Kiwit Community

An Amis Village on the Banks of the Xiuguluan River

Text:Cheryl Robbins
Photos:Maggie Song

Nestled deep in the mountains of Ruisui Township in Hualien County is the mostly indigenous Amis community of Kiwit, also referred to by its Chinese name of Qimei. This is a place where you can immerse yourself in traditional river-settlement culture. Flowing past Kiwit is the Xiuguluan River, at more than 100 kilometers the longest river in eastern Taiwan. It has long been a key part of the lives of the people here, providing food, water, and a transportation pathway.



Kiwit lies along narrow and winding County Highway 64, which runs from central Ruisui Township to the coast. The village is best known as the halfway point on whitewater-rafting trips that start at the Ruisui Rafting Visitor Center and traverse rapids along a 23-kilometer section of the Xiuguluan River, finishing at Rainbow Bridge, close to where the river flows into the Pacific Ocean.
What is not so well known is that the origins of rafting on the river are closely related to the local Amis culture. Before 1987, no road reached Kiwit. Crops grown in fields on the local mountain slopes were brought down to the river to a place under the Yuanshan Qimei Bridge that is today used as a swimming hole. There, produce would be loaded into a large wooden canoe, and it would then take a group of men a full day to pull the craft upstream to the market at Ruisui town. Kiwit possessed only one such canoe; there were a total of four canoes used to transport goods to Ruisui from various communities along the river. The villagers also had bamboo rafts, but these could not hold much weight.

A Special Kind of Rafting Tour
Over the last decade, the Amis residents of Kiwit have been working to revive their connection with the river and to share their culture with visitors. The focus of their efforts has been the development of rafting tours that highlight the area's geology, ecology, and history. On those tours, launched from the Ruisui Rafting Visitor Center, a community guide is on board each raft to help safely navigate the rapids, describe points of interest along the way, and share personal memories of growing up in the area.
The tours include one stop where rafters are asked to disembark and collect maifan stones, to be used for cooking a meal later. Also at this stop, shrimp traps are checked and the contents collected. The traps are then baited with pieces of meatball or sweet potato before being placed back into the water. Nowadays, the traps used consist of two plastic pieces that fit together, the design based on traditional tapered traps made from bamboo.
After getting back into the rafts, you will float further down the river and then make another stop. After hiking up to the top of a hill, it’s time for an indigenous-style lunch. The porous maifan stones collected earlier are heated over a fire and then placed inside a container made with the calyx of the betel-nut plant, filled with water to which salt, shrimp, crab, and vegetables are added. The hot stones boil the water, quickly cooking the food. This dish is thus also referred to as “stone hotpot.”
This is a traditional dish that was developed out of necessity. During the annual fishing rites that have been performed throughout the community's history, men up to the age of 40 stay along the riverbank for four days, building a temporary shelter, fishing, and performing a variety of tasks that form part of the tribesmen’s traditional training. During this time a way to quickly and easily prepare food is needed – the birth of stone hotpot. The fishing rites coincide with the end of the growing year and the harvesting of all crops, and are usually held in July.

In contrast to rafting trips organized on the Xiuguluan by other outfits, the final destination of this tour is Kiwit and not the Rainbow Bridge further down the river. In the village, facilities such as showers and changing rooms are available. The tours have a six-person minimum, but individuals can inquire if there is space available and join other groups. Reservations should be made at least three days in advance. The rafting outings are conducted year-round, but are most popular from May through October, as the weather is warmer during this period and there is more rainfall, filling the river with more water and making the ride more exciting.
Kiwit provides three rafting-tour options. The first is a one-day tour from 8:30am to 3:30pm, priced NT$2,000 per person. The two other options involve staying overnight in the community, either the night before with dinner included or the night after the rafting trip with breakfast included the next day. For each of these options, the price is NT$3,000 per person.

Out-of-Water Cultural Experiences
If rafting is not your thing, but you would still like to enjoy a Kiwit cultural experience, there are half-day (NT$850 per adult, NT$675 per child aged 10 years or less), one-day (NT$1,500 per adult, NT$1,150 per child), and two-day (NT$2,500 per adult, NT$1,700 per child) community-tour options.
All tours begin with an introduction to the community's history. The ancestors of the Amis residents lived on one of the highest mountains in Hualien’s Fengbin Township, later migrating to an area above the current location. They were eventually forced down to the current lower elevation by the Japanese during their time of occupation of Taiwan (1895~1945). Some members of the Bunun tribe also settled here later, moving from the Nantou County area to the west.

In recent times, tribal members began to revive such traditional Amis ceremonies as the ilisin (harvest festival), during which the harvest of millet, a traditional staple grain, is celebrated, along with the start of a new year. Held in August, one of the characteristic features of the Kiwit Harvest Festival is the warrior dance, which represents the vigor and power of youth. In the past, Amis males were educated in the history and traditions of the community and trained in the defense of the village in a youth meeting hall. Divided into age groups of three years each, the youngest starting at about age 13, members of each group wore different clothing and had different responsibilities.
One of the first stops on the community tour is a replica of the meeting hall, built in traditional style from bamboo and thatch, with a platform for sitting or sleeping. A replica of a traditional dwelling stands nearby. Traditionally, young males slept in the meeting hall, which served as a type of on-duty hut, enabling them to better respond as a group in any emergency or to provide help, such as with the harvesting of fields.

From there, a path leads down to the river. Along the way are a number of trees and plants with signs in Chinese and the Amis language. The community guide explains their features and traditional uses. For example, kiwit, also known as the Japanese climbing fern, is the plant for which this community is named.
In the past, before plastic bags were readily available, kiwit containers were used to carry food, such as frogs and other animals, from the river to the village. The plant now serves as a natural decoration at Christmas time and on other important occasions. Wood from lalidet, the Chinese crapemyrtle, does not need to be dry to burn, and thus was used for making fires. As it is strong and flexible, it was also used for building snares and traps. Felos, or Chinese sumac, was burned to produce charcoal, one of the ingredients for gunpowder used in hunting rifles.
Once at the river, tour participants can collect maifan stones and check shrimp traps, similar to the rafting-tour experience. A large net is also brought out, and tour participants can practice throwing it into the river to catch fish. Indigenous-cuisine meals are prepared, including stone hotpot. Other cultural activities include the making of a stone hotpot container, chopping of firewood, and learning of traditional methods for starting a fire.

There are three accommodation options in Kiwit: staying in the home of a local family, staying in one of the traditional Amis structures, and camping. A campground with wooden platforms has been created near the river. There is currently one local guide who speaks English. Other local guides, who usually work elsewhere but come back to the community to help during the tourism high season, speak English as well. Thus, it is best to inquire about the availability of an English-speaking guide when making your reservation.

Things to See and Do in Ruisui
A visit to Kiwit and whitewater rafting along the Xiuguluan River are just some of the many things to do while visiting Ruisui Township. Cycling paths have been created in and around the town of Ruisui, and bicycles are available for rent just outside Ruisui Railway Station. After a day of hiking, whitewater rafting, and/or cycling, there is also the opportunity to enjoy natural hot springs at the Ruisui Hot Springs or nearby Hongye Hot Springs.
Honey-fragrance black tea is one of the main agricultural products of this township, and it is possible to stroll through the Wuhe Tea Plantations and sample the locally produced teas. The Ruisui Pasture, a working dairy farm, is a fine choice for those traveling with children. The Tropic of Cancer Marker, which marks the latitude 23.5 degrees north, is the boundary between subtropical and tropical Taiwan, and is a popular photo-taking spot.

Information
Information about the Kiwit tours offered can be found online at http://kiwit01.blogspot.tw (Chinese only). Reservations can be made online or by calling 038-991-220, 0963-593-571, or 0912-523-026.
A shuttle service is available between Kiwit and the Ruisui Rafting Visitor Center, NT$200 per person one way. If you have your own vehicle, for NT$500 your car can be driven to Kiwit from the Ruisui Rafting Visitor Center. If staying overnight in Kiwit before the rafting tour, the shuttle service is included.

 

English and Chinese

Amis tribe阿美族
Bunun tribe布農族
Fengbin Township豐濱鄉
Hongye Hot Springs紅葉溫泉
maifan stone麥飯石
Qimei奇美
Rainbow Bridge長虹橋
Ruisui Hot Springs瑞穗溫泉
Ruisui Pasture瑞穗牧場
Ruisui Rafting Visitor Center瑞穗泛舟服務中心
Ruisui Township瑞穗鄉
Tropic of Cancer Marker北回歸線標
Wuhe Tea Plantations舞鶴茶園
Xiuguluan River秀姑巒溪
Yuanshan Qimei Bridge原山奇美橋