Is Indigenous Tribe the Same as What You Imagine? The Best Way to Learn about the Indigenous Culture in Taiwan

As there are 16 officially recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan, indigenous culture is one of the most charming highlights of Taiwan. Many travelers wish to visit a “REAL” indigenous/aboriginal village and get cultural experience there. But what is a REAL indigenous village like? Is it the same as the one you imagine? Today we would like to give you a guideline about how to get the best indigenous cultural experiences in Taiwan.

What does a REAL Taiwanese indigenous tribe look like?

Most of the indigenous tribes are close to green mountains or sapphire blue ocean. They are all good places to enjoy rich natural beauty. Although in Chinese, we still call the indigenous communities “tribes (Chinese: 部落 bù luò) ”, they don’t really look like the primitive villages in the cartoon – The Flintstones (中譯:摩登原始人/石頭族樂園). They are just like other normal villages that composed with modern bungalows. The biggest difference is that most of the residents there are local indigenous people.

The tribe you may imagine v.s. the real tribe

Many tribes are decorated with indigenous painting, patterns or sculptures that show their different characteristics.

Some of them still preserve one or two traditional assembly center in the community, such as Tsao people’s Kuba (邵族的會所,庫巴) or Peinan people’s Takuvan and Balaguan (卑南族的會所,達古範和巴拉冠), where they hold traditional ceremonies on particular festivals.

Peinan people’s assembly center, Takuvan (卑南族的少年聚會所,達古範)

Taiwan does have a few more primitive aboriginal tribes, such as the Smangus tribe (司馬庫斯) in Hsinchu or the Vedai tribe (霧台) in Pingtung. These tribes are usually located in distant or inaccessible mountains, so if you would like to explore these beaten places, you must spend more time on traffic.

What is the best way to get and experience indigenous culture?

Travelers may hope to get authentic indigenous cultural immersion by just visiting and browsing a tribe. However, the special rituals or events are only performed during traditional ceremonies or festivals. Beyond these times, most indigenous people live like us: work during the daytime and enjoy family time at night. You will get the feel of the real tribal life only if you stay with the tribe for a couple of weeks. This may be an option for long-day travelers with more time on their hands, but less suitable for travelers who only have s short trip in Taiwan.

Travelers make mochi with local indigenous people.

Therefore, the best way to get and experience indigenous culture is participating in the indigenous cultural tours designed by the local indigenous people or organizations. The trips come with various lengths. The shortest one could be finished within half a day while the longer one could be 1 to 5 days. You will have a taste of the essence of the indigenous culture, including exploring the tribe to know the hidden stories, understanding how they survive in the mountains or by the ocean, learning to make indigenous crafts, enjoying tasty indigenous meals with local families, and staying overnight in family-run guesthouses.

Will the indigenous tour be too touristy?

If you just visit replicated indigenous houses and greeted with poor indigenous singing and dance show, we will say it is really touristy and can’t express the cultural spirit to the travelers. To make sure our clients get the authentic adventure, the tours and activities we recommend are all held in the tribe. You will experience their living areas in person and learn the traditional wisdom about how to live by taking advantage of the local materials. These activities are also designed and led by local people according to their real life experience. The tribe could also be run permanently and keep their culture alive this way.

The indigenous experience we recommend:

After having a rough idea about the indigenous tours, you might be interested in an indigenous cultural immersion. Here are some experiences that we recommend:

Cidal Hunter School in Hualien (Amis People) 吉籟獵人學校

Cidal Hunter School was established by local Amis people not only to preserve their traditions and knowledge, but to pass them on to the younger generation. However, as more and more travelers expressed their interests in learning about traditional culture and lifestyles, the school started to develop a series of cultural and ecotourism activities, such as learning how to start a fire, create a container for holding water from natural plant materials, and hunting shrimp and crab.

Luan Shan Forest Museum in Taitung (Bunun People) 鸞山森林博物館

Photo Credit: East Rift Valley National Area

It used to be a tribal site remains and was turned into an open-air forest museum like a scene from the film Avatar. Museum director Aliman and his tribal friends have been systematically protecting the forests, especially the precious giant Banyan trees. They hold environment protection and culture reconstruction educational activities, cross-tribal events, tribal stays, outdoor spiritual workshops and ecological tours, so as to connect more with the public and bring their attention to forest conservation.

Kbanun Tribe in Yilan (Atayal People) 樂水部落

Kbanun Tribe is also called the forgotten tribe. BY spending a day with this remaining native tribes, you will learn to make souvenirs with unique leaves, cook sticky rice using bamboo, hunt in the mountains, practice archery and make fresh mochi balls with your hands!  

If I don’t have time to partivipate in an indigenous tour, what can I do?

1. Visit to a great indigenous museum
Here are 2 indigenous-theme museums that you cannot miss.

Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines

Add: No. 282, Sec. 2, Zhishan Road, Shilin Dist., Taipei City
Open Hours: 09:00 am-17:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday (Closed on Mondays)

National Museum of Prehistory

Add: No.1 Museum Road, Taitung County
Tel: 886-89-381-166
Open Hours: 09:00 am to 17:00 pm Tuesday to Sunday (Closed on Mondays)

2. Have a meal at indigenous restaurant

Hasila Food 
Add: No. 19, Lane 77, Sec. 2, Zhongshan North Road, Zhongshan Dist., Taipei
Tel: +886-2-2563-4992
Open Hours: 18:00 pm to 02:00 am Tuesday to Sunday (Closed on Mondays)

3. Stay one night at indigenous-theme hotel/B&B

Taroko Village Hotel

Located in Taroko Gorge, Taroko Village Hotel is surrounded by forests and all the staffs there are local indigenous people (Taroko People). The atmosphere is really relaxing!

Where can I buy indigenous souvenirs with good quality?

Of course, the best place is the craft studios in the tribe that you visit. You will know who make these crafts and could interact with local artists. In Taipei, below are 2 recommended shops that select worth buying indigenous souvenirs from many tribes.

Lovely Taiwan Shop 台灣好,店
Add: N0. 18-2, Lane 25, Nanjing West Road, Taipei City
TEL: +886-2-2558-2616
Open hours: 12:00 pm – 21:00 pm Tuesday – Sunday (Closed on Mondays and on public holidays)

Ayoi Taipei 阿優依
Add: B2, No.88, Yanchang Road, Xinyi Dist., Taipei City (in the Eslite Spectrum Songyan Store)
TEL: +886-2-6636-5888#1906
Open hours: 11: 00 am – 22:00 pm Everyday

Book an indigenous tour with us!

Want to have an indigenous tour when you visit Taiwan? Contact us now and let us know your interest!