Butterflies of Formosa - Butterfly and Culture
Aborigines & Butterflies
Butterfly patterns are symbols of nobility commonly seen in northern Paiwan and Rukai tribal woodcarvings, furnishings, and totems.

In Wutai Rukai tribal traditions, men that move and run rest can win the title of ‘lyalivarane’ (meaning butterfly). The chief will grant these men the right to wear a butterfly headdress. Since real butterflies are generally too small, the Rukai often use a ‘takulralrava’ (Atlas moth, Attacus atlas) to decorate the headdress.

In Paiwan tribal traditions, only women good at weaving are qualified to wear dresses with butterfly patterns.
These glass beads are closely linked to Paiwan culture and are part of many legends and fairy tales. Different patterns represent different meanings, but many of the meanings are forgotten because they were not handed down from the past. Paiwan from different groups may assign different meanings to the same bead.

Now, many beads have been assigned new and modern meanings.


Han Culture & Butterflies
In Han culture, butterfly patterns frequently appear in decorations on buildings, handicraft, and paintings. Because the first character of butterfly in Chinese has the same sound as the Chinese character for ‘good fortune’, butterflies are often considered mascots. The second Chinese character of butterfly has the same sound as the Chinese character for long life. Therefore, butterflies often show up in artwork that celebrates longevity. Sometimes butterflies appear with melons in Chinese idioms or paintings to represent flourishing offspring.

Alishan’s Saint Butterflies
Every third day of the third month of the lunar calendar is the birthday of the Daoist Northern Emperor. His birthday is celebrated at the Shoujhen Temple in Alishan where Saint Butterflies appear to celebrate the Emperor’s birth. In fact, Saint Butterflies are not butterflies; they are Brahmeid Moths (Brahmaea wallichii insulata). Host plants of Brahmeid Moth larvae are in the Oleaceae family. Because these plants are distributed near the Shoujhen Temple and the Northern Emperor's birthday happens to be when Brahmeid Moths emerge, these moths are attracted by the light or smoke of the temple. This miraculous appearance of Saint Butterflies is purely coincidence.

Yellow Butterfly Festival in Meinung
Ire Yellow Butterfly Festival in Meinung began in 1995. In 1993, the Taiwan government decided to build a large dam northeast of the Meinung plain. Many conservation organizations, especially the Meinung People’s Association, helped develop this festival. This festival has been held for 14 years and includes using incense to worship mountain and butterfly gods, making offerings to butterfly larvae and adults, chanting, burning offerings of sacrificial writings on butterflies, and reading ecological statements supporting butterfly conservation. Through this festival, the conservation organizations of Meinung awaken the public to the importance of natural environments, re-examine human-nature relationships, and outline objections against construction of the dam. This festival not only attracts a stream of tourists to Meinung, it also epitomizes feelings the Meinung people have for their homeland.

National Museum of Natural Science