Mama asked me if we would like to take a trip with Jeff’s cousin Robert and his wife to Pingtung. I said yes without even asking where exactly we were going. I just knew that it was somewhere in the southern part of Taiwan. I thought that it would be fun to take a trip with Robert and his wife, and go somewhere outside of Taipei. So we bought tickets to take the high speed train (HSR) to Kaohsiung, and headed south for the weekend.
We had planned on eating breakfast at the train station before we left for Kaohsiung, but we were rather surprised to find almost none of the many restaurants inside the main station were open for breakfast. So it left us with the choice of 7 Eleven, Mos Burger, or “train box meals” for breakfast. In Kaohsiung, we rented a car. We joined up with Robert, his wife, and two of their friends in another car, and drove southwest towards Pingtung from Kaohsiung.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Pingtung that was known for its menu of delicious pork dishes. So lunch was much better than breakfast. The restaurant also had some interesting pig statues!
After we left the restaurant, instead of continuing south, as I expected, we turned east and drove up into the mountains. I had always continued south from Pingtung into Kenting, so I was surprised when we drove up into the southern mountains! There was a gate checkpoint along the road where we had to sign in with our IDs and destination before we could drive on.
This road up into the south central mountains is still being repaired from the typhoon damage in 2009. So they need to control access into this section of the road. In 2009, Pingtung received rainfall in excess of 2,500 millimeters (98 inches); breaking all rainfall records of any single place in Taiwan in a single typhoon (Morakot).
We passed through the checkpoint, and drove on up into the mountains to Wutai. Wutai Township is a rural town in Pingtung County in Taiwan. It is located in the central mountain range in the southern part of Taiwan.
We were staying at a guest house in Wutai. Our hostess (the owner) was very friendly and welcoming. And the house was amazing! Unfortunately we did not take any photos that show the entire exterior of the house. It was built to resemble a urn or bottle laying on its side.
In the rear of the guest house was a structure shaped like a decorated urn. From the back deck of the house, there was a great view of the village of Wutai and the surrounding mountains.
Inside the guest house was truly amazing!. It was all decorated with aboriginal art.
It was definitely one of the most beautiful and impressive houses in the village. Notice the beautiful slate floor in the photo below!
The house also had an interesting collection of aboriginal art that belonged to the owner and her family.
The owner designed the house herself. She called it a “dream house”. I heard that phrase used in reference to many of the other artworks on display in the town. The Rukai aboriginal people seem to get inspiration for art from their dreams or visions.
While we were waiting for our tour of the town, we decided to drive up the road beyond the town. Our hostess told us that was a good place to walk around and get some great views of the town and the surrounding mountains.. She was right; there were good views up the road. There was also a place to get a close up look at the road repairs still going on to fix the damage from Typhoon Morakot five years ago.
The road beyond the village of Wutai was still closed to most vehicles after a certain point. It is repaired enough for the locals to use their motorbikes to travel between the towns, but not recommended for larger vehicles.
After we walked around and took lots of photos, we returned to Wutai for our tour of the town. The aboriginal Rukai villages are distributed throughout both sides of Central Mountain Range in the southern part of Taiwan. Wutai, a mountain township of Pingtung County, is the largest of Rukai eight villages. So there is a lot of history in this place.
The Rukai are one of Taiwan’s aboriginal peoples. There are six subgroups of Rukai residing in southern Taiwan. In 2014, there were 12,699 Rukai in Taiwan, making them the seventh largest of the fourteen officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan. The Rukai were called Tsarisen, which means “people living in the mountain”.
Our tour guide was the guest house owner’s son. He conducted the tour in Mandarin, so I did not understand what he said. Jeff tried to translate for me as best as he could, but I probably missed a lot of what he was talking about. The Rukai social structure is a hereditary aristocracy, which is reflected in every facet of their lives, including their attire. Each of the different headdresses has a different meaning, conveying the wearer’s age and position in the village
The museum inside of the old town hall had traditional Rukai attire on display.The traditional dress of the Rukai shares many similarities with the Paiwan aboriginals of Taiwan. This is probably because of the similarity of their geographical distribution throughout Taiwan and their similar hereditary aristocracy social structures. I am standing next to a traditional Rukai baby cradle with Rukai dresses behind me in the photo below. All of the signs were in Mandarin characters, so I could not read them and put any more information about them in this blog entry.
It was fun following our tour guide around Wutai and seeing all of the beautifully decorated houses in the town! You can see a carving of a clouded leopard on the balcony of the house in the photo below. That is one of the important symbols of the Rukai people.
Here is a photo of another style of modern house in the town of Wutai.Modern House
The Rukai have a few very important symbols that show up in a lot of their artwork. They believe that the sun and the clouded leopard and the hundred pacer snake are the spirits or protectors of their ancestors.
There were also traditional houses still standing in Wutai. These were built of slate and wood, the traditional materials found in the mountains here.
Here is a photo of the inside of the house, looking towards the firepit and cooking area. These houses were cool in the summer, as air could flow between the slate slabs that made up the walls.
In the winter, the Rukai just dabbed some mud into any of the places between the slate slabs where they felt air blowing, and made their houses more air tight and warm for the winter.
The photo below shows the ruins of a traditional Rukai stone house in Wutai. This is also a grave site, because the family’s ancestors were buried in the ground below the floor of the house. The Rukai believed that this way, their ancestors would help to protect the members of the family living in the house. This is why many of the modern houses in the village are built on the same site where the family’s traditional house used to stand.
The photo below is of the beautiful Catholic church in Wutai. It was built using the traditional materials of slate and wood. It is supposed to be very impressive inside as well, but they were practising for Easter service when we were there, so we could not go inside. Most of the Rukai living in Wutai are Catholics right now, including our hostess at the guest house.
The official Rukai population of Wutai is supposed to be around 6,000 people, according to our tour guide. That is why the government built this big elementary school in Wutai. But most of the Rukai “counted” as living in this town actually have homes in other places, like Pingtung, and that is where they live most of the time. That makes sense, because there are likely more jobs in the larger cities. But it means that this large elementary school actually has fewer than 100 students in all grades, K-8.
Here is another view of the town of Wutai. Houses in this section of the town are going up the side of the mountain.
After our tour, we went back to the guest house for dinner. Dinner was delicious, and featured lots of traditional Rukai dishes! We were also sitting around a giant slate slab as our dinner table. These slate slabs were being used as tables throughout the town of Wutai. I suspect that once they are put in place, no one wants to move them around or rearrange their dining area!
It was an amazing day, and I learned a lot about Rukai aboriginal culture!