The people’s island - Taipei Times
Mon, Mar 14, 2016 - Page 12 News List

The people’s island

Geographically isolated, Lanyu retains a rustic charm, and indigenous traditions are kept alive despite Han-Chinese encroachment

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Han and her husband Huang Kuang-te (黃光德), nicknamed A-te, also take us on a late-afternoon ocean safari at low tide, when thriving reef wildlife are exposed. A-te even braves the crashing waves to pick for us a handful of carrageenan moss, a type of red algae grown on cliffs. The ocean salad tasted divine, with seawater as its only dressing.

In warmer months, Lanyu’s crystal-clear water and abundant reefs make it a fine spot for scuba diving. During flying fish season, locals will take visitors out fishing at night.

Free divers come here too. While Han is a free-diving enthusiast, A-te resembles an amphibian caught on Han’s underwater camera, which shows him walking effortlessly at the bottom of the sea.

As for us, we were perfectly content to watch the breathtaking sunrise on the coral reef just a few steps away from our room, and later relaxing on the thatched-roof pavilion facing the ocean being mesmerized by the blanketed night sky.


Despite our idleness, we manage to visit a traditional Tao dwelling. The semi-underground houses were developed over centuries to adapt to the island’s scorching hot summer and windy winter. In the 1960s, most traditional homes were torn down to make way for modern public housing.

Today, the largest cluster of traditional dwellings is located at Ivalino Village, where 17 of the 41 remaining dwellings are still used by tribal elders. Visitors need to take a guided tour (NT$250 per person) to enter and take photographs.

Our guide, an Ivalino native, says he was born and raised in the house which is “cool in summer and warm in winter.” Toilets, showers and other modern-day comforts came later when he moved to the nearby public housing in the 1990s.


Much has changed and been lost since the Tao first arrived on Lanyu in canoes.

The Tao say anito may no longer be the evil spirits that haunted their ancestors. What is more threatening is the loss of their language, traditional values, beliefs and way of life after decades of repression and assimilation into modern Han-Chinese culture.

One modern-day anito, in particular, stands quietly on the south point of the isle, stowing barrels of nuclear waste shipped from the mainland. The storage facility not only elicits collective fear but strength and determination to fight off the evil spirit.

Winds starts to blow again on the day we leave, planes are again canceled and we end up leaving by ferry. Following Han’s advice, I remember to take my anti-seasickness medicine. As a couple of passengers start retching, I am rocked to sleep, watching towering walls of dark water forming not far from our vessel.

Before I close my eyes, I suddenly remember how Han described the first time she saw hundreds of delicate flying fish surround her boat, gliding and glittering under the silver moonlight.

“Lanyu is an entry into a magical world,” she said.

I concur.


Getting there

? Lanyu is accessible by sea or air. Daily Air (德安航空) is the only airline that offers flights between Lanyu Airport and Taitung Airport in Taitung City. Flight schedules are available at the airline’s Web site at, though daily frequency is dependent on weather conditions. One-way tickets cost around NT$2,960.

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