Memorial service held for tattooed Atayal tribal elder

Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - Page 3

A memorial service was held yesterday for Yawi Noming, also known as Kao Tien-sheng (高天生), who was the last Aboriginal man in the nation to bear a tribal facial tattoo when he died on July 15, aged 92.

Noming’s family and members of his tribe, the Atayal, attended a small Christian service in Miaoli County’s Taian Township (泰安), where the family lives, Taian Mayor Ko Wu-yung (柯武勇) said.

Noming, described by the county government as a “national treasure,” died in a hospital in Greater Taichung from infective endocarditis.

Facial tattoos were a long-standing custom of the Atayal, signifying that an individual has entered adulthood. To receive the tattoos, men had to cut off the head of an enemy, while women had to learn to weave.

The Atayal also believed that the tattoos serve as marks for their ancestors to recognize the spirits of descendants after they die.

The custom of facial tattooing was banned during the Japanese colonial era because of its association with headhunting.

Kan Pi-tung (甘必通), director-general of the county’s International Culture and Tourism Bureau, expressed sadness over Noming’s death.

Noming was one of four tribal elders with facial tattoos featured in a collection of stamps released in 2011, Kan said.

With Noming’s passing, only six people with tribal facial tattoos are left, all of them over the age of 90. Three of them live in Miaoli and three in Hualien County.