Girl meets boy: Taiwan’s tribal matchmaking festival

This picture taken on August 19, 2017 shows members of the Amis indigenous group posing for a selfie during the traditional harvest festival in Hualien, eastern Taiwan. 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 for the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 recognised indigenous groups in Taiwan. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2017

Girl meets boy: Taiwan’s tribal matchmaking festival

HUALIEN, Taiwan: 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 the 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.
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 multicolored 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.
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 the capital 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 marginalizedgroup in Taiwanese society — has seen its traditional culture eroded since immigrants started arriving from China centuries ago.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in May 2016, her government has been pushing for greater indigenous rights and preservation of tribal languages and culture.
But some groups have criticized Tsai for not going far enough and have clashed with authorities over land rights policy, demanding their ancestral areas be returned.
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.”


REVIEW: It’s a tough, brutal world in ‘The Devil All the Time’

Updated 24 September 2020

REVIEW: It’s a tough, brutal world in ‘The Devil All the Time’

  • Tom Holland leads an all-star cast in Netflix’s gritty post-war thriller

LONDON: The star-studded cast of “The Devil All the Time” promises big things. Tom Holland and Sebastian Stan (both mainstays of the Marvel cinematic universe), Bill Skarsgård (fresh from traumatizing a new generation in the “It” movie remakes), Jason Clarke (“First Man” and “Pet Sematary”) and new Batman Robert Pattinson all signed on for this Netflix thriller, directed and co-written by Antonio Campos, one of the filmmakers involved in the recent COVID-era anthology “Homemade.”

“The Devil All the Time” follows a disparate group of characters in post-war Ohio and West Virginia. (Supplied)

Based on the novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who takes a turn as the movie’s narrator, “The Devil All the Time” follows a disparate group of characters in post-war Ohio and West Virginia. Returning soldier Willard Russell (Skarsgård ) believes he’s left the war behind him when he meets waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett). The two have a son, Arvin. But despite these positive overtones, Campos’ world is one of ever-present menace, with corrupt officials, twisted lovers and charlatan preachers behind seemingly every corner, waiting to sully any glimmer of optimism with depravity.

Adult Arvin (played with surprising grit and gravitas by Holland, better known for his bright-and-breezy Spider-Man) struggles to cope with the brutality of the world as it batters him at every turn. When vile preacher Preston Teagardin (Pattinson) rolls into town, his sinister intentions are telegraphed from the get go and, unsurprisingly, his predatory nature kickstarts a chain of events that lifts the lid on the darkest possible side of 1960s USA.

Holland is a joy to watch, his dramatic heft belying his young age. Pattinson is, quite simply, horrifically intoxicating, throwing himself into the role with all the sneering vileness he can muster. The two Brits steal the lion’s share of the limelight, but Campos’ film benefits from the high-caliber ensemble. Simply by pointing a camera at them, the director is onto a winner.

The movie doesn’t shy away from violence, and some scenes are a little tough to take. And it’s an unrelenting second half as Holland’s world comes tumbling down in relatively short order. “The Devil Al the Time” is a brutal, visceral experience. But great performances from a stellar cast make it an engaging one.