Mamauwan, the daughter of ancestral spirits, a Paiwan pulingau


The azure South Bound Highway winds into the lush Dawu Mountains, where dense forests hug the Dazhu River. Here lies Tjuabal, the only Eastern Paiwan tribe preserving the tradition of the Five-Year Ceremony.

Walking along the streets of Tjuabal, one notices the intricately planned grid layout, reflecting the influence of Japanese planners in the Eastern mountainside communities. Perhaps it is this influence, along with the introduction of Western religions, that has contributed to the gradual disappearance of many tribal traditions, rituals, and shamanic cultures.



包惠玲Mamauwan 是現任土坂部落的首席女巫,陽光熱情的笑容,身背巫術箱,帶我們走入包頭目的祖靈屋。祖靈屋的正中央便是包頭目歷代祖傳頭目信物的祖靈柱,Mamauwan手拿起杜虹葉一一整理,杜虹葉是土坂部落各儀式中時常使用到的祭葉,(屏東的排灣族大多則使用桑葉作為祭葉)並依據儀式不同使用不同數量的葉子。Mamauwan笑說杜虹開花的樣子很漂亮,只可惜我常常用到都看不到它開花。短短幾句話,道出了身為部落女巫的使命。

Mamauwan, the current chief pulingau of Tjuabal tribe, greeted us with a sunny and warm smile, her witchcraft box on her back. She led us into the ancestral spirit house of the tribal chief. At the center of the spirit house stood the ancestral pillar, a sacred artifact passed down through generations of chiefs. Mamauwan carefully arranged the Formosan Beauty berry leaves, commonly used in various rituals of the Tjuabal tribe (compared to the mulberry leaves used by most Paiwan tribes in Pingtung), adjusting the number according to the specific ceremony. Mamauwan chuckled, noting the beauty of the Formosan Beauty berry flowers that she rarely got to see bloom because she often used the leaves in her rituals. In these few sentences, Mamauwan expressed the essence of her role as a tribal pulingau.


If our people need it, we never say no.



"Once you become a pulingau, it's destiny. If our people need it, we never say no." Galaigai, Mamauwan's mother and former chief, always reminded her of this, and it deeply influenced her. In the tribe, Mamauwan is approached for all sorts of difficulties and problems: blessings for exams, blessings for new homes, naming newborns, long-term illnesses, dream interpretation, summoning spirits for grieving families, and more. It doesn't matter if the issue is from outside the tribe or from non-tribal members—if they feel the need, they can consult the pulingau.

In the tribe, the role of the pulingau is akin to a pillar of support for the community, especially in times when individuals seek solace for their souls. They serve as a mediator between people and spirits, becoming a bridge for communication."



Mamauwan's journey to becoming a pulingau was not something she aspired to from a young age, despite being influenced by her grandmother. It was later in adulthood, witnessing the fading of shamanic culture, that she felt compelled to learn the ways of witchcraft. "Without a pulingau, how can the chief protect our people?" In the tribe, chiefs oversee local affairs while pulingaus communicate with ancestral spirits and all living things.

Learning witchcraft involved not only diligent personal study but also the crucial acquisition of the shamanwood seal through the selection by ancestral spirits. This seal's power could increase or decrease supernaturally according to the individual's abilities. For a deeper exploration of Mamauwan's apprenticeship and more intricate details, I recommend reading "The Daughter of Ancestral Spirits: Mamauwan, the Paiwan pulingau, and the Healing Power of Tribe Guardianship," which provides a comprehensive account of her journey.



Throughout her journey, Mamauwan took great care to systematically document the unique shamanic culture she inherited. This dedication led her to pursue a master's degree, aiming not only to preserve her personal and tribal heritage but also to engage in scholarly discourse through academic records. During her doctoral studies, she actively engaged with scholars from around the world, sharing her firsthand experiences as a practitioner and advocating for the cultural authenticity and significance of Paiwan witchcraft in Taiwan. Her academic pursuits were driven by a desire to contribute to the broader understanding and recognition of Paiwan shamanic traditions on an international scale.



Pulingaus are much like doctors. They use observation, listening, questioning, and palpation, caring for their people through the signs left by their ancestors.



In addition to presiding over various seasonal rituals in the tribe, pulingaus often need to handle life ceremonies for the people. Their process is akin to that of doctors, requiring careful diagnosis and thorough preparation.



Mamauwan recounts a story of helping an outsider who sought aid. This person suffered from inexplicable pains and, after finding no answers in medicine, turned to the spirit world for help. Initial inquiries revealed no clear cause, with the person and their ancestors reporting no significant conflicts. However, when asked about hobbies, the person mentioned a love for hiking, leading to the realization that the discomfort began after climbing Mount Beidawu. With this crucial clue, Mamauwan began the process of restoring balance by calming the soul and regaining harmony.



“We are actually not much different from ordinary people, except we have the ancestral marks to care for others. I see the pulingau’s role in the tribe as one of status and social value, and I will continue to uphold it until old age. This is my life, my daily routine, and my duty.” Mamauwan acknowledges that learning and passing on the shamanic traditions is indeed arduous, requiring not only proficiency in the native language but also mastery of complex ancient scriptures. Despite concerns about the preservation of shamanic culture, Mamauwan is determined to use this power to protect.