School of witchcraft opens in Taiwan
A school of witchcraft has been started by an aboriginal tribe in southern Taiwan who fear that their ancestral rituals would otherwise vanish.
By Nick Collins
Published: 9:49AM BST 21 Sep 2009
Witchcraft is an important part of the Paiwan tribe’s culture, but the number of practising witches it has produced has recently dropped sharply.
The school, which opened last July, has ten students, but the organisers hope it will expand.
Wong Yu-hua, a social affairs official in Pingtung county, where the school is based, told AFP: “We are witnessing the disappearance of the ancient ritual. We are trying hard to preserve it.
“Passing on psychic acts to the young generation is a good way to understand Paiwan culture. We can go back to see how ancestors lived.
“The most sticking problem is that we do not have a written language. That makes it hard for young Paiwans to learn the ritual.”
The Paiwan tribe numbers about 86,000 people but has fewer than 20 witches, a decrease from more than 100 half a century ago.
Taiwan has 490,000 aborigines – descendants of people who have lived on the island for millennia – out of a total population of 23 million.
Paiwan witches are seen as mediums between gods and humans, and the school teaches pupils rituals for blessing people and protecting them from evil.
Witches can use their powers to worship gods and ancestors, pray for weather and for their harvests and perform healing treatments and rituals for hunting and tattooing.
Wong, who comes from a witch family, began a campaign to preserve the traditions last year despite opposition from her mother, an 87-year-old witch who held the traditional belief that witchcraft is inherited through blood lines and not learnt in a classroom, the Taipei Times reported.
Eventually her mother and three other witches were persuaded to open the class, which is held twice a week.
Richard Hazeldine, news editor of the Taipei Times said: "Nowadays the Paiwan are mostly in villages near the rest of the Taiwanese people. They are pretty well integrated.
"The magic is generally seen as a harmless thing, I don't think people will be too worried about it. I think the witches would be similar to a witch doctor - it's not so much magic, it's more healing with traditional plants and remedies.
"The younger people usually leave the villages and work in the cities but where they are based there is a lot of tourism so I guess they do things for tourists during the day and at night they do magic."