Taiwanese Aboriginal Festival Photographs — 臺灣原住民

This is a collection of photographs taken at Aboriginal festivals and events throughout the island over the years. For a more complete selection of photographs of Taiwanese officially recognized tribes see this project:

Taiwan's original people (原住民) have lived on this island for perhaps 8,000 years and are all Austronesian-speaking people -- some anthropologists even believe all Austronesian people originated in Taiwan. Taiwanese Aboriginals have many ethnic groups, languages and traditions, and have all been assimilated into modern Han Taiwanese society to differing degrees. Taiwan's government divides these indigenous people into (a fairly arbitrary) fourteen 'officially recognized Aboriginal Tribes,' and an even more arbitrary 'High Mountain' and 'Plains' Aboriginals.

Today, recognized Aboriginals comprise about 2% of Taiwan's population -- although recent genetic studies indicate this number could be closer to 60% if it included 'Plains Aboriginals.

The fourteen recognized groups are:
Amis 阿美族, Atayal 泰雅族, Bunun 布農族, Kavalan 噶瑪蘭族, Paiwan 排灣族, Puyuma 卑南族, Rukai 魯凱族, Saisiyat 賽夏族, Sakizaya 撒奇萊雅族, Seediq 賽德克族, Tao 達悟族, Thao 邵族, Tsou 鄒族 and Truku 太魯閣族.

Some unrecognized groups that are actively lobbying for recognition are:
Babuza, Basay, Hoanya, Ketagalan, Luilang, Pazeh/Kaxabu, Papora, Qauqaut, Siraya, Taokas and Trobiawan

Nomenclature can be confusing as names are translated from ancient, sometimes extinct, languages and arbitrary groupings into Chinese (sometimes via Taiwanese) and then into English.

Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman in Namasia Township, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman wears a barking deer hide headdress and beads, Taiwan


My wife is a Taiwanese Aboriginal from the Bunun Tribe 布農族 and I have been photographing Taiwanese Aboriginal festivals for many years, mostly in Namasia District (那瑪夏區) in Kaohsiung. This project is mostly portrait style photographs that I have taken over the years.

Bunun Aboriginal Woman Smokes a Pipe at Ear Festival in Namasia

Bunun Aboriginal Woman from Taoyuan Smokes a Pipe at Malatangia Festival in Namasia


This photograph of a beautiful Bunun Woman was taken at the ‘Ear Festival’ (布農打耳祭)  in 2006 and has been one of my best-selling photographs. Notably, it was used on The China Post’s travel banner for several years and as the cover of two Bradt catalogs.

Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman in Namasia Township, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

Elderly Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman in Namasia wears a feather and deer hide cap, Kaohsiung, Taiwan


During my time in Taiwan I have noticed a marked improvement of acceptance of Aboriginals and ethnic pride from Aboriginals themselves.

Taiwanese Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman with traditional headdress

Taiwanese Bunun Aboriginal Tribesman with traditional headdress


Hunting is still very much a part of the Aboriginals life as can be seen by their traditional clothing.

Chou Aboriginal Tribesman

Tsou Aboriginal with cowrie, fur and feather headdress in Alishan

My wife’s mother is from the Tsou tribe in Alishan. The picture above is my wife’s cousin and was taken on one of our annual Chinese New Year trips to Alishan.

Aboriginal performance, Zahamu Park, Anping, Tainan City, Taiwan

Zhou Aboriginal warrior from Lijia performing in Zahamu Park, Anping District, Tainan City, Taiwan

This is another popular Aboriginal photo that has been published in several magazines. This was a performance by a group of dancers from Lijia, Chiayi for the opening of Tainan Zahamu Aboriginal Park (札哈木原住民公園) in 2003. It was shot with the Nikon D100 which didn’t render skin tones very well.

Bunong Indigenous Hunter

Bunun man holds rifle at Annual Bunun Ear Festival, Maya village, Namasiya Township, Kaoshiung County, Taiwan

This photograph was taken at the last festival before the deadly 2009 Typhoon Morakot and just after San Ming County (三民鄉) was renamed as Namasia (那瑪夏or Namaxia, Namasiya?), and the three townships were renamed from Ming Tzu (民族), Ming Chuan (民權) and Ming Shen (民生) to Nangisalu (南沙魯), Maya (瑪雅) and Takanua (達卡努瓦), respectively. This man is from Nangisalu, the worst hit of the three villages.

Portrait of Chou Tribesman in traditional clothing.

Portrait of Tsou Tribesman in traditional clothing.

The Namasia region was originally occupied by the Tsou Tribe. After a plague wiped out large numbers of the tribe, the neighboring Bunun moved in and they have coexisted for over a hundred years.

Zhou Tribesman

Tsou Kanakanavu Tribesman, Maya village, Ming Chuan, Namasiya Township, Kaoshiung County, Taiwan

Most indigenous areas of Taiwan have only one ethnicity but Namasia has at least five ethnic groups living together: Bunun, Tsou, Paiwan, Atayal and Hakka. While the government officially calls the Kanakanavu (卡那卡那富 or Southern Tsou as opposed to Northern Tsou of Alishan) and Hla’alua (沙阿魯阿 also Southern Tsou) of Namasia the ‘Tsou Tribe’ they hope to one day be recognized by their own divisions.

Chou Salaua Chief

Hla’alua (Salaua) Headman, Annual Bunun Ear Festival, Maya village, Taiwan

This is the Hla’ alua Chief at a festival in Namasia. This photo was used on the cover of Steven Crook’s Bradt Taiwan Guide Book. The chief passed away not long after the guide became available. Sadly, I didn’t have a chance to personally show him a copy. I suspect he never saw it.

Taiwan Bunong Aboriginal

Bunun wearing barking deer headdress, Annual Bunun Ear Festival, Maya village

This man was a Bunun living in Taipei. He came down to the Malatangia Festival (sometimes: manah tainga) with a Taipei group of Bunun. He has a nice face, I think.

Bored Taiwanese Aboriginal

Yawning Taiwanese Tsou Aboriginal Girl

Waiting for the festival to begin. Salua Tsou from Maya.

Bunun Schoolchildren

Taiwanese Aboriginal Schoolchildren wait for festival to begin.

One of my personal favorites. Taken in 2004 with my D100. I printed this poster size for a photography exhibition and it printed quite well. It is now hanging in my wife’s Aboriginal Pub, Hudlavoos.

Paiwan Aboriginal Boy in Sandimen, Pingtung County, Taiwan

Paiwan Aboriginal Boy in Sandimen Township (三地門鄉)

In a very lucky break, I happened upon this rehearsal for a festival en route to Wutai which enabled me to get some nice Aboriginal people shots to fill out an assignment for Topics magazine.

Chou Aboriginal Girl from Namasia

Tsou Kanakanavu Aboriginal girl from Takanua Namasia in traditional clothing


Tsou seems to be the most commonly accepted English spelling for 鄒族, but Zhou and Chou are still commonly used.

Plains Aborigine, Wulipu, Kaoshiung County, Taiwan

A Siraya Pingpu from Kamasua (台南東山吉貝耍部落) with a traditional headdress made from cockscomb, amaranth and eupatorium.

Photographed at Xiaolin Plains Aboriginal Night Ceremony. For more information about Plains Aborigines, see my article on Liuchongsi Pingpu Night Sacrifice here.

Paiwan at Aboriginal Festival

Paiwan Aboriginal Girl from Namasia

Namasia also has a large Paiwan population, mostly settling in the area through marriage.

Rukai Aboriginal Tribeswoman

Rukai woman wearing floral wreath cross stitches in the sun

This woman was sitting with her friend cross stitching in Wutai (霧台) Village. They were wearing traditional floral wreaths because they had just come from church.

Rukai Aboriginal Woman

A beautiful Rukai Aboriginal bride dances at her wedding, Pingtung, Taiwan

Adorned with embroidery, shells, bones, trinkets and glass beads, the traditional Rukai costume,  is one of the most elaborate and beautiful of all Taiwan’s Aboriginal tribal clothing.

Rukai Aboriginal Children

Rukai Aboriginal Children pose for a photograph.

I went to a friend’s wedding in Chingye, Pingtung and was pleasantly surprised to find all Aboriginal attendees wearing their traditional Rukai or Paiwan clothing, even the kids.

Chingye, Sandimen, Pingtung

A Rukai Tribesman wearing traditional clothing at a wedding.

This Rukai elder had a great face and expression.

Pingpu Elder from Hsiaolin Village

Pingpu Elder from Xiaolin Village

This image of a Pingpu Plains Aboriginal woman from Xiaolin was taken before Typhoon Morakot caused a catastrophic landslide to bury the entire village of some 300 houses. Only two houses on the outskirts of town were spared. For more information on this tragic event and efforts to preserve their culture see the article Xiaolin Plains Aboriginal Night Ceremony‘ that I published for culture.tw.

Bunun Aborigine

Bunun Aboriginal Tribeswoman in Namasia District, Kaoshiung City, Taiwan

My lovely wife posing for a portrait on our land in Takanua, Namasia. She is wearing a Bunun costume she bought when she was still in school, almost thirty years ago. She has made a few sets of clothing for herself since (including a set for me, my mother and vests for all of my relatives for our wedding), but this is my favorite. Although the tassels are made of drinking straws and cheap plastic beads, it was quite expensive. My wife and her twin sister saved up the money for the attire and it is still a source of pride for her.

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