Many visitors to Taiwan are surprised to hear of the country’s indigenous people, with the majority assuming that Taiwan’s locals are all of Han Chinese descent. Here many years before colonizers from Europe, Japan and China, there are 16 recognized indigenous tribes living across the country, several of those on the east coast. Immensely proud of their heritage and way of life, Taiwan’s indigenous people are also incredibly hospitable, happily welcoming visitors to their communities to share their culture. Here’s how to soak up a day of indigenous culture in Taiwan’s east. (Read more: Beauty in the East: 5 days on Taiwan’s east coast)
Millet Workshop and Qavai Making with the Lalauran Community
Start your day with a millet workshop at the Lalauran community (拉勞蘭部落); Lalauran meaning “a place with fertile soil” in the indigenous Paiwanese language. Millet is a staple grain that has been cultivated in the area for years and Lalauran’s millet workshop has been operating for more than a decade, promoting the use of traditional indigenous ingredients such as Formosan quinoa, pigeon-peas and, of course, millet. (Read more: Language of Love: indigenous R&B singer ABAO on Paiwanese music)
Your workshop will be led by Xiaofeng Li (利曉鳳), whose huge passion for cooking and preserving her culture will become evident over the course of the session. Using her memories of traditional tribal foods, having grown up in Xinxianglan Village, she’ll also lead you in making Qavai, a traditional millet-based dumpling wrapped in leaves. Not only will you get to taste the results of your handiwork, but you’ll also have the chance to dine on a variety of delicious freshly prepared Paiwanese foods, all while being entertained by the ever-enthusiastic Wenzong Zeng (曾文宗), Xiaofeng’s husband. Don’t be surprised if he breaks out into a rendition of a tribal folk song. A smile constantly on his face, his personality is infectious and really adds joy to your Lalauran experience.
Traditional Slate House and Farm Visit
Here you will meet Mr. Sanxiang Chen (陳参祥), a delightfully eccentric character who you won’t want to take your eyes off during your visit. Keeping guests on their toes with thoughtful questions and gentle ribbing, he’ll take you into his millet field, where he grows a variety of crops, including peanuts and bananas. He’ll show you his customary methods of frightening away pesky birds – one literally being yelling loudly at them – and also have you help with the day’s harvest. Sharing tales and local folk songs, he’ll take you to his traditional slate house to show you his wares, including tribal knives, mat seats and artworks. One with his surroundings, never has somebody looked so at ease and belonging to one place. (Read more: 3 tribes you need to visit in eastern Taiwan)
Bee Farming at Happy Honey Bee Farm
Did you know Taiwan produces its own honey? In the afternoon, it’s time for something a little different, with a trip to Happy Honey Bee Farm in Chishang. Led by expert beekeeper Danny, you’ll learn all about honey production and how bees communicate and work out their hierarchy, before getting to collect honey for yourself. Wearing a protective suit, you’ll pick the honeycomb from a real-life functioning beehive before learning how to separate the honey from the larvae in order to harvest it properly without causing any damage. You’ll even get to take home a jar of honey for yourself. Buzzing!
Menu-less Dining with the Amis Tribe
Having moved back to her native Chishang ten years ago, Xiao Yuan (筱媛) opened Bayan (芭洋), an Amis cuisine restaurant. Named so after her indigenous name, Banyan has no set menu, with guests dining on whatever has been gathered or caught that day. Many ingredients come straight from her garden, with meals prepared according to knowledge passed on from Xiao Yuan’s mother and grandmother. The space has a lowkey, comfortable aesthetic, with the stars of the show being the tribal elders who will join you to sing and dance and even teach you their traditional drinking games and customs. We hope you like millet wine (小米酒)! (Read more: Savor farm-to-table produce on this aboriginal cooking tour)
Want to visit Taiwan’s indigenous people? Book your customized experience here.