Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Myths and Legends: The Origins of the Pasta'ay Ceremonies

 Read about our 2014 crazy night at the Pasta'ay Festival.          

            It is said that the Saisiyat were forced away from their traditional homeland near the shores deep into the mountains. Here, in unknown territory, lacking access to their traditional sources of food and lacking the knowledge to exploit the mountainous terrain, they suffered and dwindled. Hope was in short supply.
            It was in this sorry state that they met a race of short, dark-skinned people, the Da'ai. They were only three or four feet tall, but their arms were strong, and they knew the mountains well. They shared their knowledge with the Saisiyat, saving them from starvation. Through the Da'ai, the Saisiyat learned a considerable number of things, none more important than how to cultivate rice. The two tribes thrived together, but their bonds of friendship were soon tested.
            A terrible tragedy struck the Da'ai, who were left without enough womenfolk to carry a new generation. Facing their own doom, the Da'ai turned to the Saisiyat and placed their fate in the hands of their friends. If the Saisiyat could agree to present the Da'ai with wives, their demise could be avoided. But the Da'ai were short, black creatures, and the Saisiyat had strong rules against marrying outside the tribe. Fear drove a wedge between the peoples, and the Da'ai’s request was refused.
            The Da'ai were skilled in magic. They could speak to animals and understand the language of the trees, their healing lore was vast, but they were still men, prone to the failings of men. They began to victimize the Saisiyat’s young women, and the Saisiyat feared the Da'ai’s black arts too much to confront them. With their black magic, the Da'ai would make all evidence of their crimes disappear, leaving the Saisiyat no proof of wrongdoing. Lust slipped into the wedge Fear had created, and the two people were driven further apart.
            One Saisiyat man, driven by Anger, decided that the time had come to cut ties with the Da'ai. By destroying the bridge connecting the two peoples, he would at least afford the women a reprieve, and hopefully it would teach the Da'ai a lesson. While the Da'ai were celebrating a festival with the Saisiyat, he weakened the bridge, planning to destroy it once the Da'ai had crossed back into their lands. Before he could do so, while the Da'ai were crossing the deep precipice, the weakened bridge collapsed. All of the remaining Da'ai plunged to their deaths. Or not quite all, two remained. The Da'ai’s two elders, Ta’ai and Tuowai, saw their people shattered on the rocks below, and they channeled all of their power on a curse cast at the Saisiyat.
            They were afflicted with calamity upon calamity. The world with which the Da'ai had once communed so extensively turned against the Saisiyat. The sun was blotted from the sky by dark clouds, their crops shriveled and died, the water became brackish and foul, and diseases struck mercilessly. All that the Saisiyat had learned from the Da'ai was unavailing, and the Saisiyat were once again left despondent and broken. Anger had pushed both peoples on the verge of oblivion.
            Finally breaking the vicious downward spiral of betrayal and revenge, Chu, the Saisiyat who had weakened the bridge and destroyed the Da'ai, climbed the highest peak of the mountain (Wufeng) and asked for forgiveness. To apologize to all of the Da'ai, he created a spell that melded dance and song. The charm took seven days to perform, and it succeeded in placating the spirits of the Da'ai.
            Ever since, the Saisiyat perform the Pasta’ai festival every second year. Every fifth incantation of the conciliatory spell is specially meant to not only appease the spirits of the Da'ai, but also to express repentance and comfort the spirits. The next grand ceremony will be in 2016.
            As great of a tale as it is, there is more to the festival than I can hope to understand, as demonstrated by the fact that the songs are about a wide range of issues, including modern ones. One of the 15 songs is about the pressure the Saisiyat feel to embellish their rituals for the sake of foreign tourism, another is about their current economic struggles, and there is one about their ambiguous feelings towards modernization. Each song is a poem, with each verse pertaining to a certain theme. Each poem is highly complex, every word holding special significance and playing off the others. Since I am not Saisiyat, I can neither fully comprehend it nor retell the Pasta’ay festival’s story with authority. I think it’s a story worth sharing though, and hopefully by sharing it I can encourage others to discover it more completely than I have.
I would be very happy to correct any incongruities or mistakes that are sure to have cropped up, so please tell me if you see something wrong.

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