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Paiwan Male Earthenware Pot

Tags: aborigine | earthenware | Paiwan | pottery

The Paiwan tribe is mostly concentrated in the southern section of the Central Mountain Range in Sandimen, Majia, Taiwu, Laiyi, Chunri, Shizi, Mudan and Manzhou townships in Pingtung County, as well as in Daren, Jinfeng, Dawu, Taimali, and Beinan townships in Taitung County. A small number can also be found in Zhuoxi Township of Hualien County and Sanmin and Taoyuan townships of Kaohsiung County. According to statistics from the Council of Indigenous Peoples, at the end of 1996, the population of the Paiwan tribe was 67,760, making this the third largest indigenous tribe in Taiwan (Council of Indigenous Peoples, Taiwan, 1997).


Customs and Traditions
Earthenware vessels are referred to as “reretan” in the Paiwan language and are one of the three most valued items in the Paiwan tribe’s material culture. The other two are glazed beads and bronze knives. Reretan represent the place where the ancestors once lived. Bronze knives referred to as “tikuzan ni tagarus” represent the strength and authority of the males of the tribe, while glazed beads called “qata” symbolize female purity and beauty (Sakuliu, 1993).

Usually, such earthenware pots were the heirlooms of the chieftain and the nobility. The number and the condition of the pots were measures of the chieftain's wealth and stature (Sakuliu, 1993). The earthenware pots can be divided into several categories based on function:
1. For holding offerings to tribal deities and ancestral spirits such as glazed beads.
2. As betrothal gifts. Patterns were usually carved or affixed to the pot.
3. For fermenting and storing liquor. 4. For storing grain, seeds, preserved meat and water. The pots that were used during ceremonies to hold offerings and as betrothal gifts were considered of very high value, and thus were referred to by the more respectful term of “dredredan”. The origins of the earthenware pots are still unclear. The methods for producing these pots have disappeared from the tribe's oral history and their origins are often associated with tales of supernatural events. For example, the pots were mysteriously discovered or were the vessel from which the tribe’s earliest ancestors were born.

Paiwan artist Pavavalung Sakuliu surveyed the antique earthenware pots of his tribe and concluded that there are three types: male pots called “uqalai a edredan”, which are decorated with hundred-pace pit viper, sun or human figure patterns; female pots called “vavaian a dredredan” with protruding bumps and indentations in the center and neutral pots called “ pinusingsingan uqalai” which possess the characteristics of both male and female pots. Among the three types, the neutral pots are most common. The earliest pots were round without any patterns. Later on, pots were round but with a flat bottom and were decorated with simple sun patterns. Then, the hundred pace pit viper pattern appeared and in more recent times patterns became more diverse (Sakuliu, 1993).

This is a male pot with a pair of hundred pace pit viper patterns on both sides. However, one of the attached snakes has fallen off. All around the pot are seven rows of spiral patterns and dots. It possesses a short neck and wide body, measuring 38 centimeters horizontally and 37 centimeters vertically, with an opening of 14 centimeters in diameter. There are a number of cracks around the opening and a crack in one of the snake patterns. Thus, much care is needed to preserve this item and to prevent further damage. This pot features a seat made from rattan, which was referred to as “badagalan” in the Paiwan language.


Department of Graphic Communications and Digital Publishing, Shih Hsin University Digital archiving project of the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines