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Long-term Exhibitions

Taiwan’s Aboriginal Cultures

Before the arrival of the Ethnic Chinese on Taiwan in the 17th century, the aboriginal peoples were distributed throughout the entire island. According to the linguistic evidence, these peoples all belong to the Austronesian language family, which is the world’s most widely-dispersed language family, with a population of about 270 million.

In records dating back to Qing Dynasty, the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan were referred to as barbarians or savages (fan 番), which could be further divided into two groups: “sheng fan (the uncivilized barbarians or the so-called “Mountain Peoples” subsequently)” and “shou fan (the civilized barbarians or the so-called “Plains Dwelling Peoples”).” This classification system was generally followed by scholars during the Japanese Colonial Period. After arriving Taiwan in 1945, the Nationalist Government recognized the Mountain Peoples as Taiwan’s minorities and gave them an official name, the “shan bao (the mountain fellows).” It was until the Constitutional amendment in 1994 that the appellation of “shan bao” was replaced by “yuan zhu min (the indigenous peoples).” By 2012, the Council of Indigenous Peoples had officially decreed the existence of fourteen aboriginal peoples, including Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunun, Tsou, Rukai, Paiwan, Amis, Puyuma, Yami (or Tao), Thao, Kavalan, Truku, Sakizaya, and Seediq/Sediq/Sejiq. On the other hand, there are some other Austronesian peoples in Taiwan that the Government has not recognized officially, such as Ketagalan, Babuza, Papora, Pazeh, Siraya, Hoanya, Taokas, Quaquat and others. It is difficult to make an accurate estimate of their population. They usually resident in the plain area and are nowadays known as the “Plains Dwelling Peoples," or the "Pingpu."
This exhibition has been organized on the principle of “One indigenous people, one theme.” Each separate part of the exhibition has been designed under the curatorship of an authority on that people. Based on the museum’s existing collection and related research results, this exhibit presents the following peoples: Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunung, Tsou, Paiwan, Rukai, Amis, Puyuma, and Yami (Tao), together with the various “Pingpu” peoples.
The description of this exhibition is divided into four levels. The most basic level deals with names of the artifacts on display, as well as the locations and dates they were collected. Next, each group of three to five artifacts is accompanied by an explanation approximately 200 Chinese characters in length. Third, more detailed information on each people is available in pamphlet form, which visitors can peruse at their leisure. Finally, the showroom provides computerized access to advanced data such as: research experts and their work, a catalogue of relics in our collection, and bibliographies. It is hoped that this introduction, moving from the simplest level to the most complex, will enable visitors to gain a more profound understanding of Taiwan’s indigenous cultures.