With a population of about 83,000, the Atayal are distributed over a larger area than any other aboriginal people.
The Atayal men are known for their military prowess and hunting skills, while the women are famous for weaving. Facial tattooing used to be a feature among both men and women as a token of adulthood or honor, or to differentiate them from other tribes at a time when headhunting remained a popular practice. Due to a ban on this custom during the Japanese colonial day, it is now virtually extinct except in the memory among Atayal octogenarians who live in the mountain areas.
Originally there was no chieftain in Atayal society. When a unified act was required, tribesmen chose a competent person as their temporary leader. A new leader was elected if a similar occasion arose. During colonial rule, the Japanese appointed a chieftain to better control the tribe. The practice later evolved into a hereditary system.