Paiwans’ Worship of the Totem of Snake

The totemism is one of the extremely old and peculiar culture phenomena in the human history. Nearly all the nationalities in China, including ancient nationalities that have already withered away, have such an experience. Some nationalities even pass it on in modern times, and the remains can still be seen nowadays. Gaoshan ethnic group is one of them. Among the various nationalities in China, the Gaoshan totem culture is very distinct and passed on for a long time. According to the record of historical documents, folk mythical legends and the scholars’ investigations in modern times, the nine Gaoshan tribes all have their own totem custom. There are various totem things: some are animals and plant, such as chicken, dog, ox, monkey, deer, ermine, lion, spiral shell, tortoise, worm, bird, snake, trees, bamboo and calabash; some are inanimate objects and natural phenomena, such as huge stone, cloud, and the sun.

Paiwan people particularly worship the totem of snake. Among Paiwan people, there spread many mythical stories that efficacious snakes lay eggs and give birth to their ancestors. Though they are listening absurd, Paiwan people believe in their blood relations with snakes. They believe that the snake is their ancestor, as we believe that mankind evolves from the ape. Besides, they consider the snake multiplying their ancestors to be their patron god, said to possess supernatural power. The snake can protect Paiwan people from difficulties, sufferings, and misfortune. So, the snake becomes the totem they revere and worship in their life, and also becomes their spiritual faith.

In order to get the help and protection from the totem god all along, Paiwan people neither eat snakes nor injure them. Also, they carve and paint the snake images onto the houses, ancestors’ spirit posts, weapons as well as various kinds of utensil such as wineglass, spoon, tube, and pot. Therefore, Paiwan people have a very developed carving art in snake totem. Things carved or painted with the snake images are considered to be holy. When facing or using them, any behavior of profanity or disrespectful speech should not be expected to appear.