Effect: Sustenance

Type: Canoe

Composition: Wood

Place: Asia & the Pacific

Use: Fishing Canoe

Size: 12' 2"

Date: Late 20th century

Donor: Gift of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Washington, D.C.

Museum Location: 50

Subsistence fishing is a prime economic activity for the Yami people who made this canoe.


“Tatara”, Fishing Canoe, late 20th century
Orchid Island (Lanyu), Taiwan, Republic of China
Gift of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Washington, D.C.

On the beach after sunset many men gathered, ready to set out to sea. Some were working hard to tie up ropes for the oars, some were sorting fishing nets, others were smoking and chatting. These Yami men appeared extremely calm while preparing to go to sea in the slanting rays of the setting sun. They were familiar with the rhythm of the waves. It was the strong smell of ocean water and fish that especially delighted the Yami people during this season. Since ancient times when the flying fish folklore started, there had never been any island resident who did not love the ocean. The slanting rays of the setting sun shone between the crests of the waves and frequently glittered with the silver-white sparks, as if the fallen scales of flying fish were calling the Yami people’s fishing fleet. The waves very rhythmically spread over the expansive surface of the ocean.

The force by which the men stuck the oars into the ocean generated small whirlpools time after time. The fleet thus swiftly moved forward to track down the sea area where the flying fish flocked. Pure moonlight shone on the ocean. The boats near and far were clearly visible. There were so many stars in the sky that you could not see them all. The emotions you felt here were totally different from those on land. The silvery light shimmered on the waves rising here and falling there. The brave Yami men in every boat waited silently for the sign of fish to appear.

– Excerpt from “The Call of the Flying Fish”, In Leng-hai ch’ing-shen—hai-yang ch’ao-sheng-che (Cold Sea and Deep Affection—An Ocean Pilgrim) by Hsia-man Lan-po-an, 1997
Translated by Cathy Chu

The boat built by the Botel Tobago [Orchid Island] natives . . . is entirely unlike the boats built by any other peoples. There are several sizes of the truly splendid craft made in Botel Tobago [Orchid Island], ranging from a small canoe with a capacity for two persons, up to a large boat which will old twenty passengers. They moved their craft about at will, the high bow cutting through the waves; and in landing they passed through a rather dangerous surf without the least difficulty.

– Courtesy of Taipei Review

The tatara, as well as the larger ipanitika, is regarded as an extension of a man’s body. Boat making is a sacred mission for the Yami. The traditional colors of the canoes are red, from lateritic soil; black from soot on the bottom of cooking pots; and, white from lime.

Every piece of wood used in the construction of the canoe is fresh cut from live trees. It is taboo to use any dead wood in boat construction.

– James Davidson, 1903
The Island of Formosa Past and Present

Origin: Lanyu, Orchid Island, Republic of China, Taiwan