The Saisiats, also known as Saisiyats, are Taiwan’s smallest aboriginal group. They live in the mountainous area overlapping the borders between Wufeng in Hsinchu County and Dungho Village, Dyi Village, and Nanchuang in Miaoli County. Legend has it that the Saisiat Tribe and the dark-skinned Short People were friendly neighbours. In fact, the short people even taught Saisiats the technique to harvest and plant. Both the tribes were happy and prosperous and they lived in peace and harmony.
However, this changed when the Short People started flirting excessively with the Saisiat’s women, triggering many conflicts leading to the death of many Short People. The survivors from the Short People tribe cursed the Saisiat with bad fortune for their ungratefulness. Because of that, the Saisiat people placate these angry spirits by performing The Saisiat Festival. It is a ceremony where the Saisiats pay homage to the Short People and amend the injustice of their ancestors. The ceremony, which goes on for three nights and four days, is divided into three major parts:
The festival begins in the wee hours of the first day, where the people welcome the Short spirits by facing towards east and singing to them. At the end of the day, during sunset, the Saisiat stand alone, in a circle, and call out to the Short spirits. They request the spirits to come and take their ease, to receive their offering and share in the bounties of the year’s labour. After the prayer, the folks stand in large circles, shoulder to shoulder and begin dancing by linking their arms with each other and swaying.
On the evening of the second day, Saisiats commemorate the day with the Short People by dancing and singing.
In the evening of the third day, the farewell song and dance begins, which goes on non-stop until the dawn of the next day.
The Saisiat’s Short Spirit Ceremony is the most solemn of the Taiwan aboriginal ceremonies. Their ceremonial songs, which are rich in literary content, are danced to and sung by all the participants. Dancing and singing are the key characteristics of this ceremony, whereas visitors and local citizens get to witness the ritual on certain nights.
So if the Saisiat Festival sounds like your cup of tea, do head to the indigenous Saisiat communities of Taiwan on the 15th day of the tenth lunar month to witness it for yourself.
Find your nearest Asian Store