Every year, Lanyu’s villages are swept up in traditional festivals, considered by many to be the most colourful and exotic in Taiwan, and certainly the most profound and vivid expressions of the enduring Tao identity. The three major events are listed below.

The Flying-Fish Festival (蘭嶼飛魚季; lányŭ fēiyújì) which takes place every spring – usually in March – just before the flying-fish (fēiyú) season begins, is essentially a coming-of-age ceremony for young Tao males that also is viewed as the harbinger of a plentiful summer flying-fish catch. During the festival, young men dressed in loincloths, steel helmets and breastplates chant for the return of the flying fish before they paddle out to sea in their canoes. The flying fish is an important figure in Tao mythology, and historically it was felt that the more flying fish a young man could catch, the greater his merit to a would-be bride.

The Millet Harvest Festival, usually held in mid-June, is a vibrant extravaganza highlighted by an ancient dance performed by the men and the surreal hair dance of long-haired Tao women. The latter, which entails the synchronized, dervish-like whirling of long locks of hair by women in a circle, is an unforgettable sight.

Boat-launching festivals are much harder to track down, as they are only held when a village has finished building a handmade canoe, and the completion dates for these are always very rough estimates (but are usually in the warmer months). However, if your visit coincides with the launch of a new canoe, you’re in for a real treat. The ornate vessels are built through a painstaking process of binding 27 separate pieces of wood together without a single nail, which typically takes two to three years to complete. Once a canoe has been built, intricately carved and painted in red, white and black, villagers hold a monumental feast in preparation for the ceremonial launch. Once everyone has finished eating, the canoes are carried down to the sea, where the men perform an elaborate dance in the water before paddling out into the open ocean.

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