Tminun: Weaving from My Heart as an Indigenous Male

By Peydang Siyu (Chu, Hao-jie); translated by Huang, Hsing-hua.

Image credit by the author.

I am a member of the Truku people; the twelfth officially recognised Indigenous nation in Taiwan. We believe in our ancestors’ spirits (utux rudan) and adhere to their teachings (gaya) throughout our entire lives. Cloth weaving (tminun), similar to facial tattooing (ptasan), is a significant part of Truku culture, and many of our customs are related to it. For example, there is a strict gender division of labour in traditional Truku society, with men hunting and women weaving. Men were prohibited from learning how to weave or even touching the tools. As a male, it wasn’t until 2018 did I dare to learn it. But once I began, I never stopped. It was definitely a dream-come-true journey that I would forever remember.

How Did the Journey Start?

I have always been fascinated by Truku people’s traditional weaving technique. I love the cloth made by Truku weavers and their portable horizontal backstrap loom, a traditional Truku weaving instrument. I had an indescribable drive to learn everything I could about weaving, so whenever I got the opportunity, I would observe closely how people weaved cloth. In addition, I began searching for any information about weaving in my family, wishing for a connection to it. 

After asking our elders, I discovered that my great-grandmother left behind her weaving loom, that my grandmother had a traditional skirt with more than five types of diamond designs, and that my aunt owned hand-woven blankets (qabang) stuffed with two large bags. My mother also informed me that her grandmother gave her a dozen qabang when she got married, but they were lost throughout several house moves. I hoped I had the same beautiful qabang as my aunt, and I was saddened by the qabang that my mother once owned but finally lost. 

I knew that those lost qabang would never be returned to her, but I have always had a peculiar feeling that they would return to me one day. I had no idea how to make it come true, but I maintained that sentiment in my heart.

The Permission Through Dreams

I had never considered learning to weave until four years ago. When I initially began learning, I was anxious, but I gradually overcame the obstacles and achieved a sense of accomplishment. What keeps me going is the support and encouragement from my peers and teachers. Another crucial factor was that I frequently dreamed about weaving. Truku people believe that messages from our ancestors are transmitted to the people through dreams. I had several dreams in which I saw the elders weaving, and they would occasionally instruct me. Finally, I had a dream that really impressed me: 

In my dream, a female weaver came over to see the cloth I was weaving, and she told me that it was beautiful. I also dreamed of my grandfather (baki), who said to me, “It is a good idea for you to learn how to weave. Your great-grandmother’s weaving loom was in fact made by my uncle.” “The loom that belonged to great-grandmother was lost and I was unable to rescue it, but I continue to use other left weaving tools that I discovered in the family,” I responded.

When I awoke, I felt as if the words my grandfather uttered to me in the dream were unbelievable, yet they were so genuine and profoundly touched my heart. The family elder’s approval that I should learn to weave made me so glad and moved. As a result, I have released my worries regarding the taboo prohibiting males from touching or weaving clothing.

For quite some time, I believed that my mother’s missing qabang could only reappear in my dreams, but as I started to learn, I was able to weave them back one by one. I had always thought a man couldn’t weave, but with the guidance of my dreams, weaving has become an indispensable part of my life. The succession of dreams I have had has become my primary incentive to continue the practices.

A Male Weaver’s Perseverance

Presently, there are almost no male weavers in Truku communities. Women constitute the vast majority of weavers and weavers-in-training. The few male weavers I am aware of always maintain a low profile. 

There are a few weavers in the communities willing to instruct male students, but I do not know how they feel about male students. I hypothesise that there is an unspoken agreement between weavers and male students, both attempting to adapt themselves to the new era of shifting gender norms. I believe what the weavers are thinking is something like, “I know you are also a weaver, but for some reason, I cannot share with you what was going through in my head.”

As a male weaver, my situation is challenging since I cannot learn about weaving in the communities without worrying, and I cannot find a male weaver to teach me. Most of the time, the only way I can learn about weaving is by gleaning a few clues from the Internet and books and then piecing them together into something that looks solid. Nonetheless, I never gave up or considered quitting. Although I met numerous obstacles, they helped me become more invested in weaving. It appears that while I am immersed in weaving, my ancestors might send me secret messages through dreams. In addition, I seek counsel at every opportunity to keep my heart grounded. Although the condition of a male weaver is difficult, I believe that as long as I continue to gain experience and knowledge, I will eventually find my own path. Since I am already on the way to weaving, I will never surrender.

Weaving from My Heart

When I started weaving, I feared male weavers would violate my ancestors’ teachings (gaya). Therefore, I was constantly concerned about how tribesmen saw male weavers and felt awkward. Nevertheless, the permission I received from my ancestors in my dreams made me feel secure, and these dreams inspired me to persist in learning. As a result, when I weave, I briefly forget my gender role and the conventional gender division of tasks. 

I must use my heart (lnglungan) to comprehend the traditional weaving culture and weaving knowledge. After all, if my generation does not learn to weave, the next generation of Truku will probably be unable to do so. Despite being male, I have the same desire to learn as a female weaver. In a time when traditional culture is vanishing, I intend to do my best for my family and culture by passing on traditional weaving knowledge to the next generation. Since many of the elders in my family who knew how to weave have already passed away, I am particularly interested in inheriting our own weaving knowledge, recreating the weaving sceneries that were formerly commonplace in our house, and weaving back the traditional garments and blankets that we have already lost. Due to these concerns, the prior anxiety and discomfort eventually faded away. I am now more willing to tell my personal story through weaving, and I have had more opportunities to share my weaving journey on many different occasions.

As I learned to weave, I started to engage in conversations and intellectual exchanges with my fellow female weavers. As time passed, we came to understand one another. Many of the initial difficulties I encountered were gradually overcome, and my worries gradually disappeared. Now I can work and grow alongside other weavers, which is one of the most significant aspects of my life. I believe that by listening to my heart as I did in the beginning, I will be able to establish my own weaver’s path.

Peydang Siyu is a Truku youth from alang Bsuring, located in Xiulin Township, Hualien County, Taiwan. Since 2017, he has been a project assistant at the College of Indigenous Studies, National Dong Hwa University. His primary work is to implement the projects of Indigenous education policy for several authorites, including the Ministry of Education and the Council of Indigenous Peoples. He has participated in various weaving workshops, exhibitions, and sharing, since he began learning Truku traditional weaving in 2018.

It was published as part of a special issue on “Indigenous Weaving and Its Evolving Cultures.”

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