Making Saisiyat 賽夏 aboriginal good luck owls in Nanzhuang, Miaoli, Taiwan

Owls are a good luck symbol in Taiwan. I had the amazing good fortune that my Auntie knows Teacher Zhang of the Saisiyat aboriginal tribe, and she happened to be at her shop the afternoon we stopped by Nanzhuang town in the mountains of Miaoli, my mother’s ancestral home. I saw her handmade owls at a shop and wanted to buy one when my Aunt convinced to go straight to the source, Teacher Zhang. So up the windy mountain road to Xiang Tian Hu (“Facing the Sky Lake”) we drove to find her. Not only did she have lots of owls, she took the afternoon to teach me how to make them, treated us to watermelon smoothies, and dressed me up in traditional Saisiyat clothing. 

Making the owls is really quite simple. To save time, Teacher Zhang had pre-made thin isosceles (two sides the same length) triangular pouches using handwoven Saisiyat wool/cotton cloth. She taught me then to hand sew the open bottom with a simple in-out stitch and then stuff it with polyester stuffing while scrunching the pouch closed like a tiny sack. We glue-gunned a small wooden disc to the bottom (you can also use a small cloth circle) to seal it shut, then glue-gunned the top flap of the triangle down to make the beak, and finally glue-gunned the googly eyes and the optional stick at the owl’s feet. Ta-da! Your owl is ready to bestow good luck (and apparently is especially skilled at granting women who want to get pregnant their wish…not that this is what I want but may be handy for friends who do).