There are 16 recognized indigenous tribes in Taiwan, with a total population of over half a million people. Their ancestors lived on the island between 7,000 and 2,000 years ago, and belong to the Austronesian ethnic group.
Recent years have seen a revival of indigenous practices in the villages. Younger villagers are regaining pride in their roots. An increasing number are striving to build a sustainable tourism industry around their culture. This has resulted in more ethnic homestays, guided tours, and restaurants serving indigenous dishes.The villages, which you can visit, are roughly dispersed over:
- Hualien, Taitung, and Taroko Gorge (East coast) – Amis, Bunun, Truku
- The central and northern mountainous regions – Atayal
- The central and southern mountains – Bunun
- Kaohsiung and Pingtung (South) – Paiwan and Rukai
- Nantou and Chiayi, including Alishan National Park (Central Southern) – Tsou
- Sun Moon Lake – Thao
- Hsinchu and Miaoli (Western) – Saisiat
- Lanyu (Orchid) Island – Tao (Yami)
The Amis are the most populous, followed by the Paiwan and the Atayal. Most indigenous people speak Mandarin. The tribes share similarities, yet are also different. For example, all except the Tao (Yami) engage in the ritualistic drinking of millet wine. The Paiwan and Rukai make sophisticated woodcarvings of animals, ancestors, and human heads. The Atayal are known for their weaving, the Bunun for hunting and a sophisticated eight-part harmonic singing. Facial tattooing was practiced by both genders of the Atayal and the Truku to honor achievements in hunting and weaving, and ensure the dead are recognizable to their ancestors in the afterlife.