Lakeside indigenous Amis culture

By Cheryl Robbins

The communities located adjacent to Hualien County's largest natural lake, Liyutan, are home to the indigenous Amis tribe. Some of the residents of these communities have opened guesthouses, restaurants and handicrafts workshops, allowing visitors access to their culture.

In terms of handicrafts, the most well known is traditional indigenous hunting knives. There was once a number of artisanal knife makers creating unique works. But, with the increasing popularity of less expensive, more quickly produced machine made blades, many of them have been forced to close up shop. One of the few remaining traditional knife makers, Yang Ming-Shan, runs the Wenlan Mini Knife Workshop, just a few minutes' drive from the lake. He offers DIY classes in which visitors can decorate the sheath of a miniature hunting knife and turn it into a keychain or necklace. Yang first presents visitors with their own miniature hunting knife inserted into an undecorated wooden sheath. He then provides simple tools and heat source for branding to allow visitors to create their own patterns and images. Once this is done, colorful beads are added. Cost is NT$250 per person with a minimum of four persons. The entire process takes about one hour. Before leaving, take the time to view the knives made by Yang, both large and small, displayed in his shop. (Tel: 0937-947555)


Next to the lake, the Mu Shu Ya Workshop, run by Anui, is where visitors can learn about the traditional uses of tree bark, such as for the making of clothing. Anui first demonstrates how tree bark is obtained from the branches of the paper mulberry tree and processed, including hammering to make thin and then drying. Following this, visitors can make a small owl ornament from tree bark and cloth. Among the Amis and Truku tribes of Hualien, the owl has a special meaning. According to legend, an owl perched on the roof of a home foretells of a pregnancy.


This workshop is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, except on Tuesdays. Individuals or small groups passing by may be able to request a DIY class without calling ahead. Larger groups should reserve in advance. Cost is NT$150 per person. The time needed is about 30 minutes to one hour depending on the size of the group. (Tel: 0955-996777)

If these DIY crafts activities have built up your appetite, all you have to do is head to the Cikasuan Restaurant next to Mu Shu Ya. Cikasun refers to "treehouse" in the Amis language, but don't worry you don't have to do much climbing to reach this eatery, as it is on the ground level, with extra seating on the second floor. The decor is simple, but cozy, featuring cultural touches, such as a painting of a woman in traditional Amis clothing and wood carvings. The manager, Pan Liang-Yu, follows a policy of three "eights". This means that 80% of the restaurant's staff is from the local community, 80% of the ingredients are obtained locally and the bulk of the ingredients are from within an eight-kilometer radius.


Specialty dishes include fried rice with dried taro strips, grilled pork, grilled fish covered in salt, angelica leaf omelette, wild edible greens and to top it all off candied lemon slices with coffee beans. Dishes can be ordered a la carte or as a set with options for 2-3 persons (NT$800), 3-4 persons (NT$1,200), 5-7 persons NT$1800, 6-8 persons NT$2,200, 8-10 persons NT$2,500 or 12 persons NT$3000. Tel: (038-641888; 0955-996777).