House and social hierarchy of the Paiwan

Bien Daniel Chiang, University of Pennsylvania


This is an ethnographic study of the Paiwan, an Austronesian group of about 55,000 people living in the southern part of the island of Taiwan. The Paiwan subsists on swidden agriculture and hunting, supplemented by cash income generated from salary jobs. The people is renowned for their highly formalized social hierarchical system and a sophisticated artistic tradition in wood and slate carving, embroidery and beads work. The thesis follows an ethnohistorical point of view, and tries to present the process of structuration of Paiwan society. Two major social institutions are focused upon: house and social hierarchy. They are treated as loci in which practices of human agents are modeled as well as modeling the trajectory of history. Two Paiwan villages, Parilaiyan of the northwest region and Tjuabar of the east coast, provide the ethnographic material for discussion. In Chapter Three through Five, the Paiwan house is, first, presented as a focal idiom in ethnohistorical accounts, then, as a social unit with a corporate sole, and, finally, as a cultural institution that interplay with people in a dialectic process of mutual definition. In examining Paiwan social hierarchical system, I make the distinctions between two dyadic relationships, according to the material of Parilaiyan: the landlord-tenant dyad and the patron-client dyad. This is, then, compared to the supra-village chieftain system of Tjuabar. With this comparison, it is clear that economic privilege is not always an integral part of the status of Paiwan aristocrats; nor is their political power universally recognized. Only ritual privileges of the aristocrats are common and prominent. The last part of the thesis is a description of the most spectacular ritual practice of the Paiwan, now still thriving in Tjuabar village, the Five-year Rite (leve-leveq-an). The rite, based on the history of inland migration originated from the sacred mountain, and the belief of the returning of ancestral spirits from the sacred mountain to each village, is a superb illustration of the place of aristocrats in the embodiment of Paiwan ethnohistory.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|History

Recommended Citation

Chiang, Bien Daniel, "House and social hierarchy of the Paiwan" (1993). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9321371.