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In 1998, Taiwan's population was 21.8 million people with almost 80 percent of the population residing in the western plains. This is due to the fact that majority of the island's crops are planted in the west.

Ethnic Minorities

Taiwan also has its heritage of ethnic minorities, all of whom live in remote valleys and along the rocky slopes of the central mountain range.

Out of the 375,000 ethnic minorities, only nine conspicuous tribes still dominate Taiwan. These tribes are Ami, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Saisiyat, Tsao, and Yami.


Flaunting more than 150,000 members, Ami, the largest ethnic group, populates the scenic mountains and valleys near Hualien on the east coast.

Amis are primarily farmers. Each harvest (end July, beginning August) is welcomed with an array of traditional dance forms, music, costumes, and customs.

Visitor may delight themselves with the festivity and culture of the Ami tribe at the Hualien cultural center.


The Atayal tribe inhabits the lush valleys of Wulai, about an hour's drive from Taipei. Due to their proximity to Taipei, they are more neoteric in their thinking and most of them are involved in the tourism field.


Down south, in the mountains of eastern Pingtung, lives the more bona fide enclave of minorities known as the Paiwan.

The Paiwan is unique for its worshipping of the 'hundred-pacer' snake. It is believed that the snake (named so because of its deadly capabilities) can kill its victims before they can run 100 steps.

Paiwans are experts in wood-carving, making totems, doors, eaves, beams, smoking pipes, and other showpieces. They also weave, sculpt stones, and make beadwork using ancient designs and techniques.


The Rukai occupy a group of dorp called Wutai in Pingtung country. Their main trait is agriculture. The Rukai prefer remote, inaccessible cliff-side homes. They do not mind having neighbors 10 hours away.

Rukai people regard traditions with high esteem. The tunics and robes that they wear on special occasions are intricately embroidered in black and silver and represent their affinity to tradition.

An interesting spectacle of Rukai competence is in their 'swing contest'. Future brides mount an enormous swing, with their legs fettered to prevent flailing. Then brawny and strong tribesmen in ceremonial attires swing the ladies as high as they can, and later the girls are carried off their swings and dropped into the arms of their most faithful admirers.


Like the Rukai, the Puyuma also prefer to live on the foothills of the central mountain range, near Taitung. They share almost mutual traditions with the Rukai and sporadically venture into the city outskirts for major festivals and swing contests.


Another antiquated tribe of Taiwan is the Bunun, who dwell in Tainan. Their common practice is a form of night worship that started centuries ago. However, some amendments have been made to this traditional activity, such as pig heads have replaced disembodied human heads as sacrificial offerings, and electricity has replaced torches for lighting.


The strongest ethnic group that has not been subdued by the forces of modernization is the Yami. They live on Orchid Island, off the southeast coast.

The Yami depend greatly on the seas' resources. Fishing boats are the legacy of the Yami. Each boat is built from a single giant tree and are beautiful vessels. A fascinating trait of the Yami is the marriage customs. As females dominate the Yami society of the island, they have superior rights. After engagement, the male moves into the female's home for a trial period. At that time, the groom must be on his best behavior and display manly skills to prove to his bride and her family that he is a good and capable individual. If he fails, he is sent away in disgrace and a new suitor is brought in to face the same challenges. Even a successful groom will have to continue proving his worth to his wife and her family or else he would have to succumb to a divorce sought by his wife.

Ultimately, many of these minorities have been assimilated with the burst of growth of Taiwan's commercial and industrial development, but there are a few who still cohere to the traditions and age-old approach of doing things.

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