The social and ritual supremacy of the first-born: Paiwan kinship and chieftainship

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Taiwan, social supremacy, Cultural anthropology

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Archaeological Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


The Paiwan, one of the aboriginal groups of Taiwan, have been studied by Japanese and Chinese scholars since the Japanese colonial era. This study is based on an extensive fieldwork for over ten years, covering more than eight villages. Since their hereditary chieftainship has now been disorganized reports of the Japanese colonial administration, when chieftainship was more powerful, were used along with participant observation in the field.

Traditional Paiwan kinship and chieftainship has previously been reported as a ramage-like hierarchical political organization, as in other Pacific societies. But, the Paiwan are demonstrably different from other reported Oceanian societies as a result of certain organizational principles, which operate against the formation of descent groups. Elsewhere in Oceania, the primacy of the firstborn is widely recognized but preference is given to male primogeniture. Among the Paiwan the firstborn, regardless of sex, holds all socio-jural and magico-religious rights. The chief's office is held by the firstborn, male or female. The clear difference between firstborn and non-firstborn coincides with Paiwan ideas concerning the oldest and younger, since the firstborn controls the fertility of land. Gifts are given from non-firstborn to their firstborn after harvests of millet.

The Paiwan perceive kinship relations from the point of view of the conjugal pair as a unit. Paiwan chiefs as a couple take leadership in their village, recognizing both superior and inferior relations as the eldest to their younger siblings' spouses and as the eldest in their sibling set. In succeeding generations, relationship or household superiority or inferiority are changed with the new marriages of those generations. Marriage prohibitions against any closer than second cousins and class endogamy among chiefly families contribute to an extensive affinal kin network. It is impossible to establish lasting hierarchical rank among chiefs. The only way a chief can increase in power is to marry another firstborn chief.


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