue in the future. The members of the Formosa Aboriginal Song & Dance Troupe have participated in the Puyuma, Tsou and Amis tribes' New Year ceremonies and have learned their ceremonial songs and dances in order to display the spirit of tribal culture and complete the ¡§Passing of the Year¡¨ in songs and dances of good augury.