Saturday, August 8, 2015

Discover Taiwan: Off the Beaten Path (Part 3)

Wufeng and the Pasta’ay Festival


            Squid was very excited about going to this festival, a sentiment I echoed because I’d wanted to go since my very first year in Taiwan. The reason behind this festival is an epic tale of two peoples, love, betrayal, and magic, and was first brought to my attention by Sean Kaiteri.
            Foreigners are not always allowed to participate in the ceremonies. On some days, they might be ushered out before midnight, while on other days they might only be allowed to join after midnight. However, when you are not participating in the ceremonies, you can join in on the fun surrounding the event.

            When we arrived it was already around 9 or 10 PM. We waited in line to receive our grass armbands, which serve the dual purpose of protecting you from the spirits of the dwarves, and welcoming you as a friend. For me, that last part is the crux of the festival. For one week, the spirit of friendship that once bonded the Saisiyat and the Da Ai is alive in everyone, and no matter how much of an ignorant foreigner you are, you are welcome. 

Ama Casts her Spell

            We set off to explore the various stands, in search of food and drink. That's how we met this Ama. The Machiavellian Ama. 
Wide-eyed and enraptured by the night’s atmosphere, we sampled her millet wine and agreed it was quite good. I thought that would be the end of it, but discussion continued, as she took a liking to our Finnish friend and offered us more shots, and more again as we asked to have her picture taken with her new beau. 
This was all quite hilarious for everyone involved, and the night was off to an excellent start. We bought a couple of bottles of millet wine and sauntered off for food, but that was not the last of Ama.


            When we saw an entire pig being slow roasted over a fire, we stopped for a bite. I was quickly invited to carve up the meat from the pig, after a quick lesson from one of the men working there. Considering that I got not a single confused look from anyone at the festival, I imagine they often try to show their hospitality to foreigners this way. I was more than happy to assist. It was thirsty work though, and Ama’s kindness and generosity reeled me back in for more millet wine. I was hooked.
            Sitting around a table with friends and wine, eating spit-roast pork while the Saisiyat chanted in the background, we wanted for nothing. Except more wine. Ama’s face circled in and out of the night, as I became too happy to care about limits.


           But the main event was yet to come. It was time for us to join the dance. Our group split up and we made our way into the circle, chanting and dancing, and the night blew by. While dancing, we were still offered drink, and the rest is a blur, with vivid flashes here and there. 

Trudging off into the woods where beams of light from campsites pierced the fog, dancing, drinking, wandering around, dancing with Squid, making new friends, shamefully drinking on the bus with my Finnish friend, being a small nuisance… Luckily the night was over. 

          Later, I would discover that Squid had been named an honorary Saisiyat. A man had initiated her into the tribe by giving her his belt to wear as a necklace. I'm not sure how official citizenship belt-necklaces are for the Saisiyat, but we'll take it!

Spirits, Spiritedness and Spirituality

            The next morning in Nanzhuang, the Hakka village where our hostel was, people were asleep on the sidewalk, ambulances carted away the drunk, and I nursed my hangover. I could have reflected on the amazing hospitality the Saisiyat had shown us, the vibrancy of their culture or the spiritual meaning of the festival, but my mind could only sputter a single group of words: Ama, why did you have to be so nice? 
Rough morning.

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