Truku Aboriginal Knife

Truku / Atayal Knife

I  recently spent a few weeks on vacation in Taiwan, and with some difficulty managed to find a large knife or small sword made by the Truku aboriginal tribe, formerly classified as part of the Atayal people.  Aside from it being a unique weapon, I thought I’d post directions to the blacksmith shop for anyone who may be in Taiwan and searching for it, since it was relatively difficult to find.

If you’re like I was, you primarily associate Taiwan with the Chinese, the country where Chiang Kai-shek fled to escape the communists.  I was interested in visiting China without the Cultural Revolution, to see traditional Chinese culture that hadn’t been wiped out by both the Cultural Revolution and the extreme modernization where “to be rich is glorious”.  And in that sense, Taiwan didn’t disappoint.  The National Palace Museum in Taipei contains the largest collection of ancient Chinese artifacts in the world, for example, as when the nationalists fled mainland China, they brought many treasures with them.  Traditional Chinese culture seemed to be alive and well in Taiwan, and talking with locals, they voiced the same idea regarding having a better preserved traditional culture than what you’ll find in much of the mainland.

But anyway, Taiwan is much more than the Chinese who fled there.  There is a large population of native inhabitants, or Taiwanese aboriginal tribes.  Driving along the east coast, in the Rift Valley, or in the mountainous areas of the country, the smaller towns are more aboriginal than Chinese.  The scenery is spectacular, particularly in and around the the Taroko and Yushan National Parks.  There are countless hikes on well maintained trails, including very long and high suspension bridges:

Walami Trail

Walami Trail

In the aboriginal areas, most towns have statues like these at the entrance on the main streets:

Taiwanese Aboriginal Statue

Taiwanese Aboriginal Statue

Every one of the statues we saw included the traditional knife/sword:

Aboriginal Statue

Aboriginal Statue

Before I left for Taiwan, I did a search on Netflix for Taiwanese movies, and came across a movie called Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale.  The movie is about the Wushe Rebellion, an uprising against the Japanese by the Seediq tribe in 1930.  Here’s the trailer:

The movie may not be entirely accurate, but I highly recommend it if you like action movies.  It was filmed in Taiwan, and the scenery is exactly what you see there, particularly in the aboriginal areas and national parks.

After seeing the movie and the unique blades of the Seediq, I figured I’d have to find one for myself.  The Seediq tribe are from the Hualien area of Taiwan, and were previously grouped together with the Truku tribe as Atayal people.  The weapons of the Atayal, Seediq, and Truku are indistinguishable, at least from what I can tell.  So I searched and searched, found a few pictures of the traditional knives being sold in Taiwan, but was unable to locate them where they had been previously seen.

At our hotel in the Taroko National Park, I met an Atayal man and asked him if the knives were still being made and where I could find them.  He gave me directions to what may be the last aboriginal blacksmith in the country who is still making these weapons.

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop

Here is an article I found in English about the shop.  The only way to get there is with your own transportation.  My wife and I had rented a car, but even with directions it was difficult to find.  Hopefully the following images will make it easier.  The shop is located on Huadong Rd. in a village called Tongmen.  Here it is on a map:

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop Map

Tonglan Blacksmith Shop Map

And here is a closer satellite view of the town:

Atayal, Seediq, Truku Knife Shop

Atayal, Seediq, Truku Knife Shop

If you’re coming from Hualien and taking Highway 9, you’ll see the big lake, and should be able to find the shop from there.  The problem for anyone, such as myself, who cannot read Chinese characters, is that even with a GPS you will not be able to enter in the location.

The shop was empty when I arrived.  I got out of the car and walked around a bit, saw a girl walking down the street, and gestured toward the shop.  She slid the door right open and sold me the knife pictured at the top of this post.  Here’s another image:

Atayal Truku Knife

Atayal / Truku Knife

I had actually hoped to purchase a full sized sword, as they’re made with the same design in a variety of sizes.  A Google Image search for “atayal sword” will pull up several examples, such as this one from a site displaying Atayal cultural items:

Atayal Sword

Atayal Sword

Unfortunately though, it seems like the swords are no longer made.  However, the knife I was able to purchase (for about $100), is fairly large at 22 inches.

From what I’ve read, the unique open sheath design is used to keep moisture from collecting inside the sheath.  Taiwan is extremely humid, and it rains often.  So this makes sense.

It’s sad when quality elements and arts of traditional cultures die out, so I’m posting the information above in hopes that anyone else looking for a Taiwanese aboriginal knife or sword will be able to find the shop and keep them in business…keeping the art alive!

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