Becoming Chinese? Ethnic Transformation and Ancestral Tablets among the Puyuma
addresses the processes of ethnic transformation that have occurred in Taiwan
and the South China region, focusing specifically on a group of native
Taiwanese who have gradually adopted Chinese customs. The paper focuses
specifically on transformations in the ancestor worship cult among the Puyuma
peoples. Over the past few decades the Puyuma have gradually begun to accept
the custom of worshipping ancestors by establishing ancestral tablets in their
own homes. This custom has been adopted from neighbours who are themselves
ethnic Chinese. The data were collected during field research from 1966 to
1968, and again for a brief period in 1983. During the interlude between these
two investigations, many changes became obvious. This paper thus discusses the
process of ethnic transformation as the Puyuma went through periods of
hesitation, resistance, and finally full-scale, accelerated acceptance of
of the aboriginal peoples of Taiwan have gone through a long process of sinicisation
whereby they have accepted many Chinese customs. The processes of sinicisation
have never been as clear-cut as many descriptions by historians would lead us
to believe. This investigation, along with the work of others, shows that there
has been a constant process of transformation and ethnic redefinition over the
past several centuries in Taiwan. It is impossible to locate a central tendency
or orientation that will explain all of the processes of sinicisation involved.
Differences in social organisation among contemporary ethnic groups can be
viewed as the results of multiple interactions with the dominant Chinese
culture. This particular study looks at only one case and generalisations
deriving from this case will have to be used with caution when applied to other
that focuses on ancestral tablets has a certain advantage in that we are
dealing with concrete and easily observable materials. Ancestral tablets also
have the decided advantage of containing written information. In this paper I
use ancestor tablets as one means of judging and evaluating the process of
sinicisation among the Puyuma.
people are an aboriginal group currently living on the west edge of the Taitung
Plain, located on the east coast of Taiwan. The village of Rikavon is eleven kilometers west of Taitung,
a prefectural city which developed from a small hamlet of twenty-eight houses
in 1872. The Puyuma had been famous for their military bravery and magical
power, dominating the plain area in spite of their relatively small population.
In 1915 the Puyuma consisted of 6,476 people. By 1964 the population was 6,335,
indicating a slow but steady decline. In contrast, the Ami, a neighbouring
group that lives on the east coast of Taiwan, doubled their population during
the same period (from 1915-1964).
traditional subsistence patterns of the Puyuma consisted of agriculture, which
was done by both men and women, plus specialised hunting by men. Hunting was
not economically critical for subsistence, but it became a major activity
related with status for men and gave much meaning to the maintenance of
community life. The major crop was millet, which is still important for ritual
activities. The Puyuma also produced rice, taro, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and
beans. Today they cultivate rice in paddy fields, which were introduced at the
beginning of the current century. Other major crops include sugar cane,
pineapple, banana, and areca nuts.
traditionally lived in permanent villages with an average population of
approximately 600. The villages tended to be organised around the principles of
endogamy and political autonomy. The inhabitants fell into two distinct
categories, nobles and commoners. Intermarriage between these two categories
was not prohibited. The noble group consisted of members of certain chiefly
families, of whom there were several in each village. Each of these chiefly
families maintained its own men's house. The household heads of these chiefly
families exercised political control. The office of village headman also tended
to be held by members of these chiefly families (Mabuchi, 1960: 134-35).
Japanese colonial era, Puyuma villages became administrative units and many
were relocated to be close to newly established paddy fields. The status and
privileges of the chiefly families decreased, even though Japanese officials
often relied on them for administrative purposes. At the end of the Second
World War, the distinction between commoner and chiefly families was formally
abolished by state policy. The vestiges of this cultural system can only be
seen today in the consciousness of older people and in their performance of
family type among the Puyuma was an extended unit, in which daughters usually
lived in their natal household after marriage. As a result of division, usually
only one daughter remained with her parents. It also happened that a son might
remain and succeed in his natal household. Although there have been many
changes during the past 100 years, the Puyuma were primarily an ambilineal
people loosely organised around family property. The expected form of marriage
was uxorilocality, with the husband moving into the household of his mother
-in-law. The wife's male kinsmen had more decision-making powers about property
and the disposition of agricultural land than did the in-marrying husband. The central
significance of the wife's male kinsmen is expressed in the marriage rituals
and in the distribution of engagement presents, which is also supervised by the
wife's mother's brother.
One of the
central features of the Puyuma kinship system is an emphasis on personal
kindred. The range of recognised kin extends to third cousins and sometimes
even to sixth cousins. While the kindred provides the Puyuma with a
functionally important system which operates in everyday life, many people also
participate in ambilineal groups which are centred on ritual houses (karomahan) of varying sizes. These
ritual houses focus on the performance of certain divinatory rituals,
associated with illness. Individual Puyuma can belong to more than one of these
divinatory groups, which trace descent ambilineally to the ancestors who are
deemed to be causing the afflictions.
among the Puyuma is primarily monogamous and involves no significant
brideprice. As noted above, post-marital residence was primarily uxorilocal.
Although marriage between close kin is not encouraged, there are numerous cases
in my field data which record marriage among second cousins, the major reason
being the desire to keep property within a group of close kinsmen. The strong
tendency for village endogamy is no doubt related to the avoidance between
affines, who might have become engaged in cross-village fighting over hegemony.
Among Puyuma affinal relations are clearly prescribed and reflected in
carefully observed rules that regulate the exchange of gifts between affines (Suenari, 1968).
deals primarily with ethnographic data collected in Rikavon Village. Originally
this was a community divided into three discrete hamlets. Under Japanese rule,
however, these hamlets were joined together and moved to the present location,
which was laid out with streets arranged in a grid pattern. In 1968 Rikavon had
a population of 925 people living in 150 households.
ethnic infiltration into the Puyuma territory had begun in the middle of the
Qing era. Chinese peddlers and itinerant merchants often took Puyuma women for
their wives, on the understanding that this would help provide them with safety
and kinship links within the local community. Chinese peddlers who lived in
Puyuma communities behaved much like ordinary husbands who married
uxorilocally. The Puyuma had no strong sense of ethnic distinctions which set
them apart from in-marrying outsiders, as long as these outsiders lived within
the village and followed the Puyuma way of life. Although the descendants of
these original Chinese peddlers have been culturally absorbed into Puyuma
society, they still maintain a "memory" of their Chinese ancestor and
his origin. Descendants who claim this link with a Chinese ancestor often establish
a Chinese style ancestor tablet, assuming their Chinese ancestors would be
happier to be commemorated in the Chinese way. It is to be noted that this does
not actively involve boasting of Chinese descent.
end of the Second World War, the Han Chinese rushed to the east coast because
of the population pressure in the west. This tripled the population of the Han
and reduced the aboriginal population in the east coast from majority to
minority as is seen in Table 1. This reversal of percentages had a profound
effect in the relations between the aborigines and the Han Chinese.
many factors which have led to a change in the Puyuma traditional style of
ancestor worship. We cannot neglect the influence of the Japanese occupation
which occurred from 1895 to 1945. During this time Japanese colonial officers,
including school teachers and police who tried to "improve" the life
of the people, operated in the Puyuma region. They also were charged with
eradicating "superstition" or "bad habits" among the Puyuma.
The latter included the vestiges of headhunting, burial within the house and
various forms of divination that Japanese authorities defined as unsuitable and
unacceptable. The Japanese also encouraged formal education by establishing a
system of schools. The cult rituals at the village level of the karomahan (the Puyuma shrine
consecrated to ambilineally traced ancestors) were abolished by the Japanese
authorities. This had the effect of undermining the unity of local village
communities among the Puyuma. Furthermore, there was a Christianisation
movement that began in this region soon after the Second World War (see Table
2). A highlight of this new development was the distribution of food and
clothes which had the effect of attracting large numbers of
"converts" who were then expected to abandon their traditional
religious activities (see Table 3). It is clear, therefore, that the process of
sinicisation described in this paper has been the result of many other
influences besides accommodating and assimilating to dominant Chinese cultural
models. One cannot forget the effects of both colonisation by the Japanese
government and official ideas imported from the Christian church.
Ancestral tablets among the Puyuma
during my first field investigation, about one third of the 150 households
could be classified as "Buddhist" and thirty-three of these
households had established an ancestral tablet on the altar in the central room
of their house. The size and style of the tablets were not uniform, but took
two basic forms: (1) a wooden tablet in the form of a plaque, and (2) tablets
contained in a box. The former type was further subdivided into tablets that
had been painted with black lacquer or were simply plain wood. The names of the
ancestors were inscribed collectively on the face of these tablets. The latter
type consisted of a box containing slips of wood on which were written the
name, age at death, time and date of birth and of death. On the front of the
box was written simply "the supernatural seat for the ancestors for every
generation of such and such a house". Each box would then contain a number
of individual ancestor slips. Because of its convenience for containing many
ancestors, the second type (the box) became more and more popular. By the
1980s, almost all families requested this box-type ancestral tablet container
when they set up a new ancestral altar.
these Chinese-style ancestor tablets were introduced after the Second World
War, particularly following the demise of many Christian converts. Following
the procedures of neighbouring Chinese villages, the Puyuma purchased these
articles in a nearby town where they would request an experienced Chinese
calligrapher to write out the slips that are contained within the box. Today,
it is almost impossible to distinguish these Puyuma tablets from those of their
neighbouring Chinese, except for the missing details of the dates and the use
of non-Han names and Japanese kana inscriptions (i.e., non-Chinese writing).
of particular tablet boxes indicate that the names of the ancestors actually
inscribed on the slips do not always correspond with what people believe to be
contained within. There is no regular occasion for Puyuma to open the tablet
box periodically to clean and inspect the slips. This paper begins with an
exploration of the contemporary Puyuma understanding of who they think is
actually contained within these boxes; later I will examine the actual names
that are physically written down on the tablet slips.
Custody of tablets
ancestral tablets are usually entrusted to those who succeed to the natal house
(pahatayan). Traditionally, it was the eldest daughter who was usually supposed to
remain in the natal house and continue the traditions of that household.
Accordingly, if the Puyuma custom were followed it was the eldest daughter who
would succeed to the custodianship of the tablets. This is in direct contrast
to the Japanese and the Korean cases in which tablet custodianship is
transmitted through the eldest son. Among the Puyuma, the preparation of the
offerings for the ancestral rites is sometimes shared out among other
descendants. Some descendants of the natal house may also bring their own
offerings, as is the case among some neighbouring Chinese.
shows who actually succeeds to the custodianship of the tablets. In eighteen
out of thirty-three cases investigated, the eldest daughter was the custodian.
But, if we eliminate those cases in which there were either no daughters or
only one daughter, this leaves fifteen cases: in eight of them the tablets were
in the hands of the eldest daughter, and in the other seven they were not. So,
nearly half the actual cases deviate from the norm of the eldest daughter
succeeding within her natal household.
analysis of the cases, we might note that the following factors also affect the
custodianship of Puyuma tablets. The kinship relationship by birth is obviously
basic. The number of children through which the tablets might be transmitted is
also relevant when considering custodianship. Also important is the
distribution of inherited property, as well as divination to determine the
views of the ancestors.
The cult of the ancestral tablets
following sections we will investigate how tablets are actually treated. A key
informant among the Puyuma maintains that the Puyuma worship their tablets on
the first and the fifteenth of each lunar month. During this time they place
incense and tea before the tablets. Ideally, the entire family also gathers
before the tablets on four other occasions: on the fifth day of the fifth lunar
month and on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month as well as the
fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, and guonian (the last day of the
twelfth lunar month). In actual practice, however, most Puyuma only worship on
the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month and guonian. Even those Puyuma who
have accepted many Chinese customs do not necessarily follow the Chinese
festival cycle. Below, we investigate cases of ancestor tablet worship on the
occasion of the guonian ritual.
brothers gather each year at the guonian ritual to worship their ancestors
in the natal house (Figure 1). The eldest brother (A) has succeeded to the
natal house. His brother, B, a Protestant Christian, does not participate in
the worship and only comes to share in the dinner. Brother C has married out
uxorilocally. Although he attends, his children do not come with him. The
children join their mother as she performs rites elsewhere. Brother E comes
with his two daughters, but his wife returns to her natal house for the guonian ritual. A's wife, on the
other hand, participates with her husband in this ritual in the natal house.
This is because her natal house is in another village. The other four wives of
the brothers do not participate in the ritual, even if they do come with their
husbands and help with preparing the dinner. This set of brothers are not
wealthy and no substantial property has been divided among them. The offerings
are simple and the relatives remain to enjoy a party with dinner and drinking.
eldest daughter, A, takes care of the ancestral tablets (Figure 2). Her two
sisters B and D have branched out and sister C and brother E have also married
out. A's husband's natal family believes in what he refers to as "the
religion of the Puyuma" and will have nothing to do with this particular
event on this day. B attends with all of her children except her eldest
daughter who lives in a distant city. A's adopted daughter is living with her
husband in another village and comes back by herself to participate in the
worship. Sister D comes to worship by herself because her husband worships the
tablets of his own ancestors in her own house. After finishing the worship
here, sister D returns to her own house and will worship there with her husband
to celebrate his own ancestors. At her own home, sister D kills two chickens
and prepares these as offerings for both sets of ancestors, including those of
her husband. Her own children are not concerned about these events and only her
daughter will attend to help. Brother E worships at his wife's house into which
he has married. C has married out and does not come back for the worship. Even
though her present house is very close to sister A's, sister C does not attend
examples above, we might highlight the following general principles. (1)
Irrespective of post-marital residence, people participate in the worship of
the ancestors in their own natal house. (2) Adopted children worship at the
house of their foster parents. (3) The spouse may participate as a courtesy,
rather than as a member of the family. (4) One may worship in two places, if
this is possible given transportation time. (5) The actual residence of one's
own parents and the distribution of inherited property are not always decisive
factors in determining who will and who will not worship particular ancestral
tablets. It is sometimes the case that people will worship at an altar at which
it is designated to be "fitting" and suitable to do so. These
features are in contrast to the general patterns of the Chinese ancestor
worship cult that operates among neighbouring Chinese people.
Ancestors of the household
Puyuma, the most dominant form of ancestor worship is the veneration of tablets
by those who remain within the household. Those who marry in often bring
tablets of their ancestors with them if there is nobody to take care of them
within their natal family.
Figure 3 shows such a typical case. In this case a daughter has the
responsibility for worshipping the tablets of her parents, plus the tablets of
her father's parents and also those of her husband.
Figure 4, a somewhat different pattern emerges. The focal person A had a sexual
liaison with a Chinese mainlander D and left the community. Her ex-husband E
retains custody of their son B and continues to live in the house which holds
the tablets of his wife's ancestors. The man in question E worships his own
ancestors at the house of his elder sister. Her younger brother is a Protestant
Christian and does not dare to worship ancestors offering incense. This case
demonstrates how the worship of ancestral tablets cannot be fully explained by
analyzing kinship relations alone. One must also consider the concept of the
house and the choice of residence after marriage as being important factors.
Ancestors of the in-marrying and the adopted
ethnographic eye familiar with tablets that conform to the patrilineal Chinese
descent system, Puyuma tablets may appear to be rather strange. One finds, for
instance, many ancestors of in-marrying people who are not within the strict
patrilineal system. One also finds many cases of adoption which are listed
openly. The following is a case in point:
is a woman born into a Chinese family; she was soon fostered out to a Puyuma
family. She fell ill and divination showed that her illness was deemed to
result from her deceased, biological Chinese mother who was said to be
"hungry". Offerings of food to Ego's Chinese mother soon cured Ego's
illness. A Japanese policeman in the village, however, advised her, "You
need not worship your ancestors in the Chinese way, since you were adopted by
the Puyuma. Even if your ancestor is Chinese you do not need to do this."
Therefore, Ego did not make a tablet for her Chinese biological mother. After
the delivery of Ego's second son in 1949, her breasts began to swell and she
became faint. She went to ask the local Puyuma shaman to find out what the
trouble was. She was told to prepare an ancestral tablet for her Chinese mother
which she did. By that time, the Japanese police had already left and there was
no one to be concerned about such matters.
living with her foster parents for six months after her marriage, Ego moved to
look after her foster mother for the next three years. Given that Ego's oldest
child had died as the result of a fire, they built a house on the present site
which had been that of Ego's biological mother. Since Ego's nephew had
inherited the property of her foster parents, she worshipped only the tablets
of her biological parents. She paid her respects to her foster parents together
with the souls of her husband's parents, on an altar set outside for wandering
ghosts, while she prepared an altar to her biological parents inside the house.
Had she inherited any property at all from her foster parents, she would have
made a tablet for them. Meanwhile, the nephew who inherited the property of Ego's
foster parents became a Protestant Christian and hence, the foster parents have
no one to worship their tablets.
wife's father's tablet had been deposited in Ego's wife's natal house (see
Figure 5). Members of this natal house asked Ego to take this tablet with her
to her present house, since she already had enough children. Given that Ego was
a member of the Catholic church, she was reluctant to do this. But her sisters
had few children and were poor so she felt obligated to bring the tablet with
her to her new house. Her children were all baptised into the Catholic church.
She confessed to her Catholic priest that she had kept the tablet after
building her new house. The priest gave her a dispensation and allowed her to
keep the tablet, so that Ego now keeps this tablet in her house near a cross
that has been blessed by the priest. She was also told to rewrite the
characters on the tablet, changing the last few characters which read shenwei (the seat of the god, a
traditional designation) to lingwei (the seat of the soul, apparently
more acceptable to the Catholic church). Ego has not yet made this change. This
example demonstrates that the Catholic church takes an pragmatic attitude
toward indigenous ancestral worship activities and that the tablets are often
taken over by those who are members of that particular church. The important
factor here seems to be that Ego had many children. Having many children is the
symbol of prosperity and they would also be able to continue worshipping the
tablet after her own death.
is a woman who married virilocally, moving to the household of her husband (see
Figure 6). Her biological parents and siblings had died, which means that she
brought the tablets of her parents' ancestors with her. These tablets were
installed on a separate altar, apart from the altar that holds the tablets of
her husband. It is believed that her husband's ancestors would be angry if they
found these outsiders on their altar. An interesting aspect of this case is
that the wife's tablets appear to be situated in the center, a location
superior to that of her husband's ancestors' altar. This would be inconceivable
for Han Chinese.
Analysis of tablet data
Out of the
data collected from thirty-eight examples, thirty-three households show the
following general features. It is noticeable that most tablets symbolise
individual, known ancestors; tablets are not focused on ancestors in a general
or abstract sense. They represent the specific and not the aggregate. In the
thirty-eight cases there are only four tablets denoting "ancestors of
every generation." One of these tablets was brought to Taiwan by a
mainland Chinese who married into the Puyuma. This tablet commemorates
ancestors of his patriline. Another general tablet was made for the sake of
good luck as a result of instructions after divination. This tablet is not
related to anyone's death. The remaining two cases of a general tablet were
both made by a couple who worship their own ancestors separately.
analysis demonstrates that the generational depth of these Puyuma tablets is
very shallow. This reflects the recent introduction of the custom into the
Puyuma community. In most cases, tablets have only been introduced for one or
two generations. Four out of five cases in which there are three generations
represented on the tablet involve Ego's own generation. During the 1966-68
period, except for one case (see Figure 4), no Puyuma tablets listed more than
four generations (except for the general tablet to "various
generations". Judging from these data collected in the 1960s, it is
apparent that the custom of ancestor worship in the Chinese style was
introduced very recently into the Puyuma community.
reviewing these tablet data, one discovers that it is difficult to actually
trace the true relationship between the worshipper and the worshipped by any
conventional principle. The conventional classification of lineality does not
help much in trying to analyze the Puyuma cases. Among the Puyuma, descent
shows no clear inclination either to matrilineality or patrilineality. For
example, matrilateral ancestors appear to be traced more often than others, but
this does not reflect the fact that that a Puyuma mode of descent is
necessarily matrilineal. Instead, this reflects a general pattern of uxorilocal
residence which predominates among the Puyuma. In cases where virilocality is
practised, the agnatic ancestors are indicated on the tablets but it is rare to
find more than two generations of patrilineal ancestors (including their wives)
among the Puyuma. It might be noted here that among Chinese in the immediate
neighbourhood, it is common to find many generations of patrilineal ancestors
on the tablets.
In order to
make sense of these data, I would propose that we introduce a new system of
classification. Rather than talking about matrilateral ancestors and
patrilineal ancestors, I would suggest that we analyze the Puyuma cases in
terms of the individual tablet maker's relationship to his or her house. In
this new classification system, we can talk about "house ancestors"
of the house of residence versus "natal house ancestors" of household
members that have married in. This classification system fits the emic
perspectives of the Puyuma people themselves. This distinction is also useful
in making clear the differences between the Puyuma case and the neighbouring
Chinese cases of ancestor worship. The classification system I am proposing
also follows more closely the patterns of inheritance. It is illustrated in
Table 2. The house ancestors constitute about two-thirds of the total, and most
of these are direct ascendant ancestors. As in the case of the Chinese in the
neighbouring region, the names of ancestors of the same generation are written
on one tablet. In the Chinese cases, however, Ego's worship might be
commemorating only direct ancestors, that is to say only a part of the total
ancestors recorded in the tablet.
conspicuous difference between the Puyuma and the local Chinese population is
that one-third of the Puyuma examples commemorate ancestors of the natal house
of in-marrying or adopted members. Examples of this type also exist among the
Chinese, but the customs are very different. Among the Chinese, such cases are
regarded as special and the tablets are put in inauspicious locations, such as
the kitchen or near the roof. They are worshipped, but only the main house
ancestors receive formal offerings. In contrast to this Chinese pattern, the
Puyuma in-marrying ancestral tablets are put either on the same altar as the
house ancestors or on a nearby altar in the same room. This is a general
pattern among the Puyuma.
the data collected from ancestral tablets during the 1966-68 investigation, the
ancestors worshipped only represent a few generations in depth (see Table 5).
Furthermore, considerable numbers of ancestors of those who were in-marrying or
adopted into the house are currently worshipped in the house where they resided
after marriage or adoption. Even though the eldest daughter is supposed to be
the main keeper of the tablets, the order of birth and the sex of siblings are
not determining factors. Tablet custodianship is also affected by factors such
as economic independence, divination of ancestral views, and conversion to
Christianity. Inheritance of property is also a factor but it is not the major
factor as it is among neighbouring Chinese. Most of these features, in fact,
are in direct contrast to patterns that occur among neighbouring Chinese. We
may conclude from these data that the traditional Puyuma pattern of ambilineal
affiliation which is evidenced in the traditional karomahan group (see Suenari, 1970), is also reflected in the
grouping and custodianship of Puyuma ancestral tablets.
Changes in ancestor worship from 1969 to 1983
years after the above data were collected and analyzed, I returned to Taiwan to
investigate changes in Puyuma ancestral tablet worship. Following are some of
the conclusions of changes that occurred during that fifteen year period. One
obvious change was the establishment of new tablet altars among families who
had previously resisted adopting this pattern of ancestor worship, which they
consider to be Chinese (see Table 6).
Increase in tablets among the Puyuma
obvious change that occurred in the fifteen years between the two
investigations was an increase in the number of tablets among the Puyuma. This
occurred by adding new names to previously established tablets and also by
adding new tablets alongside the older ones. Examples can be shown for the
following cases (see Table 7).
previously worshipped her mother's tablet (see Figure 7), and she made a new
tablet for her husband and placed it to the left of her mother's tablet. The
box and worship items for her husband are smaller than those of her direct
ancestor, but they are on the same shelf and no partition is made to separate
them on the altar. Ego maintained that her husband's tablet would be disposed
of after his name had been inscribed on the larger tablet of her ancestors.
This will occur, Ego says, in the future, after her own death.
pattern of temporarily establishing ancestor tablets for in-marrying spouses
has occurred in six out of seven households that now have more than two
tablets. There were also three cases in which no new tablet was made for the
dead in-marrying member whose names were put directly on previously existing
Decrease in tablets of the ancestors of in-marrying members
conspicuous change is a decrease in the number of tablets dedicated to the
ancestors of in-marrying members (from twelve out of thirty-eight in 1966 to
five out of forty-four in 1983). One might conclude from these data that the
idea of "ancestor" has become more unilateral among the Puyuma (not
necessarily patrilateral, however, because the system does not focus on the sex
of the parents but the house in which they live. So, the term
"houselateral" might be more pertinent to denote this phenomenon).
The emerging Puyuma pattern may appear to be "Chinese" but something
rather more complex is happening. I will return to this point in the
Sloughing off old ancestors
that needs to be discussed is a general tendency for the names of older
ancestors to be generally forgotten and sloughed off as there has been a change
outlined in Figure 8, names can disappear when new tablets are created: the
person referred to E1 in this Figure was the household head in 1968. After the
death of E1, a new tablet was made in 1977 and the names of E1's parent were
sloughed off. This omission only becomes apparent when one compares the old
tablet (which was still kept in the storeroom) with the new tablet. The
villagers were not particularly conscious of this phenomenon.
Division of tablets
obviously an interesting issue to determine how tablets are distributed after
the division of the household. It is sometimes the case that a tablet can be
copied and distributed to another household. Among the Chinese, there is a
hierarchical relationship between such tablets, with the duplicated tablet
being inferior to the original. This question is addressed in Figure 9.
parents of two sisters E1 and E2 died when the girls were infants. They were
raised by their mother's elder sister A.
In her lifetime their aunt A was not on good terms with E1. Also after
her death, A told E2 through divination to make a tablet for her and said that
she would thereafter "eat" in E2's house where E2 had moved after
dividing from her own natal house. Her sister E1 still keeps the original
tablet and worships both their parents and their biological mother's father.
summarises the content of ancestors in the tablets as they existed in 1983.
This should be compared to Table 2 which highlights the data as it existed in
1968. Comparing the former with the latter we soon recognise the fact that
ancestors on the natal side have radically decreased in number. Also, the
pattern of keeping more than two tablets has grown in popularity. The figures indicated
in parentheses are highlighted to demonstrate the rise in the number of new
tablets over the intervening fifteen years.
summarises the dates of the cases so as to make clearer the trend over time.
This table shows the tendency for an increase in tablet-making over the fifteen
year period between investigations.
analyzing the data presented above we must begin by considering changes that
occurred in the fifteen years between the investigations. Many Puyuma establish
a tablet and an altar on the death of a family member or on the construction of
a new house. The construction of a new house is an occasion for many who
originally resisted establishing altars to do so. There are also some Catholics
and Protestants who resisted making tablets. These people have either died or
have begun to de-emphasise their Christian connections.
incentive for making tablets, we must consider ideas about respect toward the
ancestors. Many Puyuma believe that ancestors depend on their own descendants
for their welfare in the afterlife as evidenced by traditional illnesses known
as mutuha (by which ancestors tell the patient what they want their offspring to
do before they cure the affliction). It is not, therefore, difficult for Puyuma
to understand the reverence toward the ancestors that is reflected in the
Chinese ancestral cult. In fact, a shaman (tumaramao) may sometimes explain
to Puyuma how the gods in the Chinese system correspond to Puyuma gods. They do
the same for ancestors.
increase in the contact among Puyuma and neighbouring Chinese, there has been
an increasing tendency to adopt Chinese style ancestor tablets. This has been
done among most people, except for those who are zealous Protestants. It would
appear that, for most Puyuma, the ancestors are of more immediate interest and
importance than Chinese gods.
the keeping of more than one ancestor tablet has increased, most of these cases
are for temporary tablets of in-marrying members. In contrast to the Chinese
case in which a woman is accepted into the ancestor cult of her husband's
group, among the Puyuma the in-marrying household member is often treated
other hand, data over the fifteen year period demonstrate that in-marrying
household members are participating more and more in the ancestral cult of the
family into which they married instead of returning to their natal house. We
may interpret this as a change from the traditional ambilineal tendency among
the Puyuma which is being transformed into a unilateral tendency under the
influence of Chinese culture. But, it should not be interpreted as a change to
a patrilineal system. Increase in patrilateral succession reflects simply the
increase of virilocal marriage rather than outcome of patrilineal system. The
change which occurred is the stress on the house side, i.e.
also suggest that there is a tendency to keep the number of generations
constant which means that there is a gradual sloughing off of upper generation
ancestors. There seem to be few efforts to write down the names of older
ancestors on tablets. If this tendency is general, the Puyuma concept of the
ancestor would appear to be rather different than that held by neighbouring
Chinese. In the Chinese context there is cumulative knowledge about ancestors
that is important and their names must be written and preserved. Among the
Puyuma one can rarely find the founding ancestor of a family or a kinship
group. This contrasts with the case of the Ami. They can remember the founding
ancestor of the group and make a genealogical chart, even though this is rather
a new phenomenon. The affiliation of the descent group of the Ami is decided by
the residence of the parent at their marriage. The preponderance of uxorilocal
marriages causes their descent group to have a matrilineal appearance (Suenari, 1983c).
such a radical difference in conceptions of the ancestors, we also note that
there is less segmentation of tablets among the Puyuma than is often to be found
among the Chinese. There were only two cases of reproduction of tablets, and in
these cases, the tablets were copied only because the ancestors complained and
would have inflicted illness had the duplication not been carried out. These
two cases, therefore, cannot really be considered instances of tablet
segmentation following the model common among neighbouring Chinese.
important factor to consider in evaluating the Puyuma ancestor worship cult is
the rise in relative affluence over the fifteen year period. Puyuma now have
access to a cash income by working in cities and in the Near East, or in deep
sea fishing. In 1968 they were a relatively impoverished community. By 1983
there had been a boom in the economy and their bamboo houses had been replaced
by slab concrete houses. Younger villagers had become migrant labourers and
therefore had access to cash incomes and those who stayed at home were able to
work in nearby factories. The introduction of this new money has helped to
promote the introduction of Chinese lifestyles of a modern type. Gradually,
sinicisation has become an accepted mode of life.
also consider how the systems of descent and kinship among the Puyuma are
affected by the process of sinicisation. The ambilineal descent group appears
to have been weakened through the disappearance of ritual houses (karomahan) among the Puyuma. The
bilateral kindred is still functionally important. It is nonetheless true that there have been major changes in
the factors relating to kinship organisation: a change in residence patterns
after marriage, with a preponderance of virilocal marriage, a change in
inheritance customs with sons now inheriting property while daughters are given
a dowry, plus an increase in Chinese-style rituals of all types.
Murdock (1949) once proposed that a change in residence patterns after marriage
would eventually lead to a change in the descent system. The analysis of
ancestor tablets in this paper demonstrates, however, that such changes are not
always evident. In my own view we can expect to see a change in the kindred
system rather than transformations in the Puyuma descent system. It seems
unlikely that the Puyuma will develop a Chinese style descent system without
any evidence of a unilateral ideology.
two steps would be necessary for the Puyuma kindred to change from bilateral to
unilateral. The first step would be the emergence of a distinction within
the kindred between the relatives within the house of residence, and those of
the natal houses of people marrying in. The change from bilateral to
ambilateral is reflected in the increase in the number of tablets of
"house" ancestors and a decline in the number of tablets dedicated to
ancestors of the in-marrying members. The second step would be for a
qualitative distinction to be made between patrilateral and matrilateral ties.
In order for this kind of transformation to occur, the Puyuma would have to be
subjected to strong, external
ideological influences as was the case in the transformation of the
Korean kinship system. Another possibility would be the introduction of new,
externally enforced regulations regarding inheritance. Given that such external
influences are absent from the current Puyuma environment, one cannot expect to
find a rapid change in the Chinese-style patrilineal descent system. As long as
the Puyuma can keep their community intact, the changes that are occurring will
be much more complex processes.
paper, I have attempted to demonstrate the gradual and uneven process of sinicisation
that has occurred among one group of Taiwanese aboriginal peoples. The Puyuma
have over the past few decades become more and more "Chinese" in
their ritual life. But this case also demonstrates that sinicisation is not a
uniform or uncomplicated process. The Puyuma data indicate that what might
appear to casual observers to be "Chinese" cultural evidence, is in
fact something rather different. The Puyuma have not accepted outright the
Chinese pattern of ancestor worship. They have established ancestor tablets but
they have done so in the context of their own changing culture.
conclusions of this study demonstrate that one must pay close attention to the
internal characteristics of people under study when one considers processes of
sinicisation. The Puyuma, of course, are only one of hundreds of examples of
the process of sinicisation that has occurred in the Chinese cultural universe
over the past 1,000 years. One assumes that the process was somewhat similar in
cases that have occurred in mainland China as well as on Taiwan. More work of
this type, focusing specifically on ritual activities, needs to be done before
such general conclusions can be drawn.
constitute an interesting case because they retain important elements of their
own traditional culture while at the same time behaving and performing rituals
as if they were assimilated Chinese. Can one characterise them as
"Chinese"? This, of course, depends upon one's perspective. Some
people who consider themselves Chinese would accept them as Chinese, whereas
others who consider themselves traditionally Puyuma would accept the behaviour
as stemming from traditional Puyuma culture. Ethnic identity, in this case, is
in the eyes of the beholder.
1. The data presented in
this paper were collected during fieldwork from December 1966 to June 1968 and
during a short survey in 1983. An earlier version was published in Japanese (Suenari, 1983b). I would like to
express my gratitude to the
villagers of Rikavon who were so kind and generous during my research. I also
like to thank Dr. James Watson for
his useful comments and assistance in rewriting this paper in English.
2. For a general
description of the Puyuma, see Sung (1964),
which was the first ethnological report by a Chinese scholar on Taiwan. Chiao (1973) points out that certain
elements of the Chinese funeral can be followed separately without performing
the whole ceremony, whereas in foreign ceremonies a choice of elements is not
permitted. This gives native Puyuma culture more compatibility with the Chinese
than with other foreign cultures concerned. This conclusion agrees with my own (Suenari, 1983a, 1983b) regarding Puyuma
curing ritual and their adoption of ancestral tablets. On kinship Mabuchi (1960) is still the best concise
description. On karomahan see Mabuchi (1960,
1976), Suenari (1970), and Chiao (1972). Kasahara (1980) and Takoshima
(1989-90) also write on rituals among the Puyuma.
3. The Puyuma constitute
the second sinicised group of the nine so-called "raw" aboriginal
peoples of Taiwan. This has been evident since the early period of Japanese
control. Kono (1915: 34) notes
that there are many Chinese-style houses, utensils and tableware in use among
upper class Puyuma.
4. The missionisation of
the Rikavon was begun in 1953 by the Protestants, and two years later the
Catholics reached the height of their influence (see Table 2).
5. Shih (1975:126) reports that 53 (37.58%)
of the total of 141 households in another Puyuma village had established
6. Chiao (1989: 132-133) describes this as
a change from an ambilineal type to a bilateral one. Even though he and I deal
with the same phenomenon, my view differs from his in that I argue that the
bilateral type did not simply replace the ambilineal one. In my view, the
ambilineal system has simply disappeared, while the bilateral has been in
existence for a very long time.
7. I discussed the
unilateral kindred at the symposium on "Folk Documents and South China
Studies" held at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on
January 6, 1993, and at the Seventeenth International Symposium on "Korean
Studies in East Asian Anthropology", held in Osaka on September 1, 1993.
These papers are now being edited for publication.
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