The Rukai, one of Taiwan’s sixteen indigenous tribes, inhabit the high mountains of southern Taiwan. Difficulties of travel in the high mountains and limited contact even among people of the same tribe have resulted in six distinct dialects of Rukai. Tribesman of the Rukai and neighboring tribes were fiercely protective of their hunting lands, and would hunt the heads of intruders to bring back to their village as trophies. This practice persisted among Taiwan’s tribes (possibly) as late as the 1960s.
In the Rukai caste system, an elected chief presides at the top and receives tribute and honors. The nobles own all property, conduct trade, and preserve the stories and songs of the people. The lowly commoners do the farming and menial tasks. Even a person’s birth name reflects his status in the community. The only way for him to better his status is through marriage or battle.
The Rukai have a tremendous spiritual need. While statistics list the tribal people of Taiwan as “75% Christian,” this is far from the truth. To hear these people are considered “Christian” is frustrating when you visit them and actually see sacrifices to appease evil spirits, shamanistic ceremonies, and a very confusing blend of tribal animism, Buddhism, and Taoism with a flair of Christianity. Shall we allow the lost world to label hundreds of thousands of people as “Christian,” yet never go and see the dire need of souls still lost and bound for hell? We have asked many Rukai what the Gospel is, who God is, who Jesus is, and what their church is like. Every time they are confused, unwilling to engage on the subject, and demonstrate a general lack of interest. They change the subject, their faces darken, and it is plain to see they do not know who God is, who Jesus is, or what a precious gift God’s Word in their own language is.