Paiwan Tattoos



There’s a very special tattoo exhibit going on at the Indigenous Culture Museum of Tainan. That exhibit is of Paiwan Aboriginal tattoos, and included in this epic show are images and tools which came from the Aboriginal Cultural Museum in Pingtung County’s Laiyi Township.

This not only marks a celebratory event, but also the first time that the museum has agreed to lend such items for a show outside of it’s own doors. According to museum officials, the nationwide Paiwan population is 96,000, making them the second-largest Aboriginal group in the world.

The Paiwan people make up the biggest Aboriginal populations in both Pingtung County as well as Tainan. Tattooing within their community has become such a precious cultural asset, and museum curators have said that tattoos were once the primary method which determined an individuals social rank. But entry into the field of tattooing came with great responsiblity. Every tattoo artist learned the stories and cultural import of each image and symbol to pass it on, and this exhibit is no different.

The intent of this show was to further educate and pass along the history of the Paiwan and the government hoped that it would also spread awareness of the stories and meanings behind the tattoos.  Museum tour guide Chen Wen-shan (陳文山) said that traditionally, all Paiwan tattoos were created with thin needles and ash in a process far more painful than modern tattooing.

The exhibition at the Indigenous Culture Museum is set to run through June 28 before heading to the Indigenous People’s Museum in Tainan’s Yongkang District (永康), where it is to run from July 4 to Aug. 2, city officials said.


By Hung Jui-chin and Jake Chung – Tapei Times correspondants.