Indigenous Thao tribe confirms new priestess during spring festival

Members of the indigenous Thao, one of Taiwan's 16 officially recognized tribes, initiated a new priestess April 1 at Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan's Nantou County during the ongoing Pudaqu spring festival, concluding a search nearly 10 years in the making.

The Thao people, who primarily reside around Sun Moon Lake, have a population of roughly 770. They hold the annual Pudaqu festival, which this year takes place from March 31 to April 12, to celebrate the sowing of crops in spring.

The festival features important ceremonies such as Lhalhaushin, which involves a large bamboo swing. Members of the tribe, in order of age, take turns on the swing, which symbolizes fertile crops swaying in the wind. The ceremony is closed to the public and held in hopes of bountiful crops.

According to the Thao Culture and Development Association, the tribe spent nearly a decade searching for a candidate who could one day become a Shinshii priestess, whose purpose is to bridge the living and spirit worlds. The Thao people believe that the priestess is able to communicate with their ancestors during sacred rites, the association said.

The Shinshii initiation ceremony, a complex ritual of ancient origin, is performed on Lalu, a consecrated island in the middle of Sun Moon Lake. In an effort to ensure the occasion's success, the Nantou County Government closed down all four of the lake's piers, restricting water traffic to help ensure calm waters.

Traditional Thao culture has been severely impacted by the development of Sun Moon Lake's tourism industry over the years, said Chang Sai-ching, chief of the local government's Cultural Affairs Bureau. It is a top priority for the government to find ways to preserve their culture in the face of modernization.

On the national level, the Thao were given a boost when the Bureau of Cultural Heritage under the Ministry of Culture designated the tribe's Lus'an festival as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2015. The festival marks a new year for the Thao tribe, which gathers to celebrate the harvest.

According to the Cabinet-level Council of Indigenous Peoples, indigenous Malayo-Polynesian peoples have lived in Taiwan for millennia, with archaeological evidence confirming their presence dating back 12,000 to 15,000 years. CIP statistics reveal that the collective population of all indigenous groups in Taiwan stood at around 550,000, or 2.4 percent of Taiwan's total population, at the end of 2016.

Source: Taiwan Today