Chapter 1
General Location, Name, and Cultural Affiliation
Size of Organized Groups
Social and Political Organization
Ceremonial Life
Belief System

Yami Culture
Lan Yu (Orchid Island) is part of the Republic of China and is governed according to the laws of that country. The Yami, the native population of the island, are of Malayo-Polynesian stock and their culture is similar to that of the peoples inhabiting the northern part of the Philippines. The language of the tribe is also similar to the ones spoken in the northernmost part of the Philippines. In Taiwan, however, the Yami, like all other citizens of the Republic of China, are regarded as Chinese and their language is considered not a separate language, but a dialect. Yami children who attend Chinese schools are told that only Mandarin, the official language of the country, is acceptable for a good education and that the Yami fang yen (dialect) is not supposed to be spoken within the school compounds. The Yami traditional way of life is regarded by the Chinese teachers as savage, and the wearing of G-strings is viewed as an obscene custom.
Strongly discouraged and occasionally barred from taking over the cultural heritage of the older generation, the young Yami graduate from school without any traditional knowledge of how to survive on their own island. With no industry of any kind on Lan Yu to provide jobs in the modern sense, young people must go to Taiwanand find work. Once they encounter modernized life they do not want to return to live on their native island, although most of them will visit their parents and relatives during the time of the lunar new year holiday. What is happening to them in Taiwan is a sad, but also very interesting, case to be investigated by social anthropologists.
Before exploring the links among the languages of the Batan Archipelago, it would be helpful to present some general background on these languages. Curtis D. McFarland, compiler of one of the few authoritative linguistic surveys of the Philippine languages, A Linguistic Atlas of the Philippines, calls the northernmost languages of the Philippines "Ivatan languages." He probably calls them that because they are related to, and are spoken in, the vicinity of the island of Ivatan. Thus, this name designates only the languages that belong to the northernmost Philippine territory. The atlas lists three Ivatan languages: Itbayaten, Ivatan, and Babuyan. Though Lan Yu does not belong to the Philippines, but to the Republic of China, the Yami language belongs to the group of Ivatan languages. McFarland notes the relationship between the Ivatan languages and Yami, but positions the Yami in Taiwan. It should also be mentioned that Babuyan is not closely related to the languages of the Batanes, and it should not be listed as an Ivatan language. It is true, that Ivatan languages are spoken in the Babuyan islands, but only by people who are natives of the Batanes and who immigrated to those places. The Philippine languages belong to the large family of Austronesian languages, but they are not the only members of it. This large language family is divided into four large groups: (1) Indonesia, Sarawak, Southeast Asia Mainland, Madagascar; (2) Taiwan, Philippines, North Borneo, Brunei; (3) Micronesia, Polynesia; (4) East New Guinea, Melanesia (Dyen 1965, 23).
The more than one hundred languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines are divided into three major area groups: Northern Philippine, Meso-Philippine and Southern Philippine.
The Philippine languages belong to a subgroup of the Austronesian family, which is the Western Austronesian; group called "Hesperonesian." Many Malaysian and Indonesian languages are also listed under this category, but it excludes the Polynesian, Melanesian, and Micronesian languages (McFarland 1983, 11).
All Philippine languages of the Hesperonesian group are related to each other, but this does not mean that all dialects are mutually intelligible. For a better understanding of the relations among all these languages, Hocket created certain classification categories by introducing the concept of L-simplex and L-complex.
An L-simplex is a "language" both in the sense that it can be spoken and understood by all its speakers, and in the sense that it has a clearly defined set of speakers--no speaker of an L-simplex is the speaker of any other language (except of a second language). An L-complex is a language in the sense that it has a clearly defined set of speakers but not in the sense that it can be spoken and understood by all of its speakers. A component of an L-complex is a "language" in the sense that it can be spoken and understood by all of its speakers but not in the sense that it has a clearly defined set of speakers--a given speech variety may belong to more than one component of an L-complex. (McFarland 1983, 10)
While the first grouping of the Filipino languages is more a geographical division, according to how the languages are related to each other, McFarland divides all Philippine languages of the Hesperonesian group into seven subgroups: Ivatan, Northern Philippine, Meso Philippine, Southern Philippine, Sama, South Mindanao, and Sangil (Indonesian).
As shown above, the Ivatan languages, even though they are part of the geographic Northern language group, are not part of the linguistically grouped Northern Philippine languages. The linguistic atlas indicates that the Ivatan languages are closely related to each other, but are not directly related to any of the other groups. It is still unknown where the Ivatans came from. The origin of the Ivatan languages is equally unclear, and I can present only a very limited amount of new data for this problem. I shall, however, offer a comment on a theory of direction of migration.
Because the Yami language is not included in the "Ivatan" language group, my study will replace, for practical purposes, the term "Ivatan languages" by "Bashiic." "Bashi" was first used by Yukihiro Yamada to designate the area on the two sides of the Bashi Channel, the islands south of Taiwan including the island of Irala and all the islands of the Batanes. Yamada uses "Bashiic" as a collective name for all the languages spoken on these islands (Yamada1977). In my analysis "Bashiic" stands for both language and culture.
The map of the Batanes shows ten islands, in the area known as the Batan Archipelago. The name of the islands on the official map released by the Geodetic Survey Office in Manila are, from north to south, the following: Yami, North, Siayan, Mavodis, Itbayat, Diogo, Ivatan, Sabtang, Ivohos, and Dequey. The name of the first island, "Yami," seems to be a mistake and has led to the erroneous belief that this island is populated by the Yami people. The natives of the Batanes call the ten islands of the province Mavodis, Misanga, Ditarem, Siayan, Itbayat, Dinem, Ivatan, Sabtang, Ivohos, and Jikey. One may notice that the names given by the map north of Ivatan are either different from what they are called by the natives of the archipelago or are listed in a different order. This suggests that it is not a case of different names but of different errors that found their way into the official documents. And indeed, most official or unofficial listings of the northern islands, especially in their relation to the Yami, contain much contradictory and erroneous information. For the past hundred years, most Spanish and Filipino authors who have described the Batanes also mention the existence of the Yami. Not only do they place the Yami on the wrong island, but somehow they also exacerbate each other's mistakes. The first misleading description of the islands' location seems to come from Fr. José Brugues O.P. in his Descripcion de Batanes y Babuyanes, dated 1900, now in the Archivo Provincial de la Provincia del Santissimo Rosario, Manuscritos. Here is a passage concerning the Yami, in the translation of Llorente: "A massive hill almost in its entirety, it does not have any landin gplace. The people who still live in a primitive stage of nudeness and savagery number 1,500. This island could provide abundant material for both ethnographic and ethnological studies, since the inhabitants are still in their original state" (1983, 5). The people mentioned here are the Yami indeed, but the island described is not the one on which the Yami live. It is, I believe, Mavodis, which fits the description but is uninhabited.
In 1966, P. Julio Gonzáles, O.P., author of a very good monograph on the religious history of the Batanes, wrote:
Diami lies about 12 leagues N 30 W. It is peopled by men coming from Batanes who speak the same language and exhibit the same customs. It has no landin gplace, being a massive cliff almost in its entirety. The island could provide abundant material for both ethnographic and ethnographic studies of the Batanes, since the inhabitants are still in a very primitive state. Diami belongs to Hermosa Island. It is closer to Formosa than to Batanes. Which is why at present visits to Diami are made by a Catholic missionary from Formosa. The name Diami, which is given to it in ancient documents and accounts, could have originated in a confusion with Yami, an uninhabited island located at the extreme north of Batanes. The natives call it today "Botel Tobago" (Gonzáles 1966, 96-97).
This passage is a paraphrase of the Brugues text and it is just as wrong. Gonzáles, too, describes inaccessible Mavodis as the island of the Yami. I should mention here that the shore of Lan Yu is not mountainous at all, but flat with countless good landingplaces. Gonzáles added something very important, however, when he wrote that the Yami were "men from Batanes." His remark is probably based on part of the unwritten truth concerning the Christianization of the Batanes and calls for a short digression.
According to official documents, a late eighteenth century governor-general of the Philippines, José Basco y Vargas, wrote a letter to the principales of the Batanes on the 15th of February, 1782, in which he asked them "whether they agreed to accept the authority of the King of Spain, for if they did, he would establish Spanish rule in the islands, but not otherwise" (Gonzáles1966, 27). According to the Spanish documents, the natives, although living, as the Spanish put it, in a state of total savagery, could nevertheless understand immediately what the "rule of Spain" meant and how beneficial colonization was going to be for them, because they unanimously voted "yes." And we also learn from the published records that all the natives were more than happy not only to accept Christianity, but also to welcome the Spanish officials, with their laws, bureaucracy, military forces, and taxation.
Some of the eldest informants of Itbayat, however, gave me a drastically different account of the early times of Christianization on their island. Mr. Inocencio Ponce, for instance, said that he remembered his grandfather saying that, long ago, it was common knowledge that when the church of Itbayat was being built by forced labor, those natives who did not show up at work but tried to attend to their fields or their livestock were brutally beaten by the Spanish. Because of this oppressive situation, many of the natives thought of leaving Itbayat, but the Spanish had control over all the boats. Finally, many of the inhabitants, mainly men, took to the waves on makeshift rafts, leaving themselves to the mercy of the current, which they knew was going to carry them North. To this day, however, I have not seen anything of the sort mentioned in the books or articles written by those who carried out missionary work in the Batanes. Because we know that the colonizing Spanish recorded in great detail all events that took place during their rule, there must probably exist reports of happenings similar to those retold by Mr. Ponce, somewhere in the archives of the Dominican order, either in the Batanes, Manila or in Spain, or perhaps in the archives of the Vatican, and future research will most likely uncover them.
To return to the problems surrounding the names and locations of the islands, Gonzales indicates that there is an island called Yami which is uninhabited and should not be mistaken for the island inhabited by the tribe called Yami. He still does not realize, however, that he is committing the very error that he warns against. Another incorrect statement in his report is that the natives call the place Botel Tobago. As has already been mentioned, this name was given by Westerners to the island before the Chinese named it Lan Yu. Based on my inquiries, I am certain that the natives have never called their place Botel Tobago.
Another book, titled A Blending of Cultures: the Batanes, 1686-1898 and published in 1983 by Ana Maria Madrigal Llorente, lists the islands according to the official map and cites all the wrong Yami data of Brugues. Right after the quotation paraphrasing Brugues, however, Llorente adds: "Though they are about the same race, and have the same customs and language, the inhabitants of Yami and the Batanes are irreconcilable enemies." Although this statement can not be taken as valid today, several hundred years back in the history of the archipelago it seems to have been true. As it happens, the topic of hostile relations is the theme of the legend of a famous Yami, Siapen-Mitozid of Iratay village.
On the other hand, the inhabitants of the Batanes do not associate the Yami people with the northernmost island of the country, which they do not call Yami island, but Mavodis, meaning "low." The elder folks of Itbayat and Ivatan can vaguely remember one more populated island outside the Batan Archipelago to the north somewhere, which they call Dihami. The word Yami is of an ancient Austronesianstock and it means "north." After having examined the occurrences of this name in the local mythology, I find it safe to assume that the Yami were given this name by other tribes because they were the ones who had reached the northernmost islands of the archipelago. The first to report that the inhabitants of Botel Tobago called themselves Yami was Torii, a Japanese scholar who visited the island in 1899. Ever since, the Japanese and the Taiwanese have called them by that name. The natives know that foreigners call them Yami, but they never use that name among them. Thus, it has been speculated that Torii actually mistook the word yami, which means "we," for the name of the people. "Yami," designating the inhabitants of Botel Tobago, must have been in use for a long time but not among the inhabitants themselves. It appears that they were given this name by the natives of the Batan Archipelago, with whom they share common ancestry.
In all my recordings of myths, legends, tales and songs, the natives of Botel Tobago never called themselves Yami, but tawo, which means "man, person", also tawo no pongso, which means "people of the island", or tawo no Irala, which translates as "people of Irala." In the story of Simina-Vohang of Ivalino, however, there is an episode in which the narrator, Siapen-Manabey of Ivarino, quotes an Ivatan woman who calls the natives of Botel Tobago "Yami." Therefore I am inclined to believe that Torii was right: the natives, knowing that on the southern islands of the Batan Archipelago they used to be called Yami, provided the Japanese researcher with this name to designate their own ethnic group.
General Location, Name, and Cultural Affiliation
Irala, which lies 45 nautical miles off the southeastern coast of Taiwan, belongs to the Republic of China. It has a surface area of 30 square miles (see map at the end of the section). The members of its indigenous tribe are called Yami, and belong to the Malayo-Polynesian group. They speak a Bashiic dialect, which is part of the large family of Austronesian languages. The Bashi area is defined as the area comprising the islands of the northernmost and smallest province of the Philippines known as Batanes, as well as the Bashi Channel itself and Irala.
Throughout its history, Irala has been known by many names. A Formosan aboriginal group, the Puyuma, call it Botol, and the natives of another Formosan group, the Ami, call it Buturu. On Japanese charts in 1607-1608, it first appeared as Tabako Shima. On a French map of 1654 it is marked as Tabaco Xima. The Chinese called it Hung-tou Yu, and when it was under Japanese occupation it was known as Kotosho. In the Western world it was referred to as Botel Tobago (Asai 1936, 2). Now the Taiwanese call it Lan Yu Tao. The English translation of this is Orchid Island. In the local language, however, it is commonly referred to as pongso no tawo or irala. The first name simply means "island of the people." The second, with a more frequent occurrence in the local folklore, means "land" in the sense of direction when navigating, versus ilawod, which signifies the direction towards the open sea.
During the Ching Dynasty (1681-1895), the island was very isolated from Taiwan, and except for two ill-fated treasure hunting expeditions, there was almost no contact. During the Japanese occupation (1895-1945), the island was declared an open-air museum for ethnological research and put off limits to public access by the Japanese government. It was mainly due to this measure that the Yami culture remained one of the societies least changed by outside influence in Southeast Asia.
Map of the Bashiic Area

Irala has a tropical-subtropical oceanic climate. The average annual temperature is 80° F. The summer lasts from April to November and the average temperature during this period is 86° F with a high of 91° F in July. The winter lasts from December to March, with an average temperature during that period of 70° F. The island receives an average annual rainfall of 100 inches from the southeast Asian monsoon (Bergneret al. 157). Throughout the year a light breeze blows from changing directions, making the summer heat tolerable. In July or August sometimes the breeze stops and the wave action of the ocean also comes to a halt, which makes the sea resemble a large lake. In such situations the heat becomes intolerable and water supplies diminish according to Yami belief, this is also the time when dangerous epidemics may break out. In 1984 I had the occasion to observe such a wind-still, when, as confirmation of the somber forecasts of the village elders of Yayo, a cholera epidemic broke out. Though it was contained quickly by an emergency medical team from Taiwan, the outbreak claimed at least five lives. Some people were taken to the main island, received proper medical treatment, and then returned to Irala.

On the island there are six native villages, one Chinese administrative office compound, one nuclear waste deposit compound which is served by a related harbor, one electric power plant, one middle school, one airport, two hotels, a local police office in each of the six villages, and several military fortifications for the local Chinese coast guard.
A 1973 report of U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit No. 2, states:
The islanders had been plagued with various diseases and epidemics of poliomyelitis and amoebic dysentery (1916), and Spanish influenza (1923) had markedly reduced the population. Statistics since 1906, when population was recorded as 1427, show a peak in 1939 of 1777, in 1942 of 1602, a drop in 1946 to 1275, a linear progression in 1956 to 1550 and in 1965 the population was listed as 1720 Yami plus 225 immigrants. As of this study, government sources listed 2137 Yami belonging to 470 families, 385 non-Yami administrative personnel, plus prisoners, for a total population of over 3,000 on an island that in 1946 had half that population. The census at schools listed 131 students at Lan-Yu, 93 at Yayo, 185 at Iranmilek, and 80 at Iraralay. (Bergneret al. 1973)
The official census numbers for the native population released a few years ago by the Village Administrative Office do not correspond to my recently collected field data. According to the 1981 census, officially there are 2700 Yami living on the island. In reality, during my visits of 1982-1984 and 1986, there were fewer then 2000. Apparently the census considered all Yami who migrated to Taiwan as permanent residents on the island.
The non-Yami administrative corpus has 75-100 persons. They are mostly Chinese from Taiwan, with a low percentage of Taiwan aborigines, (in 1984 mostly Ami and Bunun). The nuclear waste compound employs 30-50 persons from Taiwan, and the electric power plant 20. The two hotels have some 40 Taiwanese employees. The middle school is run by 14 persons, 11 Chinese teachers from Taiwan and three natives. The six police offices employ an average of 4-6 people each. An exact number of coast guard troops is not available, but it is estimated to be between 700 and 1000. The total population is about 3800.
Except for the non-Yami establishments, the natives live in six villages on the coast. There are no settlements in the interior. Each village has about 300 people.
The administrative corps lives in a Chinese micro-climate within the administrative compound. As with the coast guard troops, they obtain their own subsistence through imports from Taiwan.
The Yami are farmers and fishermen. They rely on a large annual catch of flying fish and on wet taro, yams, and millet.
One-third of the total population does not affect the carrying capacity of the island. Taiwanese colonizers do not rely on root crops and use only an insignificant amount of flying fish, so their needs for subsistence do not conflict with those of the Yami. The colonizers import their food from Taiwan.
The agriculture is largely hydraulic, with swamp (or wet) taro grown on water terraces. Since there is no particular harvest time for the taro, it is harvested year-round. The island consists of a compact, circular chain of high hills linking at least two extinct volcanoes. The slopes are short and steep. There are hardly any plains on the island. Water supplies are abundant and considered public property.
Because of the destructive force of the annual typhoons and the damaging effect of the brackish sea-spray, there are no vegetables, except for root crops, grown on the island. Even though the climate is tropical, fruit is also scarce. The most common fruits are bananas, coconuts, papayas, and the fruit of the cayi tree. In former times peanuts could not be grown because of the presence of a multitude of rodents, especially rats. Since 1982 the islanders have reduced the rodent population with chemicals imported from Taiwan, and as a result a few experimental peanut crops were obtained. This product, however, can hardly be considered a part of the daily diet.
Wet taro, the most important root crop on the island (there are more then ten different kinds), grows relatively slowly. To reach a maturity of 15 inches or more, requires 3-4 years. When harvested, the stems are cut off and are replanted to produce a new tuber. Taro fields can be owned by families or lineages, and can also be of common use within the village. Times of biggest strain on one's taro crops are associated with rituals of house inauguration or boat launching, which are like potlatch ceremonies. At these occasions the roof of the new house or the new boat has to be covered with taro. This means that a rather large amount of tubers has to be removed from the water terraces at the same time. In order not to abuse one's existing root crop supplies, in most cases a new patch of land is cleaned, flooded, and planted with taro 3-4 years prior to house or boat building. This practice insures that the demands for taro in inauguration rituals will not conflict with the safety limits of the food supplies. If there isn't enough taro, one cannot carve, paint, and inaugurate a boat. The boat can be made and used, however, without being decorated in the traditional manner.
An important part of the daily diet is seafood. Several times a week, women gather shells, seaweed, and small fish from the holes in the coral on the shore. All other fishing is performed by men.
Spear fishing is very popular on the island. It is done with home-made spears propelled by thick rubber bands released from a simple wooden mechanism. This native spear gun is called paltog.
The Yami also practice small and large net fishing. For large net fishing one needs the presence of only one boat and of several divers. Both methods are based on driving schools of fish into U-shaped nets that have been fixed to the ocean bottom at an average depth of two to four meters for small nets and six to eight meters in the case of large nets.
For large net fishing the divers are equipped with fish-driving instruments that consist of several ponytail-like bunches of the leaves of a tropical plant, which are tied on a long string. The strings are weighted at the end, and the diver knocks the ocean bottom with them to scare the fish. In Yayo village these instruments are called fuya-fuyo. A diver group, which numbers between twenty-five and forty participants, approaches the open end of the U-shaped net in a formation resembling a half-circle. At the beginning of the drive, this half-circle may be as wide as three hundred meters. If the group succeeds in moving a school of fish into the center of the formation, it will drive the fish all the way to the net. The fish-driving instruments are used to scare the school back towards the center of the formation whenever the fish try to break out. If the fish suddenly do not react to the fluttering motion of the driving instruments, the divers will plunge head first into the deep to prevent the fish from escaping. While driving the fish as if they were cattle, the divers keep their eyes fixed on them at all times, and those divers who do not use snorkels lift their head out of the water only when they have to breathe. Having an extraordinary lung capacity, some of the divers can keep their faces under water, when in a floating position on the surface, for three to four minutes. As the two ends of the half-circle formation of the divers connect with the two open ends of the U-shaped net, the rest of the divers move fast with a violent splashing of the water. This scares the fish into the bottom part of the U-shaped net, which is provided with a kind of pocket for the fish to find refuge in. The two open ends of the net are quickly tied together and the whole net, with the trapped fish in it, is lifted slowly into the single boat that accompanies the diving group. After each drive, the fish are taken to shore, removed from the net and scaled. For scaling the Yami use stone chips. After the fish are cleaned, they are put back into the boat, the net is loaded into the boat as well, and the group performs one or two more drives. On a lucky day the catch may total over a thousand fish, but such days are rare. Usually a good catch brings in five or six hundred fish.
Small net fishing is performed in similar fashion, but there is no boat with the divers. The group is smaller, usually from four to eight people or less. The fish caught in the net are removed into the net-bags of the divers, while the net remains fixed to the ocean floor. Several drives can be performed before the net is relocated to an undisturbed area. As for the catch, the yield of the small net fishing may be as much per capita as in the case of the large net. But because of the considerable difference in depth between the location of the large and small nets, the species caught are quite different.
Usually the large nets are owned by a group of relatives or friends. Those who own the net may invite other relatives or friends to participate for an equal share of the final catch, especially if many of the owners cannot participate. Those who are owners but do not participate receive a share, but depending on the luck of the day, their share usually is smaller than that of the active participants. If the net has been borrowed by a non-owner group, the net will be returned with a share of the catch. This share may amount to as much as half of the total catch, which will then be distributed equally among the owners.
Large and small net fishing is practiced in all six villages of the island, but the above data was collected in Yayo village only.
All fish are divided into rahed, or bad fish, eaten only by males, and oyod, or real fish, eaten by both males and females. This division is defined by taboo. How and why it is implemented will be discussed later. Thus the success of the catch is determined both by the number of fish that each equal share contains, by the family composition of the individual, and by the rahed and oyod ratio of the equal shares.
Small and large net fishing is practiced from the middle of June to the end of February. Men also catch octopus. For this purpose they use a metal hook, which they call sagit. Octopus can be consumed by both men and women. Men dive for kono, giant clams, and occasionally for lobsters and crabs, which are all highly appreciated by women. Crabs are also caught by torchlight at night on the shore.
The flying fish season, which starts at the end of February, may last until the end of June. During this period, all other means of fishing are taboo. One can, however, catch octopus, collect kono shells, and catch crabs as well.
The catching of octopus, like the catching of everything else under water, requires special skills. The first difficulty is spotting the prey. The octopus can change its color so that it matches that of the environment. It can also change the texture of its skin. For instance, if it sits on a coral, its skin will imitate the rough surface of the coral. As mentioned before, to catch octopus the Yami use a metal hook called sagit. Usually they can spot the octopus in the holes of the coral and yank it out with the hook. If the octopus seems to be a big one, they tease it first with the hook so that it flashes out a tentacle or two in an attempt to grab the hook. By the thickness and length of the tentacles, the divers can tell the size of the octopus. If it is a big one, they will not try to catch it unless they can get help from fellow divers. The danger is that the octopus will get hold of the diver and will not let him return to the surface to breathe.
Once the octopus has been yanked out of the hole, the diver tries to hold it away from himself as he is rising to the surface for air. The octopus usually ejects its ink and tries to get off the sagit. When the Yami reach the surface with the hooked octopus, they bite one of its eyes. As soon as this operation is completed, the octopus loses its strength and the diver can easily "peel off" the tentacles from his head, ears or neck. I was often warned by the Yami that the biting of the octopus' eye is a delicate moment because the struggling animal, with its strong and sharp bill, may seriously wound the unskilled diver. I have not succeeded, however, in tracking down any such mishap.
The catching of the kono shells is not easy either. The diver approaches the shell with a strong steel instrument which looks like a screw driver, usually called soswat. The steel is quickly inserted into the shell before it can close, and then, moving it violently from left to right, the diver tears the shellfish from the ocean floor. There are several known cases of accidental death on the island that occurred while diving for these shells. The danger is that the net bag of the diver may get caught in the coral and he cannot release himself in time to surface for air. Though the knot which the Yami use for fastening the bag to their waists is a kind that should open immediately if pulled, sometimes the divers do not succeed in releasing themselves. To avoid this problem, some divers do not tie the bag onto themselves, but instead attach it to any kind of floating object, which they then fasten to the ocean floor by a long string. Since they always have to swim back to the floating bag with each shell, this method is inconvenient and only few practice it.
During the summer fishing season there are three major stages of activity that permit four different fishing methods: torchlight fishing by large boats nighttime drag-net fishing by small boats daytime tuna fishing in small boats daytime large-net fishing by large boats, with the participation of divers.
The second and third stage overlap at the end of June and July. For more than a month many of the natives will spend 16-18 hours daily on or in the ocean. The first stage is purely traditional and yields very little. The second stage is the most important, because it will produce 70% of the total seasonal catch. (This observation is based on my own data, a measure of the total catch of eight households who participated in all stages, from Yayo village in 1984.) The last method of the third stage is a fairly new practice and it can produce a large catch. It requires, however, the participation of at least 50 people, which means that the total catch has to be divided into very many shares. This is why, on average, it produces much less than the individual drag-netting stage.
The most important manufacturing activities are boat building, house building, and weaving. The making of earthen pots used to be an important manufacturing activity, but recently was given up by the Yami. Metal pots and pans, now easy to come by, are much more durable than the homemade ones.
The boats made by the natives are of different sizes. There are one-, two-, or three-person boats, and, rarely, six-person boats. The largest ones are for ten persons. Small boats usually belong to one person or a family. Large boats for six or ten persons are owned by fishing associations in the village. The fishing associations may be composed of several families of the same or of different lineages. The boats are made of several boards which are mounted symmetrically on the keel. They are fastened to each other with wooden pegs. The spaces between boards are caulked with tree cotton to prevent leaking. Taboo forbids the use of old boards in a new boat. Boats can be made individually, but to fell trees, cut the boards, and transport them from the rain forest to the village is very hard work. Since it is easier to perform these activities in a group, usually the family members and friends of the building party are all involved in the work. All those who have participated will have a share from the taro and the meat of the butchered animals when a celebration feast is held. Relatives who live in different villages and who do not participate in the work will have a share too.
The most important goal of summer fishing is to have enough dried flying fish at the end of the season.
For the flying fish season, boats and fishing gear have to be ready by the end of February. Reeds for torches have to be harvested and dried in advance.
Subsistence on Irala still depends on root crops and fishing. Before the Taiwanese established social aid programs, starvation was imminent when the typhoon season started, if, due to torrent action or unexpected drought, the root crops were damaged and the fishing season failed altogether. Nonetheless, none of the main subsistence-providing activities did, or do, need well coordinated and carefully planned action.
The proper functioning of the irrigation system is vital for Yami agriculture. Since water supplies are abundant and are considered public property, each person or family who owns irrigated fields is responsible for the functioning of the canals on their fields. They also have to make sure that the water passes on to the next taro terrace. Occasional damage, up or down stream, is repaired in cooperation with all those whose fields are supplied by the defective canals.
While women work in the taro fields, men dig out new terraces for irrigation, supply dry wood for fuel, fish, and build boats and houses.
If there are babies or small children who have to be taken care of, men will stay home with them while women work in the fields. When men have to attend to the fishing season's duties, women will stay home with the children. Once any one of the children becomes old enough to take care of the house-hold and the other children, everything is left in the care of him or her.
Fishing in groups and boat building may generate large group cooperation, but at present such cooperation is not a condition for subsistence. For example, large boats can be operated only by a crew of several people, which means that the catch has to be divided into several shares. However, a catch equaling such a share in size can be made by individuals operating a small boat. The last method of the third fishing stage, when large boats and divers cooperate, is really undertaken only because the large boats exist, and the first stage, the torchlight fishing, is merely traditional and not profitable. As the power of tradition fades, the first stage is becoming less and less important, and there is no organizing experience among the natives to assure a continuous operation during the third stage. On the whole, cooperation is being weakened by access to the new but limited outside resources provided by young natives who live in Taiwan.
Size of Organized Groups
Scholars at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, under the direction of Dr. Liu Ping-hsiung, have for years studied the social system of the Yami. One of these researchers was the late Inez de Beauclair. In the English summary of their study, Social Structure of the Yami, Botel Tobago, Liu and Beauclairobserve:
The division of works depends strictly upon the natural categories, of the sexual differences, age-groups and seasonal arrangement. Every important task is emphasized by a series of ceremonial performances. Most of the Yami's constructive work is carried out by corporate groups. Those which are connected with the land utilization are performed by lineage groups. Reciprocal ceremonial practices are usually executed by cognatic groups, consisting of bilateral relatives. (Liu 1962, 283)
For the maintenance of the irrigation system there is no need of large work crews. Women working in the fields detect and mend small damage to the canals. If they cannot repair a problem right away, they will report it to the men in their family. Several men whose fields are involved may get together in the evening and agree on a common labor day when they will work on the canals. Since the slopes are short, except for a few fairly flat portions, usually there will be not more than three or four families involved. Women may join their men in the task of repair, so that the working unit usually will be double or slightly larger than what it is when the women alone work the fields. When there is major deterioration of the irrigation system, caused by landslides or earthquakes, entire lineages will participate in the work, or even a whole village, and often relatives from other villages will join in. Their participation is voluntary and the participants accept only meals in exchange for their labor. If the system is beyond repair or many lives have been lost in the process of its deterioration, the location will usually be abandoned.
Social and Political Organization; Residence
The largest unit is the tribe. I shall employ the word "tribe" consistently throughout this study in its anthropological sense, free of any derogatory connotation, meaning a population larger than a band but smaller than a state.
As Liu points out, the Yami have a patri-lineage system which is determined by descent as well as by residential rules. The existence of this system with the Yami has not been sufficiently recognized, but has been mistaken for a bilateral or cognatic type of society. In fact, every village unit is constituted of more than one group of lineage segments.
The bilateral corporate groups coexist parallel to the unilateral kinship groups. These are by no means concrete organizations, but a framework of cognatic relationships, starting from a group of siblings issuing from one pair of parents traced up to a limited depth of generations and extending to a certain degree of collateral relatives. According to Liu, the closest relationship is called ripos, and includes three generations of kindreds and four sets of cousins. The inainapo comprises five generations of parents and extends to third cousins. The ripos is regarded as an incest group, while the latter is considered responsible for blood vengeance. Of course, many other functional performances are executed by these cognatic corporate groups (Liu 1962, 282).
The cognatic kindred groups are always bridged by certain affinal relatives or icarwa. They may be classified into the following categories:
icarwa of spouses, extending to spouse's ripos icarwa of mother's siblings, extending to their ripos icarwa of father's sisters, extending to their husband's ripos icarwa of siblings, extending to their spouses' families; icarwa of children's spouses, extending to their families; icarwa of siblings' spouses, extending to their families.
Close affinal relatives are considered more important than remote kins at many occasions of reciprocal performances. Therefore the Yami are inclined to treat their close affinals as ripos (Liu1962, 282). This set of assumptions about kinship can be observed well at the time of gift exchange or when individuals have to take sides during fights.
The Yami are monogamous. As Liu observed as well, the exogamic rule has been substituted by the incest taboo of ripos. The conception of ripos for the Yami is not strictly delimited. According to the general rule the first cousins of two parental sides are fully ripos, second cousins are regarded as half ripos, third cousins as quarter ripos. From the third cousins on, however, marriage is tolerated. The fourth cousins are the best potentials for each other. Consequently a fluctuating phase can be observed within a period of four generations. But this principle is hard to apply within the patri-lineage groups (Liu1962, 282).
The property that the Yami own is of great variety. It consists of the natural resources of land and sea, the materials necessary for ceremonial usages, raw materials for handicraft and decorative artifacts, and many immaterial possessions such as design and ownership marks. As Liu remarks, from a certain point of view the life of the Yami is rather luxurious. Their concept of ownership may be divided into four categories: the communal ownership of the village units and lineage groups, the private possession of the households and individuals, the natural resources in the sea and the wild fields that belong to the villages in common, and the dry land and the irrigation system that are administered by the patri-lineage groups. Only wet taro fields and homesteads are possessed by all individual households. Utensils, weapons, clothes and ornaments are regarded as personal possessions (Liu 1962, 283).
The Yami recognize neither unitary authority of the local group nor permanent chieftainship. It is true, however, that some principles of leadership are recognized, like gerontocracy, priesthood of the fishing ceremony, combatant heroes and chiefs of fighting groups. Also, the rich men of the village are informally recognized in the same category. The Yami distinguish very clearly crimes from transgressions. There is no public informer, no juridical organization in their village communities. Every offense is firstly disposed by the kin groups of both parties and secondly compromised by the temporal council of village elders. If necessary, final decisive steps, like blood vengeance, may then be taken by the asa so inawan, the cognatic groups recruited from the families on both sides, extending to the third degree of kindred. The active participants in the collective conduct of the vendetta are formed by three grades of relatives, and the direct kin malama, the close relatives of the ripos, and the extended cognatic kin groups asa so inawan (Liu1962, 284).
Each village has its own taro fields, with the necessary irrigation system. Through inter-marriage, new fields change ownership. No rules prevent certain lineages or outsiders from owning isolated taro fields within the agricultural territory of a village. Village territories are marked and are well known to all natives of the island. Each village has an ancestral landing place and an ancestral fishing-ground. In the past, fishing grounds were a subject of permanent inter-village feuds. Today all waters are considered public property and villagers do not mind intrusion.
Ceremonial Life
Ceremonial occasions are so varied in scope and quality that it is very difficult for a researcher to observe them all. During a study of the ceremonial practices of the Yami, I often relied on the publications and personal advice of Mr. Hsu In-chou, who has conducted research on the Yami culture for a very long time. For the purpose of a tentative inventory, the ceremonies here are divided into two groups: those which are not related to a certain date, and those performed at fixed dates or within the fishing season. In the first group are included ceremonies for boat inauguration, house inauguration, new clothing inauguration, taboo washing for woven items, name-giving, funerals. Ceremonies performed at a specific date include those for safety during the approaching fishing season, the opening of the flying fish season, the fish-hooks, the boat on the opening day of the season, summoning fish, the sacrifice of a rooster or pig at mid-season, cleansing from infringements resulting from breaking a fishing taboo during the season, the beginning of daytime angling, fish-hook for daytime angling, the first dolphin-fish of the season, bringing the catch home, lifting taboos concerning the consumption of certain food items and concerning fetching of water, consolation of menfolk for their hard work by their wives or mothers, individual small boats, the drying hook, season closing, millet pounding, cutting of dried fish-tail , dried-fish-gift exchange, taboo lifting after end of season (Hsu1982).
Belief System
The belief system of the Yami involves a cosmogony which is either not well developed or has gradually regressed from a more sophisticated level. It includes elements of a belief in demons, and also reflections of two Christian denominations, Catholic and Protestant.
The pantheon is described by the Yami as consisting of several divine layers. The first layer is inhabited by the main god, Simo-Rapao. He is in charge of all the other gods, who report to him their observations and complaints concerning the activities of the people of Irala. It is Simo-Rapao who created the first two persons from a piece of rock and a piece of bamboo. He is the one who passes out punishments according to the suggestions of the other gods. These include all sorts of natural calamities and usually affect at least a whole village.
The second layer hosts Sio-Mima, who according to some of the natives is in charge of the rest of the world, which consists of the islands of Japan, Ivatan, Formosa, and America, where all white people live.
The third layer is the place of Si-Toriao, who brings the rains and lightning. The messenger of the gods is Si-Lovolovoin, whose name is sometimes mentioned in chants with which the natives request abundance of flying fish during the fishing season.
In the lowest layer of the Yami Heaven reside some of the malevolent gods, such as Si-Videy and Si-Pariod, who occasionally will stuff their pot-bellies with taro and yams leaving hardly enough crops for the people to survive. Horrid invasions of caterpillars and locusts are also attributed to them. They are also known to denounce people to Shi-Volovoin, who forwards complaints to Simo-Rapao.
The Yami also believe in two female supernatural entities known as the Pina-Langalangao -- Sinan-Maniray and Sinan-Gajijinom. Although they do not belong to the deities, they do have control over the birth and lifetime of people. The length of one's life is determined by them at birth by cracking a coconut and measuring the outpouring juice or by examining the water-containing capacity of the broken shell (Beauclair 1974, 16).
The gods are very rarely mentioned in everyday life, and rarely do their names occur in the myth. In only one celebration every year, in December, do men dressed up in their festive outfits go down to the ancestral landing place of the village and present a sacrificial offering to all the gods. The timing of this ceremony coincides with the beginning of the sowing of the millet. The sacrificial food consists of pork, goat meat, millet, taro, and yams. During the ritual, the gods are not mentioned by their names, but are called akey do to, or "heavenly grandfathers." In everyday life and in the local mythology, gods are referred to also as tawo do to, or "person from above" (Beauclair1974, 15). According to traditional belief, in the human body there is a main soul which resides in the head and several other souls which are located mainly in some of the joints. When a person dies, his main soul flies away to a place which the Yami call Malavang a Pongso, "the White Island," but the rest of the bodily souls becomes anito--ghosts, demons, and evil spirits who may harm people. Thus the strongest taboos are related to the dead and especially to funerals and burial grounds. Respecting these taboos, the Yami live in a constant, uncontrollable fear of the dead.