Thu, Jul 18, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Revival by the sea

The Kavalan people of Yilan held their first ocean and harvest festivals in over 100 years last weekend with much help from their long-lost cousins in Hualien

By Han Cheung  /  Staff reporter

Kavalan chiefs and elders from across Taiwan raise their bamboo cups during the first Kavalan ocean festival in Yilan in more than 100 years.

Photo: Han Cheung, Taipei Times

Pan Ying-tsai (潘英才) was five years old when the Kirippoan Community in Yilan County held its last traditional ritual by the ocean to cure illness.

Now 91, the Aboriginal Kavalan chief was in high spirits on Saturday. Decked out in a recreated traditional costume made for the occasion, Pan joined Kavalan elders from across Taiwan on the beach in Yilan County’s Jhuangwei Township (壯圍), to conduct the village’s first formal ocean festival in more than 100 years. The event tagline is apt: “We have always been here” (我們一直都在), as Yilan is considered the original homeland of the Kavalan people.

“I tried to revive our festivals about 20 years ago, but the officials turned me down because we no longer speak our language or keep our customs,” Pan says in Hoklo, also known as Taiwanese. “I was so disillusioned, I didn’t attempt again.”

Interest in Kavalan culture has grown among the villagers in the past few years with the help of Kavalan communities in Hualien that retained their customs and language. Last year, community members traveled to Paterongan Village in Hualien’s Fengbin Township (豐濱) to participate in their ocean and harvest festival, further awakening their Aboriginal consciousness.

Umus, a mother of two young boys, only became involved last year. Her whole family has since adopted Kavalan names, and they made modern versions of Kavalan ceremonial clothes in preparation for the Paterongan excursion.

“We knew we were Aborigines since we were young,” she says. “But we had no contact with our culture ... since my grandfather’s generation denied their heritage [due to discrimination]. But now we are becoming increasingly proactive in seeking resources and teaching our children our traditional ways.”


The Kavalan people were once the dominant ethnic group in today’s Yilan County. The area was administered as Kavalan subprefecture by the Qing Empire until 1875, when it was upgraded to a county and its name modified to the Han-centric Yilan.

As Han Chinese encroachment intensified in the mid-1800s, many Kavalan people moved south to Hualien, where their language and customs endured. The ones remaining in Yilan hid their identity and assimilated into Han Chinese culture. The government officially recognized the Hualien Kavalan in 2002 but not the Yilan Kavalan, who are scattered throughout the county, essentially indistinguishable from their neighbors.

In fact, Hulam, the current chief of all the nation’s Kavalan people, didn’t even know there were still Kavalan people living in Yilan until he visited on a business trip a decade ago.

“My elders told me that all of the Kavalan people had moved to Hualien,” he says. “But when I visited Yilan, one of the drivers told me he also has Kavalan blood, and his grandmother still knows a few Kavalan phrases.”

He started making trips to Yilan, and eventually suggested that the Yilan Kavalan visit Paterongan to observe and learn the existing customs. With the help of Fan Te-hui (樊德惠), a Lan Yang Institute of Technology (蘭陽技術學院) assistant professor who has documented many Aboriginal festivals and is familiar with the Kavalan in Yilan, this partnership began about five years ago and continues to grow, with more than 100 Kirippoan villagers participating today.

Fan says while there are still many Kavalan communities in Yilan, Kirippoan is so far the only one that has taken an active interest in reviving their culture — part of it due to them having a passionate leader in Pan.

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