Sowing seeds of love at the harvest festival

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Known as “Lovers’ Night,” it is the grand finale of the annual harvest festival in a settlement which belongs to the Amis tribe in Taiwan.
AFP

As night falls on a square in the village of Matai’an, young women cast critical eyes over a dancing circle of men in embroidered skirts and feathered head dresses as part of an ancient match-making ritual. 

Known as “Lovers’ Night,” it is the grand finale of the annual harvest festival in a settlement which belongs to the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan.

Near the island’s rugged east coast, the village — also known as Fata’an, the name of a local plant, in the Amis language — is a collection of basic, low-lying houses along meandering streets, located in a valley between two mountain ranges.  

The harvest festival — which usually runs between June and August, with each village holding it at a different time — is the biggest and most important celebration for the Amis tribe, and in Matai’an it culminates with single women taking their pick of eligible bachelors.   

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In the past, the ritual would commonly lead to marriage and even now still sparks relationships, but it is also a chance for Amis community members who are working in the cities to return and socialize.

The centuries-old custom is a reflection of the tribe’s matriarchal system, which sees women make key decisions including managing finances and men marry into their wives’ families. 

As the singing and dancing men pick up their pace, the women move in behind their chosen love interest and tug on a multi-colored cloth bag slung on their target’s shoulder. 

To spark interest, the men wiggle and flex their muscles, the most popular among them accruing a queue of interested women.  

If a man reciprocates the approach, he will give his bag — known as an “alufu” — to the woman, marking the beginning of a courtship.

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A woman member of the Amis indigenous group checks her smartphone during the traditional harvest festival.

Lovers’ Night 

In the past, the ritual would commonly lead to marriage and even now still sparks relationships, but it is also a chance for Amis community members who are working in the cities to return and socialize. 

“Lovers’ Night is to make friends,” said Cheng Ying-hsuan, 22.

Dressed in a red traditional outfit adorned with green beads and her own sequined alufu, she had returned to the village from the city of Hualien, where she now lives, an hour’s drive away.  

When asked if she hoped to find a boyfriend, she laughed and said coyly: “That’s also a possibility.”

Matai’an is one of the biggest Amis settlements and is home to around 500 people — mostly elders and children. 

“We like the feeling of everyone coming back together and reconnecting. For us this is the most important,” said Liao Ching-tung, 28, who lives in Taipei. 

Each harvest festival, hundreds, who have moved away to work or study, return to join in the festivities.  

The indigenous community — which remains a marginalized group in Taiwan’s society — has seen its traditional culture eroded since immigrants started arriving centuries ago.

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Young people of the Amis indigenous group pose for a selfie with each other during the traditional harvest festival.

In Matai’an, tradition is alive and kicking. 

Lamen Panay, 41, who goes by her tribal name, says the matchmaking event is still meaningful to her even though she is no longer single. 

She has a collection of lovers’ bags from past harvest festivals, but has since settled down with her long-term boyfriend, living with him in Taipei. 

The couple are both from the village and Lamen still makes a point of picking him out during the matchmaking ritual. 

“We are both usually very busy with work,” she said. “It’s necessary to rekindle the flames.” 


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