Taiwan has been populated for hundreds of years -- perhaps more -- by indigenous peoples of a number of tribes.  Over time, ethnic groups from mainland China, such as the Han, have also moved to the island. The indigenous tribes can be roughly divided between the "Hill tribes", populating the mountainous regions of southern Taiwan, and the "Plains tribes", those living a more pastoral life on the flatlands near the coast. To one degree or another, all the tribes have changed over the years as a result of social and political pressures, intermarriage and migration. Yet each retains to this day a unique culture of their own, including customs, dress, language and (our interest here), metal work, particularly knives and swords. Not all tribes are equally proficient in swordsmithing, but some were, and remain, quite skilled. 

In addition to "Hill" versus "Plains", the tribes and their edged weaponry can be divided geographically into three main groups:  North, Central, and Southern. The Paiwan (Baiwan) inhabit the central highlands and southern foothills of the island. They call themselves the "descendents of the paipushe snake". The paipushe snake is thought of as "the elder." Paipushe snake worship has the connotation of ancestor worship. The snakes are the protective spirits of the tribe and keep the peace. The Paipushe likeness appears on Paiwan clothing and totem carvings.

Most blades curve slightly upwards towards the tip, given them utility for both slashing/chopping and thrust attacks.

The knives and swords described in this section are all mid-20th century. They are good quality but probably not intended for use by the Paiwan themselves. It is safe to say that they were more likely made for the traveller. Nevertheless, they are rarely seen outside Taiwan.  

ethnological map of taiwan 1911

Ethnological Map of Formosa [Taiwan] 1911

{Click to Enlarge}


Knives of the Taiwan Aborigines