Atayal Facial Tattoo

Ching Dynasty officials classified them as "the Branded-Face Barbarians." Not to be outdone, the Japanese colonialists would sever sections of their faces with tattoos clean off. In doing research for a paper I was writing for university, I came across Nainai (pictured above), a 90-year-old Atayal (泰雅) aborigine and one of six women still living in Taiwan with traditional facial tattooing. Actually, I had tried to find Nainai for a long time. In doing so, I met several friendly Atayal who showed me terrific pictures of grandmas or great aunts with facial tatooing, but I had yet to meet anyone who had one. Luckily, I happened to mention this to my friend Gloria, a sixty-year-old Hakka woman originally from near Miaoli. She immediately rang her mom in Hsishui Kun (洗水坑) Village.
Gloria's mother, as she would later explain, had been a mid-wife in the area for 70 years. Over time, she had delivered many Atayal babies. As the Atayal had lived in poverty, Gloria's mom had often done so free of charge. Her standing in the community was excellent as a result.
We didn't actually get out to Hsishui Kun (洗水坑) Village which is at the base of Nanshih Chiao (南勢角) Mountain for a couple of weeks on account of bad weather. When we did, it was pouring rain. The road up to the top of Nanshih Chiao and Nainai's home in Ta Hsin (大興) Village was just awful. Besides being steep, narrow and wet, it was covered with the debris of falling rock and broken trees. Our driver had a creeky 1974 Toyota. It stalled again and again, and when he fired it back up, or attempted to, it would roll back towards the edge of the mountain before first gear kicked in. Sometimes, he'd park the five of us - Gloria, Gloria's mom, myself, himself and Alex (Gloria's nephew along for the ride and a spot of English conversation) - at a seventy degree angle, hop out in the rain and press up the mountain on foot to get directions. Meanwhile, I was thinking that my stupid little obsession about getting some info firsthand was about to get four really nice people killed in a mudslide.


david on formosa said...

There is a great photo set by CleverClaire at flickr of the Atayal.

Patrick Cowsill said...

Thanks. I will check it out.

taipeimarc said...

Hello Patrick,
There is almost a matching postcard image (made 70+ years ago)that i have posted on my site. Check near the bottom of the first category (formosa_color_classics)


Nice photo, thanks for sharing. You are welcome to post anything from my gallery.

Daniel said...

This is a good post but what was the result of your meeting (interviewing?) this Atayal woman?

Daniel said...

One more question: How can you know or be sure that there are six Atayal women with the facial tattoo remaining?

Patrick Cowsill said...

I will post the interview soon. A medical doctor and aboriginal nurse stopped in to give the old woman a check-up while I was there. The nurse told me that Nainai was one of six women left in Taiwan with the facial tattoos. I had no reason to doubt this.