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Preserver of Kavalan Banana Silk Yarn Weaving | Ibay

  • Date:2023-02-20
Preserver of Kavalan Banana Silk Yarn Weaving | Ibay

Chinese Name: 潘烏吉

Date of Birth: June 01, 1931

Date of Death: January 25, 2019

Place of Birth: Hualien County (Eastern Taiwan)

Did You Know?

Ibay was an active participant in the cultural revival not only of the Kavalan people, but also of other indigenous Taiwanese peoples, including the Ketagalan and the Sakizaya, whose ritual culture had fallen into gradual decline. Ibay was committed to keeping traditional culture alive, helping endangered indigenous cultures to continue on. Her selfless dedication was also a shining example of the vitality and dynamism of Taiwan’s multicultural heritage.

Ibay was born in the indigenous community of Paterungan, in modern Fengbin Township, Hualien County. Born into the Amis, she married into the Kavalan. In addition to being a Kavalan priest (metiyu), she was also a preserver of banana silk weaving craft of the tribe. Paterungan is a community shared between the Amis and the Kavalan, and is the community with the largest, most concentrated population of Kavalan, as well as being one of the places that has most thoroughly preserved the Kavalan culture. Ibay was selected to become an Amis shaman (cikawasay) when she was in her teens. Being a cikawasay is not something one can volunteer for—instead, one must be chosen by the ancestors for the duty. At that time, Ibay had been a leading candidate for the role, and so she began to learn the job. After she finished her studies, she provided treatment and answered questions for her people. She also studied the rites of the Kavalan in her thirties and became a priest, or metiyu, for them as well.

As a metiyu, Ibay presided over tribal festivals, such as Pakalabi (除瘟祭), a unique rite of the Kavalan in which metiyu pray for the gods to cure diseases. All kinds of traditional rituals, such as praying for blessings, against disasters, honoring those who pass, conducting divination, and more saw the involvement of Ibay in her role as a metiyu. Moreover, she was quite familiar with traditional herbs and edible plants, and was the crystallization and inheritor of the traditional cultural wisdom of the Kavalan. In particular, Ibay also provided guidance to Sakizaya shamans and participated in Sakizaya Palamal (火神祭) ceremony from 2011. In the grand rite of Palamal, Ibay led the ritual celebrants in mourning and commemorating the ancestors of the two ethnic groups who jointly resisted colonial oppression and were suppressed and slaughtered more than 100 years ago.

The Kavalan were originally spread across eastern Taiwan’s Lanyang Plain (蘭陽平原) in Yilan County, but were forced to migrate toward Hualien and the Taitung coast as a large number of Han immigrants began making their way into the Yilan area at the end of the 18th century. Fast forward to 1987, when the Kavalan were part of the indigenous “name rectification” movement, in which Taiwan’s indigenous peoples began calling for full and proper recognition. In the 1990s, they actively presented their ritual songs and dances, languages, stories, costumes, and banana silk weaving techniques in various public places to showcase the unique culture of the Kavalan people and demonstrate their existence through concrete actions. At this time, Ibay worked with other indigenous women to reconstruct their cultural memory and showed the special craft of banana silk weaving to the outside world. From 1996, she worked to pass the craft on, teaching people traditional banana silk yarn weaving skills and encouraging a consolidation of tribal consciousness and identity.

The Kavalan are well known for their ability to weave with a variety of natural materials, including banana silk, ramie, Elymus dahuricus, jute, and wild trees. Among them, banana silk weaving is particularly special and unique to the Kavalan, serving as a symbol of cultural revival to them. Banana silk weaving is a complicated and arduous process, which includes cutting banana trees, peeling, shaving, sunbathing, splitting, bundling, warping, weaving, and more, carrying throughout the emotion and spirit of the Kavalan people.

In 1999, Ibay won second prize in Taichung’s fifth Weaving Craft Awards—Life Product Design, and in 2000, she won the Handicraft Contribution Award from the Taichung County Cultural Bureau. The following year, she displayed banana silk craft and kisaiz ritual music and dance as part of the Hualien International Stone Carving Festival, and in 2016, Hualien County Government announced that Ibay had been named a preserver of the important cultural heritage craft of banana silk yarn weaving.

Banana silk yarn weaving is not only a showcase for the special crafts, art, and wisdom of the Kavalan people, but also a precious piece of cultural heritage. Ibay’s dedication to indigenous culture and to helping ensure it is passed on has ensured that she will be fondly remembered by future generations.