The Miatungusu Ritual Music and Dance of the Hla’alua Tribe
Panay Mulu(CEO of Aboriginal Music, Culture and Education Foundation)

  Music of the Hla’alua tribe is not large in number. According to Taiwan Aboriginal Music Records in Aboriginal Music in Taiwan by Bingchuan Lu, Ishida Mikinosuke explains: “Rituals differ from tribe to tribe. In Gaozhong village, for example, it takes seven days to hold the ritual. On the third day, they use a sword to pierce a liquor-bottle cap made of taros leaf and start to drink the liquor prepared for the ritual. Then they will sing a ritual song that contains ten chapters, Ruwaririshi, and start to dance at home till the forth or fifth day when the ritual is moved to the outdoors. The song for dance is called “Miatungusu”; it has many sets of lyrics. The song has the power to call spirits back, so it can only be sung at worship rituals. The ritual to call spirits back has to be held on the sixth day.” (1982:84) The importance of Miatungusu to the Hla’alua is evident from this description. What worth noticing is the paragraph stated that the Miatungusu is a ritual with songs and dances; this is similar to the Harvest Festival of Amis, in which they use the term “malikuda” to include all and songs and dances that are exclusive to the Harvest Festival.

The vlangan of South-Tsou. Miatungusu dance. (Provided by Formosa Aboriginal Dance Theatre )

  Song and dance serve as the interval between different areas of the ritual of Miatungusu. With different forms of songs and dances, procedures of the ritual are unfolded. The music, songs and dances that are inherited form the spirit of ancestor form a “path” for spirits and tribe people to meet each other. The presentation of songs and dances re-present framework of the music and dances that correspond to the form of ancestor. To manifest the fact that Miatungusu contains both song and dance, the features of the songs and dances are explained as following:

1. Song:

  The word “song” in Hla’alua language is ”sahili”; “to sing a song” is “pa-mu-a-sahli”. There are three kinds of songs: ritual songs, children’s ballad, and antiphonal songs. Ritual songs, miatungusu, include eight songs as a suite, one millet ritual song and one returning from hunting ritual song. The main objects of these songs are gods, ancestor spirits and Nature. Children’s ballads are sung to individuals with unstable spirits. Antiphonal songs are songs that are sung between persons; these are songs for stable living spirits of adults. The Hla’alua use different songs that correspond to individuals and present areas of different levels, such as “human versus immense and mysterious time and space”, “human versus uncertain spirits”, “human versus human”

According to Mr. Amalanamahlu, Miatungusu is made up of eight ritual songs; the sequence is as following:

  1. luua likihli(sweet potato)
  2. malalalangu(song for preparation)
  3. miatungusu(song for dance)
  4. hliialo lavahli(prepared Bird's-nest fern)
  5. palitavatavali(head counting song)
  6. tahlukumai(antiphonal love songs for man and woman)
  7. varatuvatu(song of separation)
  8. tapisimu(Men’s short skirt)
The vlangan. Head-counting song and dance. (Provided by Formosa Aboriginal Dance Theatre )

  The discussion of songs can be divided into melody and lyrics. The lyrics contain substantial words and decorative words. For substantial words, one syllable stands for one note, while decorative words such as “a-i-u”, “tu-li-si”, or “i-a-na” often appear at the last part of a song as an ending. The major feature of melody is the up and down of perfect 4th. It is a custom to sing the calling sound “wu” in the first line by using major 3rd. Once in a while, the song will have harmony of 3rd or 4th intervals. But for the last few songs such as the “song of separation”, “men’s short skirt” (song for fun), or “song of happiness”, perfect 4th that contains three notes of major 2nd or major 3rd is used. To integrate the dance, the lines of the music are neat and the melody keeps repeating to finish the lyrics. All these emphasize the dull atmosphere of a ritual. The last note of the song will end in slid down or narration.

2. Dance:

The word “dance” in Hla’alua language is “mu-sua-ra-vu”. The body movements in the ritual procedure of Miatungusu have the following features:

  1. a. Formation: there are three basic formations: circle, semicircle, and lines. They separate the areas of god and human by moving circles. The open part of the semicircle is to emphasize different themes of the different stages of the ritual. The line formation is to ease the seriousness of the ritual. By breaking the wholeness of the space, the tribe people are moving from ritual to secular area.
  2. b. Hand-holding forms: to hold the hand of every other person in the line or to hold rattan rings with people at both sides. The different ways of holding hands represent the magnetic field created through the distances among human bodies.
  3. c. Body movements: The body movements include obvious bending and lowering the heads for stop; feet movements that focus on left foot are also emphasized. It is common to expend the time of bending at the beginning of the song in order to separate the songs. The author also suggests that the bending symbolizes the entering of another area, otherwise it may not appear at the disconnected spots of transformed formations. The draw steps of both feet also magnify the effect of stillness.
  4. d. Costume: The differences between male and female costumes lead to different presentations of movements. Female, with the restriction of long skirts, have softer movements; male, with pants-like tying-cloth, can move at greater range. The movements also show the different regulations and expectations applied on male and female.
  5. e. Expression: Tribe people will show expressions that match the theme of different phases in the ritual. Their eyes can express the theme the most. If there is sacrifice in the ritual, everyone will attentively gaze at the sacrifice. If there’s no sacrifice in the circle, everyone will look at the center in 45 degrees so the whole ritual becomes solemn. When singing the song of separation, man and woman will look at each other to emphasize the human orientation of this song; their expression will also become softer and have smile on their faces.


  This essay focuses on the eight ritual songs and dances of Miatungusu and analyzes the melody, lyrics, and dance moves. These details of ritual songs and dances have the function of dividing areas, and mark the time-space level in the song. The lyrics contain substantial words and decorative words. For substantial words, one syllable stands for one note; the most common decorative words are “a-i-u”, “tu-li-si”, or “i-a-na”.

   For melody, the horizontal feature is the perfect 4th up/down, and the vertical feature is the harmony of 3rd or 4th. The perfect 4th harmony is influenced by the harmony of Bunun Tribe; the major 3rd harmony is influenced by the North-Tsou.

   The characteristic of the dances are analyzed from aspects which include: formation, hand-holding, body movement, costume, and expression. By interpreting the “body language” in the ritual, there can be more understanding about the dull ritual.   

  The Miatungusu is a ritual which combines songs and dances; the songs perfectly integrated neat lyrics and body movements, stamping the left foot while bending and lowering the head can match down beats of the songs as well as adjust the breath of singers. The whole dance and music thus present a mood of harmony and stability.