14. Worshipping Plural Ethnic Ancestors:
Mechanisms of Change among the Sinicised Kvalan
In this paper, I discuss the process of change among the Kvalan, one of
the sinicised plains ethnic groups of Taiwan, and try to show that the
particular mode of accepting different ethnic cultures can be traced to the
character of the underlying ideological framework on which the aboriginal
society concerned is based.
Cultural and ethnic change observed among Kvalan descendants who live in
the village of Shinshe is a case in point. The data derive from intensive field
research carried out from November 1984 to March 1986, and from supplementary
research in March 1987.
The Kvalan are little known to anthropologists. To start with, this
paper describes their historical situation and their traditional ideas of
kinship and ritual. This is essential for a further understanding of the
mechanisms of recent cultural and ethnic change.
The following discussion mainly focuses on the way in which the Kvalan
practice ancestor cult rituals of different ethnic origins. The analysis makes
it clear that their traditional framework is capable of absorbing different
systems of ancestor worship. The discussion also elucidates the mechanisms of
change in ethnic identity among the Kvalan. Kvalan of mixed descent affirm
their ethnic identity through the practice of ancestor cults in accordance with
their bilateral kinship ideology. As a result, they have come to hold
coincident plural ethnic identities. This observation suggests that a people's
traditional ideological framework may persist even though their ethnic identity
History of the Kvalan
Taiwan is currently populated by Han Chinese and a variety of
Austronesian ethnic groups. The latter, amounting to 2% of the total population
have been roughly categorised into two groups, those who populate the plains
area and those living in the mountains or on an isolated island.
The plains groups have been affected by Chinese culture since the
beginning of Chinese settlement in the Ming and Ch'ing Dynasties. They were
called shu-fan in Mandarin, i.e. "ripe", "cooked" or
"civilised" aborigines in contrast to the sheng-fan, the "raw"
aborigines. In Taiwanese (Minnan Chinese), they are known as Peipo-a, literally "plains
The Kvalan are one of the plains groups who live dispersed along the
central and southern coastal area of east Taiwan. They have a history of
assimilation to Han Chinese, and to other ethnic groups. The relatively
complicated situation of the contemporary Kvalan derives from their historical
Recorded Kvalan history began when Europeans came to build military
bases in Taiwan for their expanding Asian trade. Aboriginal ethnic groups of
the northern coastal areas formerly had contacts with the Spanish, who had
established a foothold in Keelon in the early 17th century, and then with the
Dutch who pushed the Spanish out of this area to control Taiwan in the 1640s (Ino, 1973 : 55-56; Nakamura, 1938: 239).
The Dutch compiled a census of the natives in the plains area in order
to administer them. They also collected taxes from them (Nakamura, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1951)
According to their reports, in the 17th century, the Kvalan population was
located in the Ilan Plains on the northeast coast, settling in about forty
villages. Other ethnic groups defined as sub-groups of the Basai, one of the
other plains aboriginal groups, also lived in some of the villages in this area
(Mabuchi and Utsusikawa, 1974 : 475-476).
After the victory of Deng Cheng-kong over the Dutch in 1662, Chinese
immigrants, mostly from Fujian Province, increased rapidly. These immigrants,
however, colonised the vast Western Plains at first. They came into close
contact with the natives of the Ilan Plain when they started to settle in this
area almost two centuries later (Ino, 1973
: 167-168; 1973 : 172-174).
The first colonists who invaded the Ilan Plain resorted to arms to quell
the resistance of the natives. After they subjugated the natives of the entire
plains areas, an increasing number of immigrants brought the land under
cultivation in the following years (Negishi,
The aborigines adopted the higher technology of intensive
rice cultivation involving irrigation systems from the neighbouring Chinese
farmers. Even before the Chinese settlement, they cultivated rice crops (Murakami, 1972: 282, 285-286), probably
of dry-field rice in a relatively extensive way, so that it is not difficult to
imagine that they accepted the higher agricultural technology of their own
accord, which might have accelerated their sinicisation.
The colonists gradually forced the aboriginal people to dispose of their
land by taking advantage of their credulity (Negishi,
1933). By the beginning of the 19th century when the Ch'ing Dynasty established
dominion over this hinterland (Chen,
1957 ), the aboriginal villages had gradually lost their original
character, and had disappeared through the process of sinicisation and the
emigration of the residents who sold or forfeited their paddy fields to the
The flow of emigration of the aborigines had two different directions,
toward the mountainous area, and toward the southern coastal area where some of
the descendants of these emigrants still live and preserve their own language
and culture (Negishi, 1933: 526).
The latter built Karewan Village in the northern hinterland of Hua-lien Bay
during the first half of 19th century (Ino,
1973 : 303-305). Some Turubiawan immigrants, a sub-group of the Basai,
also lived in Karewan Village. These immigrants were a stabilising influence on
the surrounding villages of the Ami in this area.
No sooner did Chinese colonists come into this area than their arrival
led to disputes with the aborigines. The Karewan villagers formed an alliance
with the neighbouring Ami and fought against the Chinese colonists. But at last
the Ch'ing army defeated the aborigines in 1878 (Ino, 1973 : 618-619). After the rebellion, the Chinese
established their political power in this area, while the ethnic identity of
the Kvalan was weakened by this struggle. The Kvalan moved again to the south
and dispersed among the Ami in the villages along the coast. The distribution
of the Kvalan has not changed very much since then.
During the Japanese occupation and under the Kuo Min Tang (KMT)
government after World War II, interethnic marriages have increased among the
Kvalan. Cultural changes have also occurred through the influences of
neighbouring ethnic groups, in addition to modernisation and Christianisation.
The data from Shinshe, one of the coastal villages, indicate that the process
of change consists not only of the simple process of sinicisation, but also has
more complex features.
Location of the village
Shinshe Village is located in Fongping Xiang, Hoa-lien Prefecture. The
village is situated on a narrow terrace between the steep slopes of the Coastal
Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. Though there is only a small amount of flat
land around the village, several small streams supply sufficient water to
cultivate rice crops in the terraced paddy fields spreading out over the slopes
of the foothills.
The villagers mainly cultivate rice crops. The yields of other crops are
not sufficient to be sold outside the village. The small amount of land around
the village has limited the expansion of agriculture. Recently, younger people
have often gone out to work in the large cities to increase their earnings.
During the Japanese Occupation most of the villagers were also engaged
in coastal fishing apart from agriculture. The coastguards currently keep watch
on the seashore, so the villagers cannot use the bay as a port, and fishing as
an economic activity is stagnant. Shinshe has maintained the largest Kvalan
population since the dissolution of Karewan Village in 1878. Shinshe literally
means new village or new community in Chinese characters. It is called Patrogan
by the residents.
The area where the Kvalan live together is in the center of the Shinshe
administrative village, containing Patrogan and other small hamlets. In this
paper I will use the name "Shinsha" (the Japanese pronounciation of
"Shinshe") to indicate the traditional area where the Kvalan
villagers are most concentrated within the current administrative village.
The whole population of the traditional Shinsha area is about 500, and
among them the descendants of the Kvalan number about 250. At the time of my
field research, only six people could be recognised as pure Kvalan, and the
rest of the villagers are partly descended from other ethnic groups, such as
the Turubiawan, the Tangabulan (the sinicised descendants of the Siraya,
Makatao and Taivoan who moved up from southwestern Taiwan) or the Chinese. In
this paper I call all of those who have at least one Kvalan ancestor "Kvalan"
for the sake of convenience. The problem of their ethnic identity will be
Apart from the Kvalan, the residents of Shinsha are Ami who have bought
some rice fields here, or those who have married into the Kvalan households.
There are also some Taiwanese (a sub-group of Chinese who speak the Minnan
dialect) and Hakka (another sub-group of Chinese) who are married to
aborigines. After World War II, some 20 Chinese mainlanders settled there. They
are retired soldiers, and except for a few who are married to natives, most of
them live alone.
In Shinsha, the Han Chinese have not been a majority group either
formerly or currently, so that the influence of direct interaction or social
intercourse with Chinese on the Kvalan has not been intensive. As a result,
they were in a position to preserve their traditional culture until today.
Recently, however, school education and the mass media have accelerated the
acceptance of Chinese influence, especially by the younger generation. The
sinicisation of the Kvalan is advancing mainly due to the influences from the
modernisation of Taiwanese society as a whole.
The relatively complex ethnic and historical situation are reflected in
the Kvalan's use of languages. In Shinsha people use Kvalan, Mandarin,
Taiwanese, Japanese and Ami on a daily basis. According to age, sex,
education and social experiences of each individual, together with the ethnic
constitution of the members of the home family, the kind and number of spoken
languages differ for each person. Villagers often use different languages to
talk to different people.
Outside the village, people rarely have chances to speak Kvalan, because
this is almost the only village where the people speak Kvalan daily. Shinsha is
surrounded by Ami villages, and the Kvalan are a disappearing minority group in
the coastal area. Even in Shinsha the younger generations cannot speak Kvalan
very well so that their language will become extinct there in the future as it
has in the Ilan Plains.
Kvalan family and kinship
Kvalan, like other plains groups, have been given Chinese surnames since
the Ch'ing Dynasty. Their Chinese names and surnames were recorded with Chinese
characters in the Japanese census, although in the cases of the Ami and other
unsinicised peoples (Takasago-zoku in Japanese) the aboriginal name was
recorded by the Japanese in katakana script.
Among the Chinese surnames of the Kvalan in Shinsha, Li, Lin, Zhu, and
Pan are the most popular. Although they have accepted the Chinese naming
system, succession to a surname is sometimes independent of either patrilineal
afiliation or the residential pattern of the parents.
The Kvalan household family is called salppawan which literally means
the people who live in a same household. The salppawan family is defined as a
group of kinsmen who live in the same household, who cook and eat meals
together, and co-operate in the daily work for the household economy. A salppawan typically contains
members of two or three generations.
residence of a married couple is decided in consideration of both families'
circumstances. The percentages of virilocal and uxorilocal residence were
almost the same during the Japanese Occupation. Young couples tend to leave
their natal households to form a new salppawan within several years of marriage.
As a limiting factor, one of the married couples remains in the original
household to take care of the parents in their old age. Social relationships
are traditionally based on an ego-centered and bilateral ideology. They call
bilateral kinsmen knaswani which derives from a Kvalan word for sibling. Knaswani is a category of
personal kindred, extending to second or third cousins. People tend to forget
their more distant relatives. Knaswani functions as an exogamous category
in Kvalan society.
The traditional concept of incest prohibition was strict. Villagers try
to avoid marriage with knaswani. This has produced increasing inter-ethnic marriage
among the Kvalan, given the population decrease inside and outside the village.
The ethnic identity of the Kvalan descendants in Shinsha has become complicated
through the process of interethnic marriage, which is reflected in the practice
of ancestor worship.
Another rapid change has occurred in marriage. The rate of virilocal
marriage has increased from about 50% to 90% during the last half century.
Changes in the form of marriage have caused other forms of culture change. As
the result of virilocal marriage, the process of the formation of a new
household has become similar to that of the Han Chinese. Few sons marry out, as
most of the male descendants are going to inherit their parents' property
Despite this change, the ideological framework of the villagers is still
based on the ego-centered and bilateral organisational principles, and the
concept of patrilineality has not penetrated their way of thinking. The
following analysis of ancestor worship will explain people's attitudes toward
their traditional kinship ideology.
Religious beliefs and the Palilin ritual
Religious beliefs have greatly changed in recent years. Most of the
Kvalan's religious activities have been on the decline, since many villagers
have accepted Christianity and rejected the worship of their own deities.
Rapid Christianisation, as elsewhere in the world, was a result of
systematic propagation. The villagers were attracted to Christianity because of
the free distribution of clothes, powdered milk, flour and so on by the
Christian Churches. In Shinsha there are a Catholic Church and a Presbyterian
Church. Among the seventy households containing Kvalan descendants,
thirty-eight households are Catholic, and ten are Presbyterians. Of course
there are some exceptions. Sixteen households practice Chinese ancestor
worship, and members of one household believe in Tenri-kyo (the Laws of Nature, one
of the new Japanese religions).
Almost all the villagers, on the other hand, including Christians, keep
on practicing Palilin, the traditional ancestor cult ritual on New Year's Eve.
People believe that the spirits of the dead who live in another world, spend
their daily lives just the same as living people. These spirits are believed to
visit their descendants on New Year's Eve. For every living individual the Palilin ritual is a chance to
maintain a link with deceased parents and relatives.
The performance of the Palilin ritual is as follows. People
practice the ritual shortly before New Year's day on a day that is recognised
as the Kvalan New Year's Eve. At midnight, household members gather in the
kitchen to worship the ancestors' spirits.
A small square wooden board is put on the oven or the windowsill. Two
wine cups are placed on the board. These are the plate and cups for the
ancestors. Different kinds of rice wine and Chinese glutinous rice cakes are
used as offerings. Glutinous rice balls seem to have been used in the old days.
Every family member, in turn, offers rice cakes and wine, calling the
ancestors' names, and praying for good health and happiness in a low voice.
They eat and drink together as they make the offerings to the ancestors. In
this ritual no one person represents all the family members. Everyone has their
own range of ancestors to celebrate for themselves in accordance with
ego-centered and bilateral kinship principles. The range is different for each
person, although it may overlap to some extent.
Ideally, every individual has an equal responsibility to worship all
bilateral ancestors, but actually the names of the distant ancestors are
allowed to be forgotten. Instead of remembering all the ancestors names, people
usually ask one of ancestors' spirits, during the offering, to come together
with all the other bilateral ancestors whose names they do not know. Logically,
in this way, all ancestors are invited to the ritual without omission.
There is no doubt that a household or family functions as an important
unit in the Palilin, but the ultimate unit of the ritual is each individual who
has an obligation to make offerings to his or her own range of ancestors. The
ideas of bilaterality and ego-centricity have penetrated the ritual, so that
the idea of a cumulative genealogy is not part of the people's way of thinking.
Lacking the principle of ancestor-focus or lineality, the Kvalan cannot
organise an external ritual group beyond the household family.
Some irregularity results from interethnic marriage, which creates an
imbalance in the range of ancestors celebrated in the ritual. Contrary to the
bilateral rule, ancestors of different ethnic groups are not worshipped on the
occasion of the Palilin. It is believed that each of the ancestors prefers to be
celebrated according to the traditional rituals of their own ethnic group, so
unless they are Kvalan they do not come to eat and drink Kvalan offerings.
The Kvalan of mixed descent practice different ethnic rituals besides
those of the Kvalan. In this sense, the bilateral principle is still retained
outside the Palilin ritual. Apart from the occasional curing rituals of the Ami
in which ancestors are worshipped by offering food, the Chinese and Turubiawan
ancestor cult rituals are practiced separately annually during a period of a
few days before the lunar New Year.
The Palilin ritual of the Turubiawan
In the case of the Turubiawan Palilin, the cult group is formed
differently. It contains plural household families bilaterally connected to the
same Turubiawan ancestor. In most cases it contains old parents and independent
siblings with each of their own household members. Independent siblings
sometimes continue to form a cult group even after their parents have died.
The Turubiawan cult group has a strict boundary line between members and
non-members. On the occasion of the ritual, non-members should neither enter
the house, nor watch the ritual. They believe that the ancestors' spirits can
be wounded by the power of an outsider's soul, which may bring unhappiness or
misfortune to the descendants.
Turubiawan descendants celebrate their Palilin on the day after the
celebration of the Kvalan Palilin. They kill a rooster and prepare
for the ritual in the morning. Members gather in a kitchen or in the living
room before noon, and make offerings of glutinous rice cake and rice balls, two
kinds of rice wine and some internal organs of the rooster.
The ways of preparing offerings, the kinds of organs used as offerings
and the manner in which foods are offered are slightly different in each cult
group, especially the way of killing the rooster. There are three traditional
ways in this village: hitting it on the head with a hammer, knocking its head
on the doorway, or burning it alive.
Descendants of a Turubiawan family usually inherit their parents' ways
of performing the ritual, and those who perform the ritual in the same way,
form a single cult group even after each of them has started a new household
group. Descendants who have married out, on the other hand, join a different
cult group and follow other ways of celebrating the ancestors.
When the ritual begins everyone calls on their bilateral ancestors in a
low voice, but there is no need to remember the name of each individual
ancestor. Kinship terms are used instead of individual names. The position of
ego is no more emphasised than in Kvalan ritual. The use of kinship terms
leaves the bilateral relationship with a specific ancestor unspecified.
On the other hand, the names of some members of the group who come to
celebrate the ancestors but are too young to join in the ritual are introduced
to ancestors by one of the older members. In contrast to the Kvalan ritual,
membership of the Turubiawan cult group is affirmed on the occasion of the
ritual, in which the bilateral relationship between the ancestor and each
person is emphasised through offerings. For the Kvalan, each individual, even a
small child, is the most important ritual unit as I mentioned above.
In addition, there is one more clear difference between the Palilin rituals of the
Turubiawan and Kvalan. The Kvalan share a less clear boundary with the cult
group than the Turubiawan. The household group functions as a Kvalan ritual
unit, but there is no strict rule to keep away outsiders. Bilateral kinsmen who
are not members of the same household sometimes visit to offer food, even at
midnight or the next morning.
I was not prevented from seeing the Kvalan ritual, but was prevented
from doing so by several Turubiawan cult groups. At last two groups allowed me
to join the ritual during the first year of the field research, and I had a
chance to see the two different kinds of Turubiawan Palilin. The next year, however,
I was completely excluded by all Turubiawan cult groups, because some of their
Turubiawan kin had criticised these groups for breaking the customary rule.
They warned their kinsmen that they would meet with misfortune in the coming
It seems that the Turubiawan Palilin ritual and their ethnic identity
have been maintained by their strict rule of forming an exclusive cult group.
It is also the result of the Kvalan way of thinking in allowing people to
celebrate different ethnic ancestors in their own ways. In some cases, however,
we can see people's different attitudes toward the succession to the two Palilin rituals, which may
derive from the differences in the ritual form and concept of membership in
these two ethnic rituals.
The Turubiawan Palilin is in most cases succeeded to by children who do not
marry out. A Kvalan individual who married into a Turubiawan household joins in
their ritual. In-marrying Kvalan also continue to practice the Kvalan Palilin by themselves at first,
and are succeeded by their descendants of mixed descent. But in the case of Turubiawan
descendants who marry into a Kvalan household, or household of another ethnic
group, most of their descendants cease practicing the Turubiawan ritual before
spouses are allowed to practice their Palilin ritual by themselves when they
marry into a Kvalan family. But for the Kvalan, the ritual unit is, after all,
every individual, not a household group. Thus it is not easy for a Turubiawan
in-marrying individual to organise a new cult group by calling on all of the
Kvalan household members. One of the villagers told me that his in-marrying
Turubiawan grandmother used to practice the ritual alone. The situation seems
to be similar in the cases of inter-ethnic marriage with other ethnic groups.
According to my field data, twenty-five cases of practitioners of the
Turubiawan Palilin are people of Turubiawan descent married to a spouse of a
different ethnic group, but living in their own natal family, and four cases
are people who married out into a household of another ethnic group. According
to the Turubiawan traditional rule, in-marrying individuals join their spouse's
ritual group and follow the way of the cult. The rule seems to still operate in
the case of inter-ethnic marriage.
Villagers who worship both Kvalan and Turubiawan ancestors practice the
Kvalan Palilin at first, and then practice the Turubiawan Palilin the next morning
together with some other household groups. In addition, those who also have
Chinese ancestors, or sinicised ancestors, hold a Chinese style ritual for gods
and ancestors at the lunar New Years Eve, with their own household members.
Actually, many villagers continue practicing plural ethnic ancestor cult
rituals. In this sense, the bilateral principle is still retained outside the
Kvalan's Palilin ritual.
But it is also possible to abbreviate some of the rituals while
complying with traditional principles. Practicing plural rituals is sometimes
troublesome, and descendants are allowed to forget about distant ethnic
ancestors. People believe that they can discharge their duties by offering food
to the ancestors in order to satisfy their hunger in accordance with at least
one of the forms of the different ancestral rituals.
They feel that it is unfilial to leave their dead kin
hungry, and believe that hungry spirits make their descendants ill to indicate
that they demand an offering. Good relations between descendants and ancestors
are built up by constant offerings of food on ritual occasions. This is the
basic idea of the traditional ancestor worship among the Kvalan. Other ethnic
traditions, Chinese, Ami and Turubiawan, also share the concept of food
On the other hand, there is no occasion to offer food to a deceased
person in the Christian tradition, so Christians are anxious about deceased
relatives suffering from hunger. This is the reason why most of the
Christianised Kvalan villagers still practice the Palilin ritual every year. This
phenomenon indicates that the traditional idea of Kvalan ancestor worship is
still retained in spite of the recent Christianisation.
Sinicised ancestor worship
the following pages I will analyze the case of the sinicised Kvalan and show
their peculiar inclination to accept Chinese influence, which is based on their
will focus on the ways of accepting Chinese ancestor worship using tablets.
Worshipping ancestral tablets is originally based on the rules of Chinese
patrilineal kinship ideology. How Kvalan react to these rules is an interesting
instance of the encounter between contrasting kinship ideologies.
Chinese ancestor worship using tablets, patrilineal kinship ideology is
presented through its form and order. If it is accepted by a society based on a
different ideology or different value system, a different form and order may
emerge in regard to worshipping tablets. By analyzing specific case, we can
grasp the character of the society that defines the direction of change.
I will compare my field data with the case of the Puyuma, one of the other
aboriginal ethnic groups, which shows us another mechanism originating within a
different ideological framework through which the same Chinese custom has been
accepted in a different way.
the systematic propagation of the Christian faith in the 1950s, many villagers
stopped practicing Chinese religious rites. Among the seventy households
containing Kvalan in Shinsha village, sixteen currently practice Chinese
ancestor worship, and eight have ancestral tablets within the residential unit.
Only three of them, however, keep plural tablets. Each of the other five
households keeps only one tablet for an individual ancestor.
ancestors without votive tablets, villagers sometimes substitute incense pots
or incense ashes, but these are only provided for recent ancestors up to a few
generations back. Among eight households without any tablets, two use an
incense pot as a substitute for tablets, but six have no substitutes. As a
result they prepare offerings outside the door and call the names of the
ancestors to whom offerings are to be made on the occasion of the annual
rituals. People of these latter households do not mind the lack of ancestral
tablets, neither do they plan to install them.
to expectations, the use of tablets is uncommon among the Kvalan villagers
despite two centuries of sinicisation. According to the villagers ancestral
tablets have never been actively introduced into this village.
only exception was observed at the end of the period of the Japanese
occupation, when a religious assimilation policy was enforced by the colonial
government and all the village households had to set up kami-dana, a Japanese domestic
shrine, and Japanese-style ancestral tablets. Those who worshipped the tapestry
of Chinese gods were forced to renounce them. Those who had set up tablets were
allowed to worship them.
from Japanese religion, however, left no traces in Shinsha. As soon as the war
ended villagers, dumped kami-dana and tablets so that the custom of
worshipping tablets did not take root among them, except for those who had
maintained the Chinese custom of worshipping tablets before the colonial policy
today, the Chinese festival of Qingming is flourishing and all the villagers,
including strict Protestants, come to visit the graves of the ancestors.
However, the custom of setting up tablets for the dead, on the other hand, has
never become popular among them.
comparison with the Kvalan case, the sinicised Puyuma show another variant of
practicing ancestor cults with tablets. According to Suenari's report, one fifth of the 150 households in a
Puyuma village had ancestral tablets in 1968, but by 1983, an increasing number
of villagers, including even those practicing Catholicism, had tablets. Suenari also suggests that more Puyuma
villagers will set up tablets in the near future without changing their
traditional concept of ancestor worship (Suenari,
1983:136, and this volume).
order to understand the peculiar situation of the Kvalan, we should pay
attention to the motivation by which some villagers are made to set up tablets
eight households with tablets, three worshipped ancestral tablets even before
the Second World War, and others came to set them up after the war. The
immediate motivation of worshipping tablets is in most cases interethnic
marriage. The situation occurs as follows.
spouses, Chinese, or other sinicised aborigines who practice Chinese annual
cults are always allowed to worship their own ancestors in the Chinese way.
Sometimes they bring the tablets of parents or siblings, and worship them on
the occasion of the Chinese annual rites. Mixed-descent children and sometimes
Kvalan spouses also worship these tablets. After the death of an in-marrying
person or mixed-descent child, new tablets are made for the dead in accordance
with their religious custom, and their descendants come to worship them.
to the rules of the Chinese annual rites, on the other hand, people only set up
a table with offerings outside the door and call the ancestors' names, if they
do not have any ancestral tablets. Villagers seem to prefer a simple way like
this to invite the ancestors' souls in. It is very similar to the traditional
way of inviting in the ancestors' spirits in the Palilin ritual.
traditional idea of calling back the ancestors' souls seems to prevent them
from recognising the necessity of setting up a tablet for the dead. Villagers
tend to set up tablets for the ancestors coming from other ethnic groups like
Chinese or sinicised aborigines in order to respect their religious customs. On
the other hand they are not so eager to do this for the sinicised Kvalan
they, then, worship these ancestors on the occasion of the Palilin? In some cases, people
worship the same ancestor both in Palilin and in Chinese annual rites. Or
they may omit the Palilin ritual. In general, people take account of the fact of
whether an ancestor was accustomed to the form of Palilin ritual or not.
is, for the Kvalan, after all, the offering of food. If a person had always
joined in the Palilin ritual and was accustomed to eat Kvalan food while alive,
he or she will be invited for the Palilin after death. If not, the descendant
will not call this deceased person's name in the ritual, because the
descendants assume that the soul of the ancestor would not come to eat Kvalan
Worshipping ancestors with tablets
the cases of establishing tablets for ancestors, some examples of worship
deviating from Chinese norms can be observed. The following analysis of these
deviations clearly indicates the differences in the ideological frameworks of
Kvalan and Chinese.
of this household are mixed-blooded descendants of Kvalan, Turubiawan and Ami.
They practice Chinese ancestor rituals in addition to Kvalan and Turubiawan Palilin.
this case, an ancestor's tablet and an incense pot substituting for another
ancestor, are set on a shelf in the house set up in the kitchen, which is
located in the inner part of the house. In Chinese custom, a domestic altar
should be set up in the domestic hall, the nearest place to the entrance, while
the kitchen is often used to set up tablets of differently surnamed ancestors
who do not have a claim to be worshipped in the domestic hall.
Kvalan, and also for Turubiawan, however, the living room is used for the
traditional public religious activities like the curing ritual (Shimizu, 1986, 1989) or funeral rite (Shimizu, 1986, 1990, 1992) to which many
other villagers are invited as guests, while the kitchen is traditionally a
sacred place to worship ancestors, usually alone with the salppawan members. It is not
unnatural for them to set up a Chinese domestic altar and worship ancestors in
this household, people worship Kvalan and Hakka ancestors using tablets. There
are two tablet boxes, that of the domestic ancestors and that of the ancestors
with different surnames, in the domestic hall.
tablet dedicated to a dead baby is also stored inside the box of domestic
ancestors. There was no special motivation such as being cursed by the baby's
ghost, but the tablet was still made for the baby on her death. According to
the Chinese rule, a dead baby is not to be worshipped unless the ghost of the
baby is recognised to torment descendants by causing illness or unhappiness in
order to obtain worship (Wolf,
1978:147-148). Kvalan villagers do not distinguish between the dead based on
differences of sex, age and surname. Members of this household do not feel any
inconsistency in worshipping the dead baby who had once been a member of the
on the same domestic altar, there is another box with a tablet devoted to a son
who succeeded to the surname of his inmarrying father, rather than that of his
mother's family, but who died at the age of nineteen. This relatively new
tablet box is placed next to the box belonging to the domestic ancestors. The
location is on the inferior side of the domestic ancestors' box. Though this is
the suitable side on which to set it, there is no board separating these two
to Chinese custom, tablets of differently surnamed ancestors should be placed
in other rooms, the kitchen or storeroom. In Taiwan, however, people sometimes
place those tablets in the ancestral hall. They set the tablets on a different
shelf, or on the same altar with a board placed to divide them from the tablets
of domestic ancestors. People place these tablets according to their relative
distance from domestic ancestors (Ahern, 1973:
130; Wolf, 1978: 155).
this case, however, parents of the dead youth state that they are not eager to
place his tablet in another room, because he was their own son. Also they do
not recognise the meaning of, or the necessity for, putting it on a different
shelf in the domestic hall, or of separating tablet boxes by setting a board
the parents accept Chinese religion, they are more concerned about traditional
kinship relations than about Chinese rules when they worship. Their way of
thinking is still based on their own kinship framework.
the Lin household, people worship eight ancestral tablets divided into two
boxes, the largest number of tablets in this village. The two boxes are on the
same shelf in the domestic hall. The larger box situated on the dominant side
contains tablets of four ancestors. Two of them are those of the founding
couple of this household, a Kvalan male surnamed Lin and his Turubiawan wife
surnamed Pan, who moved into this village from the Ilan Plains during the
Japanese occupation. They were the grandparents of the current household head
Lin A-lu. Two other tablets are of an adopted son of the founding couple, who
was surnamed after his foster mother Pan, and of his wife. Tablets of Lin and
Pan ancestors are in the same box.
latter couple had no child and adopted a daughter, who inherited all of her
foster parents' property when they died. She married out and divided the ashes
of the incense pot to set up new tablets in her husband's household. So it is
not necessary for Lin household members to worship Pan ancestors. However, Lin
A-Lu never considered to cease worshipping them, because these ancestors were
his kin, his uncle and aunt-in-law.
small box contains four tablets, dedicated to Lin A-lu's mother who was an
adopted daughter of the former couple, and to her in-marrying husband and first
born son. Another one is a tablet dedicated to her common-law husband who came
to live with her soon after her husband's death. Though it is said that he was
not the biological father of Lin A-lu who was born as an illegitimate child, he
lived throughout his life in this household, as if he were the actual father of
Lin A-lu. The reason why this Hakka male was never entered in the family
register is that he neither had children nor property of his own.
in this box, different surnamed ancestral tablets are mixed together, Lin's
ancestors, her husband (surnamed Li), her eldest son (Li) whose succession to a
surname also ignores the Chinese rule, and her common-law husband (Chang). From
the standpoint of Chinese patrilineal rule, it is strange that the tablet of a
common-law husband is stored in the box for the domestic ancestors. Lin A-lu
states that he does not want to separate his "fathers" tablet from
in this case, actual relationship with ego takes priority over patrilineal
ideology, as is usual with the Kvalan, although Lin A-lu knows a lot about
Chinese religion. Nevertheless, the way he divides ancestral tablets into two
groups does not conform to the Chinese rule, but is similar to the way in which
an extended salppawan family is divided into two new salppawan..
A-lu's mother was an abandoned baby found in Ilan and presumed to be a
Taiwanese, and the biological father of Lin A-lu was also said to be a
Taiwanese who had once stayed in Shinsha. All the villagers including Lin A-lu
himself believe him to be a Taiwanese. However Lin A-lus way of thinking is
Kvalanised to some extent.
the Chinese point of view, these examples I mentioned above seem to deviate
somewhat from the norms based on patrilineal descent ideology together with the
system of inheritance. However, the villagers recognise a different principle
as underlying the practice of keeping tablets, so they do not think of these
examples as a kind of deviation.
version of ancestor worship with tablets is based on the local traditional
principles of egocentricity and bilaterality. According to the traditional
rule, a deceased person who once lived as a virtual member of ego's family is
worth worshipping. According to the bilateral principle there is no reason to
separate ancestors with different surnames from domestic ancestors.
the inheritance of tablets does not necessarily follow the same inheritance
rules as property. It is also influenced by the traditional way of thinking. In
the traditional system, succession and inheritance do not entail the obligation
of worshipping ancestors. Property is divided among all the daughters and sons
except those who have married out. On the other hand, all the children have an
equal obligation to worship their parents after death, regardless of whether
they have inherited property.
comparison with the Kvalan case, the sinicised Puyuma show another variant of
practicing ancestor cults with tablets. According to Suenari's report, thirty-three of the 150 households in a
Puyuma village had ancestral tablets in 1968, but by 1983, an increasing number
of villagers, including even those practicing Catholicism, had tablets (1983:
136, and this volume). The situation is in contrast to the case of the Kvalan.
However, it does not mean that the sinicisation of the Puyuma is complete. Suenari has indicated some of the
peculiar features of Puyuma use of ancestral tablets. The lineage shown on the
tablets is shallow, covering only a few generations of ancestors. If a domestic
group separates, segmentation of the ritual group does not occur. In addition,
the in-marrying members often return to their natal households to take part in
tablet rituals there. There are no rules in regard to who is to be in charge of
the tablets. Sometimes it is decided by the state of the household economy, by
asking the ancestors through divination, or by the inheritance of property from
Suenari indicates that the membership of a ritual group worshipping
tablets is decided in a way very similar to that which determines the
membership of the traditional ritual group worshipping a small shrine (Suenari, 1983: 126). The content of the
Puyuma worship of ancestral tablets still retains the traditional concept of
descent, that is, the ambilineal principle of tracing ancestors (Mabuchi, 1976: 91-104; Suenari, 1970: 107).
the Puyuma lack the concept of patrilineality, the custom of using ancestral
tablets has diffused among them. Thus I return to the question of why ancestral
tablets have not diffused so widely among the Kvalan as among the Puyuma. The
difference may arise from basic dissimilarities of concepts of ancestor worship
in both societies.
might be easy for the Puyuma to accept the idea of organising a ritual group
centered on tablets of common ancestors within a framework similar to that used
in forming a ritual group centered on a shrine. Traditionally the obligation of
worshipping ancestors was to some extent related to the inheritance of
property, even though the connection between the tablets and the individual was
traced ambilineally (Suenari,
1970: 96, 107).
the other hand, the Kvalan may have some difficulty in forming an exclusive
ritual group centered on a common ancestor without an ancestor-based descent
ideology. According to the organisation of their traditional cults, the
domestic family is not defined as an exclusive cult group, but rather every
individual is recognised as an independent ritual unit, and everyone has their
own range of ancestors to be worshipped.
the obligation to record the names of ancestors on tablets is difficult to
reconcile with the strongly individualistic ideology of traditional religion.
Accordingly, everyone worships by calling out the names of the groups of
ancestors that they trace bilaterally back from themselves. In fact, it is not
necessary for them to remember the names of all their ancestors, as is often
the case in bilateral societies.
cult offers the most rational way to worship ancestors bilaterally, and as long
as the Kvalan villagers, even those who have Chinese ancestors, retain this
practice side by side with Chinese ancestor worship, the patrilineal rule of
inheriting tablets will not penetrate into their way of thinking. The
maintenance of the cult indicates that the bilateral and ego-centered ideology
does not change.
Suenari suggests, more Puyuma
villagers will set up tablets in the near future without changing their
traditional concept of ancestor worship (Suenari,
1983: 136) However, the Kvalan will not set up tablets for their
ancestors in increasing numbers unless their traditional concept changes
fundamentally, even if their sinicisation proceeds in other aspects of
and diffusion of the worship of ancestral tablets is one of the criteria of
sinicisation. However sinicisation is not a simple phenomenon. It displays a
diversity of form and character. As I have shown above, it seems that the forms
sinicisation takes largely depends on the character of the traditional concepts
of each individual ethnic group.
Changing ethnic identity and mixed descent
the analysis of the Palilin Ritual and of the sinicised ancestor cult, we can
observe how the framework of the bilateral kinship ideology determines the way
in which different ethnic rituals are accepted in parallel with each other. It
also creates the current change in ethnic identity of Kvalan descendants.
According to their way of thinking, ethnic identity results from their
bilateral blood relations with ancestors. Ties of blood are the most important
factor when they think of their ethnic identity. Such a principle, however,
causes plurality in ethnic identity among those of mixed descent.
I already mentioned, those who have ancestors of different ethnic groups often
practice plural ancestor rituals. These descendants reconfirm their plural
ethnic identities by practicing these different rituals. It is the proper way
for Kvalan to worship bilateral ancestors. Everyone affirms each connection to
the bilateral ancestors on each ritual occasion.
who have plural ethnic ancestors have plural ethnic identities. A person who
has an Ami father and Kvalan mother is recognised as both Ami and Kvalan. Those
who have Kvalan, Ami and Turubiawan ancestors have identities of Kvalan, Ami
and Turubiawan, though they are culturally Kvalan. They refer to their
different ethnic identities according to time and circumstances. However,
people do not intentionally choose only one of the identities as long as they
are conscious of their own kinship relationship to ancestors of different
the other hand, more correctly, a person of mixed descent is recognised as
neither a pure Kvalan nor a pure Ami. "We are mixed," said villagers,
explaining their ethnic situation. They describe the six pure-blooded
descendants as "pure Kvalan". These pure Kvalan are advanced in age,
and their spouses are not pure Kvalan, so that no one will remain pure-blooded
in the future.
Kvalan have chosen their way of change in accordance with the traditional
ideological framework of their value system. They avoid marrying kin, which has
led to increasing interethnic marriage. Mix-blooded descendants celebrate their
ego-centered group of bilateral ancestors by practicing plural ethnic rituals.
Offering and eating food together with ancestors is the basic activity of their
ancestor worship. Even Christian villagers do not want to cease offering food
to their ancestors.
idea is based on three important factors: egocentricity, bilaterality and
reconfirming kinship relations by eating food with the ancestors. These factors
have actually functioned to change their ethnic identity, although these
characteristic features of their value system remain despite the influences of
sinicisation, Christianisation and modernisation.
reason why these factors persist is that these are also the most basic factors
in constructing the kinship and family system of the Kvalan. Both maternal and
paternal kinship relations are important for individuals in recognising their
own category of knaswani, personal kindred, and also in reconfirming the link
between themselves and the ancestors. Links made by eating together are
significant for them. Salppawan family members eat meals cooked in the same oven.
When members divide it into two salppawan but still have to remain in the
same house, they build one more kitchen, or at least use different ovens in the
same kitchen, and members of two salppawan eat meals in different rooms. The
corner of the oven is also recognised as a sacred place for the salppawan family to practice
ancestor worship, on the occasion of which people eat offerings together with
and kinship structure have not changed greatly among Shinsha villagers until
today. It is largely because the status of in-marrying members is relatively
weak in the Kvalan family that spouses from other ethnic groups could not
become a strong influence in changing traditional family structure or the
framework of the kinship system. Chinese in-marrying husbands often introduce
ritual activities, but they are in most cases lacking strong kinship ties or
economic backgrounds of their own. The influences of Chinese social values on
kinship and family have not been strong enough to destroy the Kvalans
factors may change in the future as ethnic change is promoted, but they will
not necessarily change side by side with a change of ethnic identity. These
factors in the Kvalans traditional value system could remain as a peculiarity
or tendency of the local culture even after the Kvalan villagers have changed
into members of other ethnic groups.
The ethnic environment of Shinsha
the following discussion I will discuss a problem of ethnic identity from the
standpoint of the surrounding ethnic environment that may influence the process
of change and maintenance of ethnic identity in Shinsha.
Kvalan descendants in Shinsha are not ashamed of being Kvalan. This has
influenced the direction of their ethnic change. It reflects the ethnic
environment around this village, which has helped to keep the Kvalan identity
along with some traditional rituals until today. Descendants of the plains
ethnic groups would not, in general, wish to be identified as other than Han
Chinese, because the aborigines have historically been despised by Han-Chinese,
as Fana (Taiwanese), which means barbarian or aborigines in general.
people in Taiwan are generally unconscious of the difference between
"raw" (i.e. non-sinicised) and "ripe" (i.e. sinicised)
aborigines. Plains aborigines, on the other hand, have a strong consciousness
of themselves as not being "raw" aborigines. Their way of thinking
derives from the administrative division of the aborigines during the Japanese
Occupation. Sinicised plains aborigines were recorded as Heiho-zoku (Plains peoples), or Juku-ban ("ripe"
aborigines) in the Japanese census, and unsinicised aborigines were recorded as
Takasago-zoku (Takasago peoples), or Sei-ban ("raw" aborigines). This
originated from the administrative classifications during the Ch'ing period.
Shinsha, the word Fana mainly signifies the neighbouring Ami. A mixed-blooded
Kvalan woman mentioned her Ami mother and said, "My mother was a Fana." However, she
never thought her Kvalan father was a Fana. Kvalan have thought of themselves
as having a degree of cultural superiority over the neighbouring Ami. However,
the villagers know that the word is discriminatory and they try not to use it
in face to face situations. Actually the Ami have been one of the most popular
ethnic groups from which the Kvalan choose their spouses.
Han Chinese are not a majority group in this area, so that Kvalan descendants
do not feel the necessity of concealing their aboriginal origin. The reason why
a small group of 250 descendants has been able to maintain their ethnicity
until today is due to the lack of one-sided pressure from Chinese given the
circumstances of multi-ethnic residence in this area. If Shinsha villagers had
always been despised by a large number of Chinese neighbours, their ethnic
identification would show a somewhat different form. They might have emphasised
their Chinese origin despite the bilateral principle, and would long before
have lost their identity as Kvalan.
Other conditions of change among the Kvalan villagers
have emphasised the deep-rooted character of bilaterality and ego-centricity
among the villagers as deciding factors of cultural and ethnic change. I should
mention additional conditions that may have encouraged the survival of these
factors in spite of the process of change.
pressures from village organisation might have been originally weak among the
Kvalan as is often the case with bilateral societies. In addition, it seems
that the flexible relationship with other villagers based on ego-centered
social relations has been strengthened through the process of change, inversely
proportional to the break-up of the solidarity of their village organisation.
The village festival for celebrating a good harvest disappeared before World
War II in Shinsha, although ego-centered religious activities like curing
rituals, ancestor worship and funeral cult have remained. People tend to
identify themselves more through their relationships to their own bilateral
ancestors than through membership of the ethnic group or the village community.
was difficult for them to maintain social solidarity within their historical
and social environments. First, because of the variations in places of origin
and period of immigration, people could not rebuild a strong village
organisation in this place. Shinsha is a colonial village that has a history of
over 100 years. The first founding ancestors of the village came from the
colonial Karewan Village, and some of the ancestors migrated directly from
various parts of Ilan. The immigration of Kvalan continued intermittently
throughout the Japanese Occupation. As a result, the social unity of the
villagers has been relatively weak.
the multi-ethnic situation, increasingly noticable since the end of the war,
has promoted the break-up of the ethnic unity of the village. Alongside this,
Ami immigrants and members of aboriginal ethnic groups have married into Kvalan
families, Chinese mainlanders have settled in this village. After retiring from
military service in the village garrison, some of them bought plots of land and
built small houses in order to spend the rest of their lives in this village.
The number of mainlanders was limited, as was their influence on sinicisation.
However, their political background had a strong influence on village policy
for a long time, and in consequence, made for strained relations with the
natives, the results of which make themselves felt in village life to this day.
development of the money economy has also encouraged the freedom of the
individual in decision-making. Villagers do not exclusively rely on
agricultural work as before. Rather they depend on wage work outside the
village to some extent. Salppawan members have become less subject to
the authority of the household head who owns the land. Currently, those who
earn money are able to speak their minds more. Even unmarried youths can decide
themselves how to use their own wages without asking their parents. Villagers
tend to pay each other wages to build a house or grave instead of depending on
reciprocal labour exchange. People do not like to work for others without
getting the immediate benefit. Reciprocity among the villagers is changing into
a flexible relationship based on the money economy. Kvalan often say that they
are individualistic, a tendency which seems to have been strengthened by the
process of economic change. Social control by the traditional village
organisation has become weak as individualism has grown strong.
increase in virilocal residence also results from economic change. Male
villagers do not have to marry out because they can earn money themselves, even
if the parents do not have enough rice fields to keep their own son in their
natal household after his marriage. In-marrying husbands felt much more ill at
ease obeying their wife and parents-in-law than in-marrying wives because a
husband's labour in the fields is more essential than a wife's work. The change
of residential form is not simply the result of the penetration of the Chinese
patrilineal system, but a movement originating from economic change.
specific factors should not be neglected when we discuss the changing culture
and identity of the Kvalan people in Shinsha. However, taking them into
consideration, the deep-rooted influences of their traditional framework
conceptual cannot be ignored in discussing social and cultural change among
ideology has some flexibility. Bilateral societies often have similar
characteristics to patrilineal societies such as an inclination toward
virilocal marriage and male inheritance of property. If the people of a
bilateral society, the Kvalan for example, adopt features of Chinese family and
kinship organisation, it does not necessarily mean that their society will
change into a completely patrilineal society.
is not easily accepted in Shinsha. People tend to understand the Chinese family
system within the category of kinsmen centered on ego. The increase of
virilocal residence, and inheritance of property by male descendants which
derive from the change of residential form does not indicate acceptance of a
patrilineal ideology. As far as I observed, villagers cannot understand the
idea of ancestor-focused social relationships at all.
society is a typical bilateral society with egocentricity and bilaterality,
which does not organise exclusive groups. Judging from the Shinsha case, the
influences of the bilateral principle may not easily disappear because they
have actively functioned as a basis for accepting elements of change.
research described in this article was supported by the Toyota Foundation. An
earlier version of this paper was published as "Kanka no mekanizumu [The
Mechanism of sinicisation]" in the Bulletin of the National Museum of
Special Issue No.14, 1991. I have also dealt with this issue in my ethnography
of the Kvalan, Kuvalan zoku - Kawariyuku Taiwan Heichi no Hitobito [The Kvalan - A
changing people in the Taiwan Plains area], Tokyo: Akademia Shuppankai, 1992.
1. According to the ethnic and linguistic classification by Mabuchi Toichi and by Tsuchida Shigeru, Taiwan aborigines are
divided into ninteen groups. (Mabuchi, 1974:
508, Tsuchida, 1977: 80)
2. The non-sinicised
peoples include nine ethnic groups: Atayal, Saisiyat, Bunun, Tsou, Rukai,
Paiwan, Puyuma, Ami and Yami. The sinicised peoples include ten groups:
Ketangalan, Vasay (Basay, Basai), Kvalan (Kabalan or Kavalan), Taokas, Pazeh,
Papora, Babuza, Hoanya, Thao and Siraya (Mabuchi,
1974: 508, Tsuchida, 1977: 80).
3. The village
administratively contains over 200 households with a population of around
1,200. At the periphery of the administrative division there are two Ami
villages and one small Taiwanese village. These are relatively new colonial
4. They seldom learn to
speak either Kvalan or Taiwanese. They only speak various kinds of Chinese
dialects. Their communication and acquaintances with the villagers are limited,
so that they have not taken an important part in promoting the sinicisation of
5. Older people over 50
years of age speak Kvalan daily, along with Taiwanese and Japanese, but they
are not fluent speakers of Mandarin. Younger people who graduated from school
after 1945, speak standard Mandarin, but they are not a good speakers of Taiwanese,
Japanese nor Kvalan. Though some villagers who are married to Ami usually
become familiar with Ami, all of the in-marrying Ami have come to speak Kvalan
more fluently than their spouses speak Ami.
6. The kin of a husband
and wife merely overlap with one another, so that paternal and maternal kin for
their children are clearly divided. This produces a result which contrasts with
the case of the Iban in Borneo. In Iban society people prefer to marry a
cousin. As the result of marriage with cousins, the category of bilateral kin
overlaps to some extent in the generation of their children, which prevents the
ego-centered network of the bilateral kin from dispersing as it expands (Freeman, 1960: 75-76). In Kvalan
society, the network of kinsmen disperses because of the rule of exogamy as the
generations pass. Their kinship relations do not create such an intensive
network of connections as that of Iban society.
7. The Kvalan ritual for
the dead is held after burial. They recall the soul from the other world to
serve it food and drink, and they pass on the belongings of the deceased to be
taken to the other world. This ritual is held exclusively for the soul of the deceased:
the corpse is forgotten soon after burial.
8. After 1945, a new
administrative division was made under the new government, which divided the
former Takasago peoples into the two categories of Mountainous Compatriots (Shang-ti
and Plains Compatriots (Ping-ti shang-pao). Chinese are registered as plains
people (Ping-ti ren), and their former Japanese subdivisions of Hukken-zoku (Fujian people, which
indicates Minnan Chinese), and Kanton-zoku (Guangdong people, which indicates
Hakka) have disappeared in the new census. Sinicised plains aborigines were
able to be registered either as Plains Compatriots or Plains People. Most of
the Kvalan villagers register as Plains Compatriots in order to take advantage
of financial aid or other special privileges from the government. There are
only a few people who want to change their registration to Chinese. Under the
circumstances in Shinsha, people have lived as Kvalan with no strong desire to
become Chinese or to conceal their aboriginal origin.
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