The title of this post is a pun on Meteor, Butterfly, Sword, the name of a famous Taiwanese novel.
The indigenous Rukai people live in the northern Dawu mountains, just to the north of Paiwan territory, and also used to be under the rule of the Puyuma King. Like the Paiwan, they have a class systems which distinguishes nobles from commoners, though they are more patriarchal. Linguists claim that Rukai was probably the first language to split from proto-Austronesian, so in a way it is the oldest living Austronesian language. You can hear the language in this song about the Rukai villages devastated by typhoon Morakot in 2009 (you can find a description of a trip to these villages here).
According to a Rukai legend, the goddess at the top of Beidawushan wept, and her tears fell onto a Taiwanese lily. The Rukai people were born from that lily, and a cloud leopard led them to their home. Thus, the Taiwanese lily is very important in Rukai culture, and there are rules about when using the design of the lily is appropriate.
The Rukai also have a legend about the daughter of a chieftain who fell in love with a hundred-pacer viper, so there are also rules about when to use the image of that specific kind of snake. This legend has been adapted into the novel Princess Banenn by the Rukai writer Danaro, which is as far as I know the only fantasy novel based on the mythology of Taiwan’s indigenous people. There is also a computer game adaptation, which is also, as far as I know, the only computer game based on the culture of a people indigenous to Taiwan. Though most of the story takes place at Little Ghost Lake, both the novel and the computer game have a scene which takes place at Beidawushan (there’s also some scenes at Taimali in what is now Taidong county).
The Paiwan people also have a legend about the hundred-pace viper marrying a young woman (illustrated here), and regard it as a sacred animal. In Taiwan, the image of the hundred-pace viper is often used as a symbol of the Paiwan people.
Why is it called the ‘hundred-pace’ viper? Folk wisdom says that it’s so poisonous that, if it bites you, you can only walk a hundred paces before you die. In reality, its bite will not kill you that quickly, but without timely antivenom treatment you will definitely die.
And there are the purple crows.
The purple crows are butterflies, not birds. They can be found all over Taiwan – I’ve seen a lot of purple crows in urban areas such as Keelung and Changhua city – but in winter most of Taiwan is too cold for their survival. Thus they migrate to the valleys of the Dawu mountains in winter, which have an abundance of flowers. Some come from as far away as Japan.
The purple crow is also a very important animal in Rukai culture, and there are also traditional restrictions on using the butterfly design. However, I suspect they might be easing the restrictions, since the Rukai villages in Maolin seems to put butterfly images everywhere (that might be for tourists). The Rukai have noted that the Rukai and the butterflies have generally chosen the same valleys for habitation.
The butterflies generally only live at 500 meters above sea level or lower during winter, though in summer they can be found at much higher elevations. Even so, the Beidawushan hikes are generally at too high an elevation to see many butterflies. Nonetheless, I think it’s cool that Beidawushan is at the heart of such an ecological wonder.
Continue to the next part: “The Cloud Forest”
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