The Yami tribe dwells on Lanyu Island off-shore of Taitung County. The Yami tribesmen call themselves “Tao”, meaning “people”. Total population in Taiwan is around 2,900 persons.
“Flying Fish Culture” is unique to the Yami tribe; every March, tails of flying fish would frequent the waters of Lanyu Island, hitching a ride with the returning “kuroshiro current (black tide)”. Yami tribesmen would hold “Flying Fish Calling Ritual”, thereafter they would seine for the catch. Different fishing methods are used in different months for catching different fishes. This practice not only coordinates with marine life ecology, but seasonal limitation on eating flying fish also prevents human greed from excessive fishing.
The Yami people regard flying fish as a sacred gift from the heavens; celestial generosity must be reciprocated with caution and respect. Marine life ecological conservation philosophy is in tune to classification of fishes in the ocean.
In general, fishes can be categorized as follows:
Old people fishes (only to be consumed by elders)
Men fishes (smelly, sandpaper like skin, prohibited to women)
Women fishes (tender texture flesh, for all to consume)
Thus, for a Yami male to provide food for all family members (various genders and ages), he must be able to catch different fishes on the same trip. This tradition, over time, has reduced excessive killing of any one particular family of fish keeping a balance in marine life ecology.
To seine a bountiful catch, one needs an able boat. Ancestral wisdom has passed on in heritage the art of constructing plank boats; hulled together by 21-27 wooden planks, joint by using either kapok or resin. Not a single piton or nail is used; the planks are simply fixed and kept in place by interlocking each other.
Exquisitely refined carvings and patterns on the boats fully displayed God-given artistic talent of the Yami tribesmen. Graphics of agate, silver helmet, and ocean waves are all parts of the Yami life. On the other hand, human-form graphics represent family/clan heroes; they also serve as insignia/badge of the family/clan. The most important graphic design is the eye in shape of the wheel-gear; it symbolizes “eyes” of plank boat, ensuring safe sea journeys in keeping evil spirits and disasters at distance.
The Yami people believe that the boat is an integral part of the male anatomy; boat building is a holy mission undertaken with sacred vows. A full-size 10 persons boat, would take up to 3 consecutive years, from start to finish. Boat building, to the Yami people, is vitally important.
Besides boat building, other artistic handicrafts of the Yami tribe include: Textiles, ceramics, gold and silverwares.
1. The flying fish culture:
Catching flying fish is a mid-year grand occasion for the Yami tribesmen. Life is entirely center around planned fishing activities; these people believe that flying fish is synonymous with religious faith and universal view.
2. The great boat culture
The building and ornamentation of plank boats display an artistic sensitivity like non-other in the whole world. Individual fishing teams are mostly formed by same family members; a way to solidify the family unit, as well as to demonstrate the spirits of “teamwork and sharing”.
3. Geographic view of the southern island:
Traditional geographic understanding of early-days Yami people only included Taiwan, Lyudao (Green Island), and the Bardem Archipelago. There were no concepts at all on mainland China.
4. The only indigenous tribe which does not practice head-hunting:
The Yami people being true peace advocators; when encountering dispute/conflict, dawning rattan shields and helmets, long spears in their hands, they would throw small stones/pebbles at each other. The “warfare” is officially declared over, if someone gets hurt or injured on either side.
5. Meticulously woven “loincloth” (Yami version of the thong/g-string):
Typical Yami signature; clothes and ornaments in white and blue, matching reflection to marine life.
6. Clearly separating different container for various foods:
To Yami people, every kind of food (grains, meats, fishes) should each has its own designated container (either ceramic or wood); distinct and never confusing.
1. Social system in general
For the Yami tribe, social structure is based on bloodline and kinship; typically patriarchal clans. In addition, the Yami practices no social hierarchy or “united leader” system; societal authority does not come from inheritance. Not surprisingly, there are no Chieftains among the Yami people. Basically, it is an equal and non-segregated society. Personal esteem and status are not congenitally obtained, but rather acquired through trials and hard efforts.
2. Property inheritance
In traditional Yami society, properties which are solely and privately owned by “the family” are only 2 types: sweet taro field and residential plot. In principle, sweet taro field would be inherited by men; when daughters get married, they receive only clothing and appliances. The deed to the family residential plot shall remain “family owned”.
(1) Choosing a spouse
Spouse choice is restricted to some degree by social class. Families of different classes, having each particular function and power parameter; thus, usually the choice would be made within the same clan. Seldom, are choices made outside the norms of the clan.
There are 2 different types of marriage systems: endogamy and exogamy; each possessing its own definition and meaning. As far as endogamy (marriage within the clan) is concerned, mainly it is for the consolidation of family propagation, upkeep family image and quality, and avoiding the “bloodline” being destroyed by outsiders. In general, clans which are reputable and wealthy would enforce endogamy. Exogamy (marriage outside the clan) on the other hand, is choosing a spouse of one’s own will and feeling. For example, if a young couple falls in love; however, the girl’s family is of a lower social class, the wedding proposal would be rejected or ignored. Lovers willing to be betrothed under exogamy would have a much easier task; introduction to parents on both sides, and then tie the knot. Rarely are obstacles encountered to form a family under this system.
(2) Prenuptial trial
Main purpose behind the “testing period” is to determine the bride’s ability and proficiency in handling various chores and affairs. Many tribal girls have been victims of broken engagements after enduring such trials, mostly happening with exogamy. No wonder, long before the young girl is due at the young man’s house for trial, her mother has been “reminding” her to be careful and cautious, hard working, attentive and thoughtful. Prenuptial trials usually last no less than 1 month, and no longer than a year.