The primary source of food for the Paiwan people is agriculture, supplemented by hunting and fishing. The staple is taro, and the Paiwan people have a unique preparation method to make taro lightweight, long-lasting, and quick to cook.
The night before starting my Beidawushan hike, I stayed at a Paiwan farm in Wutan village. The food, which had all been grown on the farm, was delicious. The taro porridge was very good, but my favorite dish was the cooked plantains. The Paiwan cultivate their own varieties of plantains, and in this specific dish, it was unpeeled – the entire plantain was to be eaten.
The farm is run by a vigorous old Paiwan woman (who I presume owns the land) with help from some old Paiwan men. She says that the farm is completely organic. Among other things, they grow coffee beans, which she says are all shade-grown. On the way to the trailhead, I saw a lot of coffee bushes, which were in fact grown in the shade of trees. Of course, coffee is not the first non-native cash crop that the Paiwan have grown – in the past, the Paiwan grew quite a bit of tobacco, and it’s been incorporated into their culture.
One of the men talked a lot about history. He said that he had been born very close to the old trailhead of Beidawushan. When he was a kid, the Paiwan in the mountains still lived without money – if they wanted vegetables, they grew their own, if they wanted meat, they went hunting, and if they wanted shelter, they had to build it themselves. He said that the Juniper Valley Cabin had originally been a hunting ground – the hunters liked it so much because of its excellent water source. When he was a kid, Taiwu village was where the Paiwan and the Han people came together for trade.
The policy of the ROC government has been to get the Paiwan people to come down from the mountains and to live at lower elevations. The government built housing for the Paiwan in the new villages, but they didn’t give the Paiwan any farming land. Thus, even though the Paiwan spent their nights in the new villages, they returned to the old villages in the day to tend to their lands, and the old villages were still the center of Paiwan life.
I’ve also stayed at a hot spring run by Paiwan people in Taimali, on the eastern side of the Dawu mountains. The young man who managed the place emphasized that they were *eastern* Paiwan (the Paiwan are split into different cultural groups).
As typhoons and landslides continue to cut off roads in the Dawu mountains, settlements continue to be relocated closer to the plains. The Dawu mountains are full of abandoned Paiwan and Rukai villages, which some adventurers enjoy visiting. Here is a description of a trip to the abandoned Rukai village of Jiuhaocha.
Some of the information in this entry came from the book Carefree Walks through Mountain Forests in Southern Taiwan (高屏山林縱情遊) and the TV show Made in Taiwan.