The Yami, originally known as the Tao ethnic group found in the Orchid Island are part of the Austronesian group, and is a subdivision of the Malayo-Polynesian linguistic family. Their original name Tao means 'human' or 'people on the island' (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). Similarly, their name for the Orchid island, Pongso no tao, implies "an island of people". This tries to identify the people with the unique culture and as the real inhabitants of the island. Their ancestors relocated from the Batanes Islands located in the northern region of Philippines to the Orchid Island, approximately 800 years ago (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). The Yami speak Malayo-Polynesian language together with other native inhabitants in Taiwan. However, their culture demonstrates different characteristics.
The Yami is the only ethic group in the region which does not hold brewing skills and the cultures of tattooing, head-hunting, and the use of bows and arrows. Nonetheless, they earn their livelihood through; fishing and farming of tuber crops such as sweet potatoes and wetland taro. This cultural diet differentiates them from other ethnic groups, who have compromised their eating habits to conform to those Taiwan natives. Furthermore, other cultural aspects such as their architectural style and their ceremonies like the flying fish ceremony, house completion ceremony and boat launching ceremony, as well as their attitude regarding death and spirits are very distinctive (Tmtip.gov.tw 1).
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The preservation of the Tao/ Yami indigenous culture were also boosted by the Japanese government during the colonial rule in 1895 when they declared Orchid Island a research zone. This declaration prohibited foreigners from entering or inhabiting the island. Different ethnic groups usually hold different myths as a result of the diverse cultural beliefs in different communities. The preserved Yami culture will therefore help understand the concept of myth. Myths in this case are the ideologies, popular beliefs held by the society that has supernatural and ancestral connotations.
Social Structure and Social Organizations
The Tao culture stresses the bond between married couples in relation to rituals such as those performed during boat launching and house completion ceremonies, which are to make them famous and to gain recognition. This is an inherited myth and belief from the ancestors that marriage and family is a sacred institution that must be protected and operate in harmony. The bond is portrayed by the collaboration between men and women where men are charged with the responsibility of building boats or houses, while women prepare the feasts of wetland taro. This is because, the Yami consider a married couple as the basic unit of their social structure, which concretely manifest the myth known as sharing of substance. This myth helps to comprehend the group's socio-cultural classification and part of its socio-cultural operation where the establishment of society and composition of the co-working groups is strictly through the zipos (kin) from the same male ancestor (Tmtip.gov.tw 1).
Yami Creation Myth
The Yami hold a myth that details the creation of mankind by a supernatural god of creation. However, the creation myth does not clarify the formation of the universe. This myth narrates in the 'Legend of Imulud' that Imulud (the God of Creation) threw a stone which was void of human life from the heavens onto the Orchid Island (Kuang 1). The stone busted open on hitting the ground to produce to the first human being, a man named the 'Son of Stone'. Imulud issued revelations that led the Son of Stone towards the sea, where he found a solitary bamboo reed fiercely swaying with tidal winds. The myth explains that the bamboo then suddenly ruptured open to release the second human being on earth created by Imulud, named 'Son of Bamboo' (Kuang 1). Further according to Yami mythology, the first two Yami women are born through heavenly intervention, who are believed to have emerged from the knees of the Son of Bamboo and the Son of Stone.
The religious culture of the Yami that believes in the presence of a supernatural being makes us understand the myth behind the Imulud. The myth also explains that conflicts arose in the 'Legend of Imulud' that angered the Imulud after the emergence of the women (Kuang 1). It is believed that incest occurred between the offspring of the Son of Bamboo and Son of Stone, thus irritating the Imulud to punish the offspring of incest by striking them blind and physical deformities. This mythological tale led to the declaration that sexual relations between close family members is a taboo (Kuang 1). The Yami culture that prohibits marriage between immediate family members therefore helps us understand the myth surrounding the prohibition of marriage among relatives in the present society.
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Production Method and Food Culture Myth
Yami people are culturally subsistence farmers in the island. They grow taro and sweet potatoes along the mountains terraces, while catching fish and shells on the sea for their food and economic sustenance. Equally, they also keep animals such as sheep, hogs and chickens to make them self-sufficient. They have a traditional diet that includes wetland taro and sweet potatoes which are the staple foods, birds, fish and other animals supplemented with foods such as coconuts, Lintou and several other indigenous fruits. Fishing is men's activity and the family members have great anticipations for the man to return with good catch that can not only supports the family, but also be shared with relatives and neighbors. This brings respect to the man and promotes the culture of togetherness.
The culture of 'gift exchange' during the ritual is also still entrenched in the life of the Yami on Orchid Island. This tradition is a natural consequence of the mutually beneficial concept held by the Yami, which promotes inter-personal relations among the society members, but not driven by self-interest. However, it has been presently noted that Yami people are becoming more occupied in the trade of goods in the market economy. They are becoming more dependent on commercial goods and the use of currency. This trend of dependence on the commercial goods by the Yami began in 1971 after Orchid Island was opened for tourism (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). This led to increased ships and flights between Taiwan and Orchid Island. Similarly, the modern transportation systems have heightened capitalization and commercialization on the island, as well as increased migration of youth labor. Based on this, it is evident that culture fades up with time, since the Yami are currently not as conservatives as were before inline of their culture. The myths that were originally held are as well fading up because of the infiltration of other cultures, thus the projection that the Yami preserved culture may be extinct in the next three decades (Robbins 1).
Ritual and Religion Myth
The Yami ethnic group do not have a well-structured religion, though they harbor extreme fear of irresistible supernatural powers. As a result, they are terrified of 'anito' (evil spirits) more than god (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). Usually, they point at the sun or the moon when making confessions and when praying to god, though they do not have temples to worship their numerous gods and spirits, and no statues of gods. Their belief on the presence of a supernatural god who is in the heavens as portrayed when making confessions prove their myth on God the creator who has some divine powers.
Major rituals usually correspond to the flying fish season, usually between February and October every year. The catching, dissemination and consumption of flying fish determines the Yami's shared life style, and it has incredible ritual significance. Other rituals particularly the boat launching ceremony and the flying fish ceremony indicate the close connections between the Yami with the ocean (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). Other material cultures cherished by the Tao are building and carving plank boats, pottery and modeling clay dolls and making silver. Fishing is the main activity for men and boat-building is mythically a sacred mission equated to a man's body and the demonstration of divinity and beauty (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). These strong beliefs on the rituals and boat building myths define the culture of the Tao people, and explain why they try to preserve their culture at all cost.
The Yami people also designed a calendar based on their cultural habitual behaviors as directed by their marine lifestyle and the flow of ocean currents, which prompted the limitations and taboos that regulate the timing of fishing, methods and area. Using the flying fish period as the center, all months from February to October are allocated related activities accordingly, ranging from preparation, sea fishing, distributing the catch, and storage.
Art Crafts and Music
Yami people emphasize and pay more attention to the lyrics of their songs since all songs have meaning and are sung in special occasions. The well-known traditional dances cherished world over are the men's warrior spiritual dance and the women's hair dance. Other dancing styles include an extremely delicate style that is only performed during a boat flinging ceremony (Tmtip.gov.tw 1). These cultures help understand the myth behind the ritual ceremonies and the reasons why such cultures are preserved.
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Traditional Tao costumes are usually simple and mostly uni-colored fabrics that are made of natural plant fibers such as banana leafs. Men's costumes are normally loincloth in order to facilitate their sea activities, and to effective cope with the scorching sun. Conversely, women either tie a cloth to cover their upper body halves, with a piece of cloth covering areas below the waistline. However, during important occasions, both men and women dress in double-breasted vests costumes usually blue and white colors together with other ornaments and hats, silver or rattan helmets for men and coconut fiber or wooden hat for women (Tacp.gov.tw 1) These specifications on the costumes worn during special occasions prove to the level of significance the Yami people attach to the ceremonies and retuals that give them their identity.
Different ethnic groups usually hold different myths as a result of the diverse cultural beliefs in different communities. The preserved Yami culture therefore helps understand the concept of myth that involve the ideologies, popular beliefs held by the society that have supernatural and ancestral connotations. The cultural aspects exhibited by the Yami such as their architectural style and their ceremonies like the flying fish ceremony, house completion ceremony and boat launching ceremony, as well as their attitude regarding death and spirits are very distinctive when compared to other communities in the region. It is clear that the Yami are organized in clear social Structures and social organizations that coexist collectively as a society in the villages.
The Yami culture that prohibits marriage between immediate family members also helps us understand the myth surrounding the prohibition of marriage among relatives in the present society. Equally, it is evident that culture fades up with time, since the Yami are currently not as conservatives as were before inline of their culture. The myths that were originally held are slowly fading up because of the infiltration of other cultures, thus the projection that the Yami preserved culture may be extinct in the next three decades (Robbins 1). Their culture that believes that there is a Imulud (God the Creator) also helps understand the myth behind the presence of divine power.