Prior to large-scale Han Chinese settlement during the Qing Dynasty, Taiwan was primarily inhabited by various Austronesian peoples.
Taiwan was originally inhabited by various Austronesian peoples, whose ancestors are believed to have made their way to Taiwan from the Asian mainland approximately 6,500 years ago.
Han Chinese settlement in Taiwan began when the southern part of the island was colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, and increased after the Dutch were driven off the island by the Ming Dynasty loyalist Zheng Chenggong (known in the West as Koxinga) in 1668. He set up the Kingdom of Tungning in the hopes of recapturing the Chinese mainland from the ruling Manchus of the Qing Dynasty, but that was conquered by the Qing in 1683. Han Chinese settlement in Taiwan would continue throughout the Qing Dynasty, until the island was taken by Japan in 1895 following their defeat of China in the First Sino-Japanese War.
Taiwan would be returned to China in 1945, following Japan's defeat at the end of World War II. The final wave of Han Chinese settlement would then occur in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when the Nationalists and many of their followers fled to Taiwan as refugees following their defeat by the Communists in the Chinese Civil War.
Today, indigenous people account for less than 3% of Taiwan's population. Most of the indigenous peoples of the west coast plains were either killed in armed conflicts with Han Chinese settlers, or intermarried and assimilated into the Han Chinese, and today indigenous cultures are best preserved in the highlands, on the east coast, and on outlying islands off the east coast.
The Taiwanese government officially recognizes 16 indigenous ethnic groups, namely the Amis (阿美族), Atayal (泰雅族), Bunun (布農族), Hla'alua (拉啊魯哇族), Kanakanavu (卡那卡那富族), Kavalan (噶瑪蘭族), Paiwan (排灣族), Puyuma (卑南族), Rukai (魯凱族), Saisiyat (賽夏族), Tao (達悟族) (previously known as Yami [雅美族]), Thao (邵族), Tsou (鄒族), Truku (太魯閣族) (also known as Taroko), Sakizaya (撒奇萊雅族) and Sediq (賽德克族) (also spelled Seediq). The official umbrella term covering all the indigenous peoples is 原住民 (yuán zhù mín), which is now preferred over numerous derogatory terms that were historically widely used. In mainland China, the government recognizes the indigenous Taiwanese as one of the 55 official ethnic minorities under the umbrella term Gaoshan people (高山族, lit. "people of the high mountains").
Politically, perhaps surprisingly, the indigenous Taiwanese are considered to be a vote bank for the pro-reunification Kuomintang (KMT) rather than the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), though the DPP has made inroads among the younger generation. The indigenous Taiwanese are guaranteed a minimum of six seats in legislative elections.
Most indigenous people in Taiwan are Christians due to the work of Spanish and Dutch missionaries during their respective colonizations of parts of the island, though numerous traditional animist rituals and festivals continue to survive in the local cultures.
In modern times, many indigenous Taiwanese have had successful careers in the entertainment industry. Perhaps the most famous of them is the Puyuma singer Kulilay Amit, better known by her Chinese name Chang Huei-mei (張惠妹), who has scored numerous chart-topping hits across the Chinese-speaking world.
The indigenous people in Taiwan speak a variety of Austronesian languages, which are related to Malay, Indonesian, Tagalog and various other languages throughout the Malay Archipelago, Oceania and Madagascar. These languages are all different, meaning that there is no single phrasebook that will cover you for all the indigenous peoples. However, as Mandarin is the lingua franca of Taiwan and the primary medium of instruction in local schools, most non-elderly indigenous people, including virtually all people you are likely to interact with as a tourist, are also able to speak Mandarin. Indigenous people from different ethnic groups usually communicate with each other in Mandarin as their respective ethnic languages are usually not mutually intelligible.
The Amis greeting "Naruwan", meaning "Welcome", is widely used in advertising and the tourism industry as a representative greeting of the indigenous Taiwanese.
- Orchid Island — mainly inhabited by the Tao ethnic group
- Hualien — has the largest indigenous population among Taiwan's major cities. The main ethnic groups represented are the Amis, Atayal, Truku and Bunun. The region has jade mines and was part of the maritime jade route beginning before 2000 BCE.
- Taitung — a city known for its large indigenous population, with the Amis bring the largest ethnic group among them.
- 1 Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village (九族文化村) (Yuchi, Nantou County). A theme park and cultural village showcasing the cultures of nine of Taiwan's indigenous ethnic groups, namely Amis, Atayal, Bunun, Paiwan, Puyuma, Rukai, Sasiyat, Tao and Tsou.
- 2 Ketagalan Culture Center (凱達格蘭文化館) (Beitou, Taipei). Cultural centre dedicated to the original indigenous peoples of the region around Taipei.
- 3 Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines (順益臺灣原住民博物館) (Shilin, Taipei). A stone's throw away from the more famous National Palace Museum, this is a private museum exhibiting indigenous cultures from all over Taiwan.
- 4 Wushe Incident Memorial Park (霧社事件紀念公園) (Ren'ai, Nantou). Commemorates the Musha Incident of 1930, in which 644 indigenous Sediq people were massacred by the Japanese colonial authorities.
- 5 Beinan Site Park (卑南遺址) (Taitung). Archeological site of the largest Neolithic settlement to have been found in Taiwan to date.
- 6 National Museum of Prehistory (國立臺灣史前文化博物館) (Taitung). Museum showcasing many of the artifacts found during archaeological digs of the Beinan Site. Also has exhibits about the development of the indigenous cultures in Taiwan.
- 7 Amis Folk Center (阿美族民俗中心) (Chenggong, Taitung County). Outdoor museum showcasing the traditional lifestyles and arts of the Amis people.
- 8 Bunun Tribal Leisure Farm (布農部落休閒農場) (Yanping, Taitung County). Farm run by the Bunun people, it also serves as a cultural center where tourists can partake in traditional Bunun cultural activities.
Having long suffered from discrimination at the hands of both the Qing Chinese and Japanese colonial governments, the indigenous Taiwanese are generally in an economically disadvantaged position relative to their Han Chinese counterparts. Since the democratization of Taiwan in the 1990s, the government has been taking steps to address their historical grievances and help them preserve their cultures and languages. Relations between the indigenous Taiwanese and the Han Chinese majority are now peaceful, though there is still lingering mistrust of the Minnan-speaking majority, which usually manifests in the form of votes for the KMT at the ballot box.
Although many Han Chinese people in Taiwan, particularly those with pro-independence leanings, refer to the Minnan dialect as "Taiwanese", this is offensive to many indigenous people, as it is not one of Taiwan's indigenous languages, but was instead brought over by Han Chinese settlers from South Fujian beginning in the 17th century.