Photographs and Information about Taiwan's Culture, Nature and People by Rich Matheson

Sanming, San Ming, Namasia, Namaxia, Namasiya or Namasya 那瑪夏, 三民鄉


Although Namasia has been all over the news recently as a village hit hard by Typhoon Morakot,  I suspect most Taiwanese know little of the area. Especially because of the name confusion. Namasia was called San Ming and was only recently renamed Namasia. To compound confusion even more, there seems to be no standard English spelling adopted by the media. I used to spell it Namasiya which I saw in a newspaper article explaining the name change, but now Namasia is more popular. Until last month I still said San Ming because people were more likely to know this name and I wouldn’t have to get into the above explanation.

DSC_8432View of Yushan from the confluence of Nantzuhsien and Vuvuyu rivers in Namasia

I have no idea of spellings of the new names for the three villages, except Takanua which is on their school uniforms, although I have only seen it spelled Dakanuwa by foreign media.

That said I will post an old article that I published here in 2004. Not much had really changed though, at least not until last month.


Here is the unedited, very verbose, original article with notes in red where I have edited or added comments:

San Ming now Namasia is in Kaohsiung County between Toayuan and Alishan in Jiayi County. The three main villages going upriver are Ming Tzu (Nangisalu), Ming Chuan (Mangchu) (now Maya, Mangchu was another old name that wasn’t official, nor were Nangisalu and Takanua ) and Ming Shen (Takanu’ua) (now officially Takanua)1and 2 (Takanua used to be one village but was swept away by a typhoon fifty years ago on August the seventh, for some reason they regrouped in two villages on either side of the old village) and are nestled in the Nan Tzu Shien River valley. The river’s name was recently changed to Chi Shan River by the county because it is such an important water source for Kaohsiung. The locals prefer to call it by its old name, and some Zhou still use its original name “Na Ma Hsia”(yet another spelling). The river is corralled on the East by the Yu Shan Range and to the West by the lower but more rugged Alishan range. Residing in an area of 250 square kilometers is a population of approximately 3400.

_RJM5486Ming Shen (Takanua) Villages 1 and 2

The Nan Tzu Hsien River’s origin is the snow capped peaks of Yu Shan and it tumbles down the south west face and enters San Ming at the Danayiku gorge. Forty-five km of river pass through San Ming with 11 tributaries flowing into it. Twenty-eight of the kilometers are protected. It was the first protected river in Taiwan under mayor Sun Rong Shien. The lowest point in San Ming is 430m at the river bottom and Mount Hsing Wang Ling rises to 2481m as the highest peak.

_RJM8147Ming Chuan Suspension bridge was not washed away by Morakot

The San Ming region is unique for being multitribal. Taiwan is a very homogeneous society, and most aboriginal areas are limited to a single tribe. San Ming has the distinction of having representatives of every one  of Taiwan’s twelve tribes (now 14  tribes are officially recognized) with the exceptions of Da Wu and Ping Pu (I wonder where I got my facts, Ping Pu/Sirayan are still unrecognized, let’s hope the loss of Xiao Lin will change that ). Although there is was a picturesque Ping Pu village on the way to San Ming–Shiao Lin. Historically the San Ming region was part of the Zhou Aboriginal area called Kanakanavu. The Bunong migrated into the area from Nan Tou after the Zhou population was reduced by illness. Next came Tai Ya from Hsin Zhu. Most of the other Taiwanese Aboriginal tribes represented in the three villages arrived in San Ming through marriage or migration. There is also a smattering of non-Aboriginals, about 400 people or 12% of the population. Nowadays the Bunong are the majority with a population of 2330 and Bunun is the major language spoken. Zhou is still the second most populous tribe in the area at about 500 and can mostly be found in the village of Ming Shen._RJM5500

San Ming valley is blessed with lush green vegetation and crystal clear water, indeed, one could day it’s an undiscovered outdoor paradise. Until recently, there was very little in the way of tourist traffic and the related trappings, unlike the popular tourist destination Holy Mount Zion (also in San Ming but not governed by it as it was originally an illegal squatting settlement). Recently however, the San Ming Government has been working to get more tourist revenue into the area. The Mayor of San Ming told me that developing tourism was their highest priority. He said that they are promoting the area’s natural resources (river, fish, mountains, wildlife) , the area’s culture (aboriginal art and dance) and farming ( the areas seasonal fruit and vegetables). In promoting nature, one of the new projects is the Na Tzu Lan River Protected Area. Following the signs up the mountain from Ming Chuan the protected area has several buildings where aboriginal crafts are sold and aboriginal dances are held, although at irregular times. In this writer’s opinion the real attraction of the area is the trails that have been built along the river. Some guide you through manicured cherry and plum blossoms, some are educational with signs telling of the local flora, a popular one is through a camphor forest but the best simply follow the river and stumble onto gorgeous waterfalls, river sculpted rock and a long forgotten camphor oil camp with intact but overgrown ovens for making camphor oil. There is also a bat cave. An old Japanese era tunnel was found recently and inside there are many bats. If you are claustrophobic or afraid of snakes it is not recommended. (This was a bit of a failure, but the trails are? still there) A culture project nearing completion is Ming Chuan villages’ facelift. Originally bare cement walls, corrugated tin roofs with water tanks perched on top and dusty littered streets made “quaint” too flattering a description for the village. Recently the houses were all covered in wood and bamboo and decorated with local motifs and materials. An outstanding example is the tea shop directly across from Ba Li Hsiang with its exquisite bamboo work and Bunong calendar motifs, now the village is well worth visiting.

_RJM8232Sanmin tropical peaches are known for their sweetness and, although difficult to grow, are a good money earner for villagers. Sadly, David Petley writes”…I do also think that some existing activities in the mountains cause too much environmental damage — in highland areas fruit farming appears to be causing high levels of degradation for example….” in his informative and positive post on Taiwan’s slides.

Other popular spots are watching the sun rise over Ming Shen and set over the Ali Shan Range from Yu Da Mountain. San Ming Fire is an interesting anomaly with fire rising out of the hillside in a similar fashion to the fire at Guan Tzu Ling. Rafting the Nan Tzu Hsien is extremely exciting but your own raft is required as there are no outfits running the river yet. During the wet summer months running the river is quite dangerous and, according to a friend, several outsiders have died while attempting this. We had a grand time rafting from just above the first village to Ming Chuan Big Bridge and are planning more trips for boating season this year.(we explored most of the san ming stretch and there was some great parts) As with any outdoor sport if you attempt this you do so at your own risk. Firefly and butterfly watching is also a popular pastime with 89 species of butterfly and the forest lighting up with the light of fireflies at night. Long Fong is the most popular of the waterfalls in the area and with good reason. It’s quite an impressive waterfall. From the parking lot, where cold drinks and local products are sold, a pleasant ten minute walk takes you to the waterfall and above the waterfalls there are great pots carved in the stone that are perfect for swimming. Heavenly Fairy waterfall is also a popular falls and probably the highest accessible falls. Chang Chun Gorge is on highway 21 past Holy Mount Zion. There is a pagoda built for viewing the gorge and a little farther along, before the large Bridge Number 14, there is river access and one of the nicest swimming holes with a view of the gorge. Just past #14 Bridge is the cultural gate to San Ming and off to the right is the Lao Ren River protected area. This area has been protected for five years and is similar to the newer Na Tzu Lan River Protected Area. The old Ming Chuan School site up above the new village has some lovely old camphor trees and views of the valley. There is also great hiking in the area but it is not developed to the extent that most Taiwanese expect. The trails are often unmarked hunting trails that would be very easy to lose if unfamiliar with the area. Two of the more established trails are to Second River Mountain, a pleasant half hour hike to a bamboo covered peak, and to Mount Hsing Wang Ling a hard overnight trek.  If you are an experienced hiker you may consider walking all the way to Yu Shan. A friend and I walked down from Tatachia(Yushan’s trailhead) in three days. There are other amazing hikes that can be found by exploration. If you are used to national park trails, understand that this area needs to be considered carefully as the jungle is thick and it is quite remote.

DSC_2924Richard(Barking Deer Tours) and Chris ride the Nantzuhsien riverDSC_2909My wife Alas and her twin sister Abas with all their safety gear on. My wife is the one with her helmet on backwardsDSC_2917Ebu and Carl triumphantly navigate a rough stretch of the Nantzuhsien River_RJM4128Fireflies near the fish conservation area

The wildlife in the San Ming Valley is plentiful. Twenty-nine different mammals, 97 kinds of birds, 30 reptiles, 16 amphibians, 18 kinds of fish and an amazing variety of plant life. Sadly however, the fauna is rarely seen from the roadside. According to Alas, a local of Ming Chuan, fifteen or so years ago there were monkeys on the road, deer and boar were often seen and the butterflies were thick in the sky. She says the butterflies are disappearing because of the pesticides used by farmers and the animals likely due to poor hunting practices. If you are lucky you will still see many animals from the roadside. Not long ago after a typhoon Alas and I were above Ming Chuan picking “salahudu” a leafy plant used in soups. Alas ran into the bamboo and shortly came back triumphantly holding this fierce looking animal about the size of a terrier. The pacifist in me told her to let it go. She told me her mother particularly liked eating this animal and that was that. On the way down loaded with two black garbage bags full of salahudu, two people and a wild animal, the civet got it’s teeth into my back in a particularly nasty stretch of typhoon damaged road. We went down. When I extricated myself from the motorcycle I saw Alas through my bloody smashed glasses, stuck under the motorcycle but still clinging to the civet. I pleaded with her to let it go and when she did it went for her neck, I pulled it off her neck and flung it into the forest where it calmly sauntered back into the jungle, perhaps unaware it was nearly a meal.

anamalocera olivacea insularisA metalic scarab or ‘anamalocera olivacea insularis’. One of the prettier bugs that grace my land

The local Aboriginal cuisine is similar to Chinese cooking but, as much of the meat is shot or trapped it often has a gamier taste than many are used to. At festivals or large gatherings the tables are filled with flying squirrel, mountain boar, deer, rats and mountain birds. I once sampled raw pickled flying squirrel intestines. Vegetables and leaves are often foraged as they grow abundantly by the sides of the road and are tastier than many bought vegetables. One of the stranger dishes is called stinky meat. This is meat that has been left in the trap for too long and starts to rot. It is specially prepared and is surprisingly tasty. I was warned not to eat too much as, although tasty, it may not be too good for you. There are simple noodle and rice shops in all three villages and places of note are; Buan Mas Asik Tu Sinpatuhavit (reported in What’s New, May 2003) and Ba Li Shiang (reported in the What’s New section of this magazine) in Ming Chuan. Also of note in Ming Chuan is the tea shop across from Ba Li Hsiang, while not serving aboriginal cuisine, it is beautifully decorated with bamboo and aboriginal motifs. They serve American style fried chicken and fries and tea. In Ming Tzu, Mr. Huang has planted about 1000 organic coffee trees below his café “Nangisalu” that you can walk down to. This is a lovely open café with a view of the river and the striking Teng Bao Mountain that Mr. Huang told me came about because there was no money in fruit farming.

_RJM4168The Bunun are great hunters as evidenced by this barbeque. Formosan macaque and Reeves Muntjac

As well as the Na Tzu Lan River area shops and Ba Li Shiang, there are also several other places to buy local arts. In Ming Shen the recently opened Ma Ya workshop sells bags, belts and other leather crafts in a nicely designed shop that is well worth checking out as is La Hu workshop that sells hand made Aboriginal clothing and crafts. In Ming Tzu a small shop sells local crafts and clothing. In Ming Chuan, R Bu Luo has a large selection of hand made clothing and crafts and Ba Li Shiang also has a small selection of art and crafts.  Jin Bao Bunong culture workshop, dream workshop, as well as roadside stalls and the culture center.

DSC_8459Eric navigates the upper stretch of Nan tsu hsien river

Also in Ming Chuan is the local pottery workshop. While not really a shop, people can drop in and check out the pottery made by local artists and the teacher, Hai Sul. At first glance Hai Sul looks more at home in the role of policeman, which he is, than artist, which he also is. I sat down and talked to Hai Sul between his rounds. A dark stocky man with muscular hands ideal for working clay, he is thoughtfully articulate, interesting and has a strong sense of culture. In 1993 as a policeman in Tainan he studied pottery and as his skill improved so did his interest. Returning to his birthplace he was re-inspired by his Bunong culture which he worked into his pottery to great effect. At his workshop you can see a large brick kiln that he prefers over gas and electric because of practicality-frequent power outages, expense of gas-and aesthetics. He has been exhibiting nationally since 1997 and is a well known. He says he is fortunate that he doesn’t depend on pottery for a living so he can work when inspired instead of churning out work for money. I think this shows in his art._RJM5955

There are several annual festivals held in San Ming, the largest is Da Er Festival usually held in May or June. The origin of this festival is the youths of the area would practice their bowmanship by hitting a hanging pigs ear, hence the name da er, or hit the ear. This year the festival will be a little bit different as tribes from all over the island are invited to come and participate. According to San Ming’s Mayor Ke, San Ming is the ideal place for a trans-tribe festival as Taiwan’s Aboriginal Tribes are so well represented in San Ming. The Mayor went on to explain that although the festival is held at the traditional time as the Bunong Festival, it can’t really be called Da Er Festival. This new festival will be held on May 14 this year._RJM2469

Other festivals are Bei Shen Festival in February, Millet Festival in August, River Festival in September and Christmas in December. Aboriginals celebrating Christmas may seem strange but most aboriginals are Christian and on Christmas Eve midnight the whole village walks through the streets holding candles and singing silent night and ends at the church for a Christmas service a day of games and a feast in the evening. It is perhaps one of the places with the most genuine Christmas spirit in Taiwan.

DSC_8406Campsite at confluence of Vuvuyu and Nantsuhsien rivers

Places to Stay

Hu Song’s Relaxation Farm

High above the village of Ming Chuan near the Nan Tzu Lan River Preservation Area there are deluxe cabins with A/C a barbeque area and a tent area. Run by the past Mayor of San Ming so a great place to get information._RJM0712

Labinya Hostel and Campground

Accessed by a very steep road the hostel is near many San Ming attractions such as San Ming Fire and Yu Da Mountain Viewpoint.

Falas Hostel

Tel:0928156034, (07)6701538

A great place to get farther out of the village is Falas just beyond lung fong waterfall. This is a large field impossibly perched on a very steep hillside where you can pitch a tent or stay in a room. There are dances and other activities planned by the boss when there are a lot of guests. Having lived in the area since childhood the boss is a great person for information. He will drive hikers to hiking trailheads such as Mount Hsin Wang Ling (eight hours return) and take groups hiking.

In Ming Chuan Village

Wang Ching He Hostel, Zhan Mei Hostel

In Ming Shen 1

Wu Na Hostel, Hsi Na’s Place, Ning Ni Gu, Lu Hing Hostel

DSC_2897Carl plays in the Nan tzu hsien river

Getting There

There are two Major routes to San Ming. The best road is up Hwy. #21 from Jia Shen on the South Cross Island Hwy(#21). The second route on a considerably smaller road is via Cha Shan on number 129-1 from either Long Mei (Shi Tou) on the Central Cross Island Hwy (#18) via Country Road #129 or from Zeng Wen Dam’s Hwy #3 also via Country Road #129.

For information call the County Gov. at (07) 6701001 or English friendly information at Ba Li Shiang (07)6701387 (ask for Ebu).


4 responses

  1. Nice done report and excellent article!
    Great photos as well.

    August 29, 2009 at 3:59 am

  2. Pingback: Weekly Links – September 3, 2009 « The Daily Bubble Tea

  3. Thank you for the detailed report. It’s the best I have read for the area. I first discovered your blog from a Google search of the Marokot typhoon. Continue the good work.

    October 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm

  4. Ada Huang-Scott

    Looking at your photos of the mtns, people, and evens again and again, and they still touch my heart so much! Thank you! Can I purchase the photo of Fireflies you posted here? I’d like to develpe it to a A4 size (maybe a bit bigger) photo and hang on my wall in the house. See you and family soon!! 😀

    November 17, 2009 at 8:59 am

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