Every spring, when flying fish are carried to Taiwan by the Kuroshio Current, many fishermen are waiting for them. The most famous traditional flying fish festival is on Orchid Island, where the Tao people have lived for generations.

The influence of the flying fish on Tao culture is immense. Tao people call their island the home of the flying fish (‘ali bang bang’ in the Tao language), and even their calendar is closely related to the flying fish season: Spring is ‘rajun’ (the flying fish season), summer and autumn is ‘teteka’ (when the flying fish season ends), and winter is ‘aminon’ (when there is no flying fish).

The flying fish season on Orchid Island [zh] starts in March. When Cheilopogon unicolor fish (‘sosowon’ in Tao language) arrive, Tao people catch them at night using light to attract the flying fish. Researchers at the National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium in Taiwan described [zh] how only a few other Asian islands share this fishing technique with the Tao people on Orchid Island.


In addition to Orchid Island, catching flying fish by luring them with fire torch is only observed in Batan Island in the Philippines and in Japan. These islands are located along the Kuroshio Current. As a result, the Japanese researcher Kokubu Naoichi, who studies Kuroshio culture, once proposed to group these islands as ‘countries of the catching-flying-fish-by-fire-torch culture.’
Flying fish hung up to dry on Orchid Island. Photo by Grillmagic. CC: BY-NC-SA)
Flying fish hung up to dry on Orchid Island. Photo by Grillmagic. CC: BY-NC-SA)

In April and May, the most important flying fish is Cheilopogon spilonotopterus (‘papatawan’ in Tao language). Among all the flying fish swimming to Taiwan, the Tao people consider the Cheilopogon cyanopterus (‘mayaeng’ in Tao language) to be the most respectable because they believe that ‘mayaeng’ is the soul and chief of all flying fish species.

The fishermen preserve the fish by drying them in the sun. Flickr User Grillmagic took some photos of the fish-drying scene on Orchid Island in May 2012.

This year, YouTube user paudull accompanied by several residents of the island recorded the festival on his camera:


Below is a brief description of the video with corresponding time stamps:

1:12 – Throwing out the rope (about 600 meters) for trapping the flying fish (to the net).
1:40 – The fishermen jump into the water.
2:25 – They swim closer to each other to trap the flying fish with the net.
5:11 – Because none of us ate breakfast, someone cut two fish and made sashimi for breakfast.
5:35 – An illustration of the fish-catching strategy.
9:24 – The background music is a little bit boring. Let’s listen to a song from Orchid Island (‘A love song of a Tao man’).
12:29 – Wow, do you see that flying fish fly?
15:52 – At last, everyone happily brought some flying fish home.
16:00 – Cleaning and preparing the flying fish that were caught today with family.

As a backpacker to Orchid Island, Chia-Chi Tseng made a short film about the flying fish festival, ‘Libangbang’ (flying fish in Orchid Island), which was entered into the Golden Harvest Awards for films and documentaries. Below is the trailer:

Written by I-fan Lin

Originally posted in Global Voices on June 2, 2012


Read more

What is Taiwanese culture?

Strawberries on a stick in Taiwan

Where’s home if you grow up in two countries?

About the author

Ana Astri-O’Reilly is from Argentina, where she lived until five years ago. She currently lives in Dallas, USA with her British husband, but they move a lot. Previously a translator and English and Spanish teacher, Ana first started writing to share her experiences and adventures with friends and family. She speaks Spanish, English and a smattering of Portuguese.