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Paiwan Nose Flute Musician | Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj

  • Date:2023-10-30
Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj

Chinese Name: 少妮瑤.久分勒分

Born: 1968

Place of Birth: Pingtung County (Southern Taiwan)


Did You Know That…?

Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj, from Dongyuan Village (東源村) in Mudan Township (牡丹鄉), Pingtung, is the first female inheritor of the Paiwan mouth and nose flute tradition. She has been nominated multiple times for the Golden Melody Awards for Best Indigenous Singer and Best Indigenous Album. In 2011, she was recognized by the Pingtung County Government as a preserver of traditional Paiwan mouth and nose flute arts.

Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s musical enlightenment came from her mother, and listening to her mother sing is her most profound childhood memory. During the Japanese colonial period, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s mother was the only one in the village chosen to join the cultural work team. At 16 or 17, she was often invited to perform in various places, and the villages asked her to teach singing. As the youngest child in the family, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj followed her mother from an early age, learning Paiwan songs and language. In addition, her mother’s long-term service in the church and her musical and teaching experiences had a profound impact on Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj.


During her university years, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj first encountered ethnomusicology at Yushan Theological College (玉山神學院) and learned about the Paiwan mouth and nose flutes. This was a moment of identity awakening and the beginning of her journey to learn and pass on these traditions.

In 1994, the school hired a 70-year-old Paiwan mouth and nose flute artist, Sudjalu (施余金城), as a resident artist. Hearing the familiar music from her hometown stirred Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s emotions and made her more aware of the roots of her own identity. Despite the tradition that only men, and particularly nobles and warriors, were to play the nose flute, while women usually only listened, the teacher saw Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s talent and passion and broke with that tradition to teach her.

Paiwan double-pipe mouth and nose flutes are instruments traditionally used by men to express their inner feelings or to show their noble or warrior status. Only chiefs or nobles could play and carve patterns on the flutes. This double-pipe instrument is the only one among Taiwan’s indigenous instruments that can produce polyphonic music.

Since then, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj has embarked on a journey to learn from the elders who play the mouth and nose flutes. Of the seven elders she initially found, only one remains today. As time passed, she pondered how to learn more from the elders and how to pass on her skills to more people.

Teaching and passing on these traditions have become the focus of Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s life in recent years. She learns while teaching, trying and making mistakes in the process of interacting with children, and gaining insights. Unlike the typical Western teaching method, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj chooses to teach within her own cultural system. For her, this is not just teaching an instrument, but also teaching cultural knowledge and understanding.

The biggest difference between learning the mouth and nose flutes and other instruments is that one must start by learning how to make the instrument. Preserving the methods and craftsmanship of making mouth and nose flutes has become Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj’s biggest challenge. In recent years, she has made nose flutes with more than three holes to adapt to more tunes and promote the instrument. However, she insists on not changing the scale and rhythm of the nose flute. For Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj, the Paiwan instrument can be modernized, but it cannot lose its tradition. An instrument that has changed its tune is like one without a soul, and it loses its value.

Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj has dedicated half her life to the music and craftsmanship of the Paiwan mouth and nose flutes. She doesn’t see herself as an artist, but as a practitioner. She is just doing her best to carry on the culture passed down by her ancestors. From the beginning, her goal was to bring this instrument to life, not just for research and collection, but to be used and practiced in daily life.

In 2019 and 2020, Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj published a nose flute album and newly written mouth and nose flute teaching materials, summarizing past experiences for future mouth and nose flute teachers to reference.

Sauniaw Tjuveljevelj has released several albums, including “Life Nasi (生命NASI),” “Listen - Women’s Voices (聽∼女人聲音),” “Never Left (從未離開),” and “Breath of the Wind (風的氣息).” These albums combine tradition and modernity, and are loved by both tribal elders and urban youth. She always strives to bring Paiwan traditional music to life and into people’s lives.