Last male ‘national treasure’ dies

DISAPPEARING CULTURE::The last man in Taiwan with tribal facial tattoos passed away, leaving only three elderly women still sporting the historical tribal art form

By Lin Hsin-han  /  Staff reporter

Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - Page 3

Yawi Noming — also known as Kao Tien-sheng (高天生) — the nation’s last male Aborigine with tribal facial tattoos and who was considered a “national treasure,” passed away on Monday, aged 92.

His family, of the Tiangou (天狗)community (天狗) of Meiyuan Village (梅園) in Miaoli County’s Taian Township (泰安), said he used to be very healthy until his physical condition started deteriorating earlier this year and he was diagnosed with functional decline due to old age.

He died of infective endocarditis at the China Medical University Hospital in Greater Taichung, and his family is set to hold a funeral service at 8am tomorrow.

In his youth, Noming was enlisted by the Japanese Kaosha Volunteer Team to fight in Southeast Asia during World War II and was the only team member to return home safely after the conflict, his daughter-in-law Chung Chao-ying (鍾招英) said.

His physical condition was always good, but because of his advanced age, his heart and lungs started developing problems and he was hospitalized several times this year, she said.

Noming was sent to a nursing home two months ago to receive intensive care, Chung added, but he developed a high fever earlier this month and was sent to hospital for emergency treatment.

Doctors at the hospital said surgery would be the best course of treatment, but because of possible complications due to his advanced age, they decided not to operate, she said.

Noming will have a Christian funeral, the family said.

The Taian Township office first organized an event dedicated to Aboriginal facial tattoos 10 years ago.

At the time there were more than 50 people with Aboriginal facial tattoos, Chung said, but over the years most of them have passed away.

Aboriginal facial tattoos used to be a cultural gem of the Atayal people, showing bravery and beauty.

Women had to show extraordinary weaving skills and men had to have extraordinary hunting skills to be awarded the honor of a facial tattoo. Because only tribal members with facial tattoos were considered ready for marriage, getting tattoed was also a coming-of-age ritual.

Taiwan now has only six Aborigines with tribal facial tattoos left, all of whom are women. Three of them live in Taian Township — 105-year-old Kao Hsiang-mei (高香妹), 94-year-old Ko Chu-lan (柯菊蘭) and 96-year-old Chien Yu-ying (簡玉英) — while the other three live in Hualien County.

This article has been amended since it was first published to include Yawi Noming's Aboriginal name.