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Paiwan tribe Chest ornament (胸飾)

The people of the Paiwan tribe traditionally wore many types of ornaments including headdresses, neck ornaments and chest ornaments. Among them, neck ornaments made from traditional glass beads were the most important. Beads that were large in size and considered valuable were strung together to make these ornaments. The structure of traditional neck ornaments followed a strict set of rules and represented the social status of the wearer. Neck ornaments were accessories and family heirlooms of the noble class, passed down from generation to generation.

In traditional chest ornaments, glass beads, also referred to as dragonfly beads, were arranged in a specific order and in specific positions, and each position had a specific name. The arrangement of the beads represented their value. In symmetrical arrangements, the beads closest to the center were considered the most important.

Colorful glass beads were treasured by men and women, old and young. Neck ornaments made from these beads are characteristic of the Paiwan tribe and essential accessories worn by the chieftain and nobility during the Five-year Festival and weddings.

Glass bead ornaments were also used in healing and divination rites and were considered to have spiritual power and to bring about blessings. Each bead has a name, gender and associated legend.

Structure and arrangement
The chest ornaments of the Paiwan tribe can be divided into two main types: those formed from a single strand and those formed from multiple strands. In addition to solid-colored and multi-colored patterned beads, other important components include agate, shells, coins and ramie thread. Single-strand ornaments are more common than multiple-strand ornaments. They consist of large, medium and small glass beads. The beads in the center of the strand are considered the most important. The farther a bead is from the center, the lower is its perceived value. Multiple-strand ornaments are composed of several strands of large multi-colored patterned beads alternating with medium and small solid-colored beads. Such ornaments are mostly made up of 9 strands but can reach a maximum of 12 strands. A complex ornament is symbolic of the social status of the wearer. No matter if the chest ornament is made up of a single or multiple strands, large beads must be placed in the center. The positions of these central beads are fixed, while those of the small or medium-sized beads are less fixed. In multiple-strand ornaments, the center of the lowest hanging strand is for precious large multi-colored patterned beads. Attached to some multiple-strand chest ornaments are more than 20 strands of small orange, yellow and green beads that form tassel-like Budik that spread over the shoulder.

Production methods

To produce single-strand chest ornaments, solid-colored glass beads and agate beads are strung along a ramie thread in alternating positions. Sometimes, large solid-colored green or yellow beads or multi-colored patterned beads are placed in the center. Multiple-strand chest ornaments consist of several strands of large, medium and small glass beads. The strands are arranged in a certain order. Large, valuable multi-colored patterned beads are placed in the center of the lowest-hanging strand. On both sides, there is a symmetrical arrangement of strands of solid-colored glass beads.

Uses and functions

Glass beads and glass bead ornaments were mostly possessed and worn by female nobility. Men, at most, wore chest ornaments consisting of alternating small orange glass beads and agate beads. However, these ornaments usually did not include large glass beads. In general, they were worn together with a multiple-strand neck ornament.

Glass beads were treasured family heirlooms and important betrothal gifts for the chieftain and nobility of the Paiwan tribe. They were only worn during the Five-year Festival and weddings of the chieftain’s clan. Each large glass bead has a special meaning and name. The numbers of glass beads included in the chest ornament symbolized the chieftain’s wealth, position and influence.

Multiple-strand ornaments were considered valuable property and were only worn on very special and grand occasions, such as weddings of the chieftain’s clan or the Five-year Festival. When worn, the strands of beads hung naturally on the chest and the ornament was tied at the back of the neck. The tassel-like Budik at the top of multiple-strand chest ornaments covered the shoulders and symbolized the respected position of the wearer, usually a woman of the noble class.

In general, the numbers and types of glass beads symbolized power and influence, as well as social position. They were also important betrothal gifts for the nobility. In addition, shamans made use of the spiritual power considered to be contained within the beads to carry out divination rites, prayers and healing rites.



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