Tao Silver Helmet

Tags: aborigine | hat | Tao | Yami

This type of silver helmet is only found among the Tao tribe1. Indigenous tribes living in other areas of Taiwan did not possess the know-how to create this type of helmet. Thus, it has become one of the major distinguishing characteristics of the Tao material culture. The Tao inhabits Orchid Island, also known as Lanyu, which is situated off of Taitung County. There is no iron, silver or gold produced on this island. According to the tribe’s oral history, the materials and techniques for making this type of helmet came from the Batanes of the Philippines.


Among the Tao, there are many taboos to be observed when making gold or silver ornaments. First, there are restrictions on the place where such items can be produced. They can only be worked on in the basement of a workhouse, below a veranda or inside a newly built thatched hut on an otherwise vacant lot. A bamboo fence must be erected around the work place to keep others out. A cross is made from plant stalks and placed on the fence to prevent damage to the work piece by evil spirits. Once the gold ornament or silver helmet is complete, the blood of a slaughtered pig is dripped on it and prayers are said to infuse the object with spiritual power (Liu, 1989).

The Tao transformed silver into accessories, such as bracelets and silver helmets or as decorative touches to glass bead or agate necklaces. Silver is pounded into pieces or melted and then formed. When melting the silver, timber capable of producing a fire with a large amount of heat, but that could be controlled, was used as fuel. One had to be skilled in forming silver pieces from melted silver, as it was easy for the pieces to break, which would waste the silver. If a skilled silversmith was commissioned, it was necessary to offer a goat2, pig or money to ensure that the process was carried out with care.

To make this type of helmet, it was first necessary to pound the silver into thin pieces. These were placed onto a wooden mold and held in place with copper wire to form a cone shape. This helmet almost covers the whole head with two openings for the eyes. Once the helmet is finished, its owner must choose an auspicious day for him and his spouse to dress in formal ceremonial attire and to take the helmet to a freshwater spring. There water is sprinkled onto the helmet and a prayer is said to allow the owner of this helmet to be able to wear it for a long time.

Then, the man who owns the helmet takes it to the beach where the annual Flying Fish Festival is held. He sprinkles seawater onto the helmet and prays that the helmet will bless him with many fish during the fishing season. Then, he slaughters a pig and rubs the pig’s blood onto the helmet and prays that it will bring him prosperity (Chen et al., 1994). Through these rites it is thought that the helmet obtains spiritual power.

The silver helmet is mostly worn during public or large-scale ceremonies, such as the spirit worship ceremonies (mipozos) that take place from December to January, the Flying Fish Festival in March or April, the offerings to the spirits ceremony (mipyapyavehan), boat launching ceremony, completion of pottery making ceremony and completion of a new house ceremony, etc. (Liu, 1989). During such occasions, the men put on their silver helmets and gold ornaments and head to the ceremonial site, showing off their personal wealth.

This silver helmet is an important part of the ceremonial attire for a Tao male. It measures about 30 cm in height and has a maximum diameter of 44 cm. It is made up of five levels with slots for the eyes in the third level. At the tip is a hook for hanging, used for convenient storage when not in use.


1. Tao refers to human in the tribe’s language. The Tao has long been referred to as the Yami. However, in recent years, there has been a push to change the tribe’s name to Tao, the name that is used here.

2. Among the Tao, goats are an important sacrificial offering. It is only for the major ceremonies or rites that a goat is slaughtered. In one aspect it represents the importance of the event and in another aspect symbolizes the wealth of the person making the offering.


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