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Myths and Iconic Designs
The Paiwan tattoos and cultural icons are closely connected with their tribal history and legends. Many tattoos were emblems representing the clan or its leader. For example, if the chief’s ancestors were descendants of a snake, his family would have snakes or snake-like patterns tattooed on their bodies. Or if the chief’s first ancestor was born of a pottery kettle or the sun according to legend, then his offspring would have corresponding tattoos as well. Another extremely popular motif for tattoos was the hundred-pace snake, which is revered by all the Paiwan. It should be noted that as symbols of status and dignity, tattoos were a privilege of the aristocratic class. Nowadays, it should also be noted, traditional tattooing has become extremely rare. Frequent tattoo designs included:
1. Snake Skin Patterns: This is one of the most powerful totems of the tribe, as the Paiwan consider themselves to be descendants of the hundred-pace snake. However, only the chief’s family and the other nobles were allowed to make use of snake designs, which can still be found on the door lintels, beams and walls of their homes, as well as on stone slabs, clothing and numerous utensils of everyday life.
2. Human Figures: Depicting the appearance of ancestors, and worn in their memory, these were usually also emblematic of the nobility’s status—but in this case, only for new members of the aristocracy. These tattoos, which were found on the head, were granted to commoners who had gained nobility by marriage or for other special reasons. They indicated: this person does not have a noble ancestry, is not truly of “blue blood”.
3. Human Faces: Commoners who had special responsibilities within the tribe could be granted the privilege to tattoo their bodies with human faces. In some cases, it also seems to have been possible to purchase this right (e.g. by offering a tribute of goods to the chief). Otherwise, only the chief and his direct descendants might use this kind of design.
4. Tattoos on the Hands: Only members of the nobility might have their hands tattooed, which is usually done before marriage. Generally, a girl’s hands would be tattooed with the clan’s totem when she was 17 or 18 years old, but nowadays this isn’t done anymore. But one may still see noblewomen with tattooed hands among the Paiwan, although they are mostly in their seventies or older.


pottery kettle and the hundred-pacer snake

 This design is a combination of two important Paiwan totems: the pottery kettle and the hundred-pacer snake

New applications of traditional designs
 New applications of traditional designs
Tattoos of ancestral totems on the hands of a Paiwan woman
 Tattoos of ancestral totems on the hands of a Paiwan woman
Embroideries featuring totemic patterns
 Embroideries featuring totemic patterns
Headdress, shoulder sash and upper garment with totemic embroideries
 Headdress, shoulder sash and upper garment with totemic embroideries
Rich totemic embroideries on the vest of a member of the Paiwan aristocracy
 Rich totemic embroideries on the vest of a member of the Paiwan aristocracy

 

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