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Here is a good site for Taiwan Triball
web site of Council of Indigenous Peoples, Executive Yuan.
History of the tribal peoples
See also: Prehistory of Taiwan and History of Taiwan
A Plains Tribe Aborigine child and woman
Taiwanese aborigines are Austronesian peoples, with linguistic and genetic
ties to other Austronesian ethnic groups, such as peoples of the Philippines,
Malaysia, Indonesia, Madagascar and Oceania (Hill et al. 2007; Bird, Hope
& Taylor 2004). Chipped-pebble tools dating from perhaps as early
as 15,000 years ago suggest that the initial human inhabitants of Taiwan
were Paleolithic cultures of the Pleistocene era. These people survived
by eating marine life. Archaeological evidence points to an abrupt change
to the Neolithic era around 6,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture,
domestic animals, polished stone adzes and pottery. The stone adzes were
mass-produced on Penghu and nearby islands, from the volcanic rock found
there. This suggests heavy sea traffic took place between these islands
and Taiwan at this time (Rolett, Jiao & Lin 2002:307¡V8; 313).
Recorded history of the aborigines on Taiwan began around the 17th century,
and has often been dominated by the views and policies of foreign powers
and non-aborigines. Beginning with the arrival of Dutch merchants in 1624,
the traditional lands of the aborigines have been successively colonized
by Dutch, Spanish, Han (from both the Ming and Qing dynasties), Japanese,
and Taiwanese (the Chinese Nationalist government, or Kuomintang) rulers.
Each of these successive "civilizing" cultural centers participated
in violent conflict and peaceful economic interaction with both the Plains
and Mountain tribal groups. To varying degrees, they influenced or transformed
the culture and language of the indigenous peoples.
Four centuries of non-indigenous rule can be viewed through several changing
periods of governing power and shifting official policy toward aborigines.
From the 17th century until the early 20th, the impact of the foreign
settlers¡Xthe Dutch, Spanish and Han¡Xwas more extensive on
the Plains tribes. The latter were far more geographically accessible,
and thus had more dealings with the foreign powers. By the beginning of
the 20th century, the Plains tribes had largely been assimilated into
contemporary Taiwanese culture as a result of European and Han colonial
rule. Until the latter half of the Japanese colonial era the Mountain
tribes were not entirely governed by any non-tribal polity. However, the
mid-1930s marked a shift in the intercultural dynamic, as the Japanese
began to play a far more dominant role in the culture of the Highland
groups. This increased degree of control over the Mountain tribes continued
during Kuomintang rule. Within these two broad eras, there were many differences
in the individual and regional impact of the colonizers and their "civilizing
projects". At times the foreign powers were accepted readily, as
some tribes adopted foreign clothing styles and cultural practices (Harrison
2003), and engaged in cooperative trade in goods such as camphor, deer
hides, sugar, tea and rice (Gold 1986:24¡V8). At numerous other
times changes from the outside world were forcibly imposed.
Much of the historical information regarding Taiwan's aborigines was collected
by these regimes in the form of administrative reports and gazettes as
part of greater "civilizing" projects. The collection of information
aided in the consolidation of administrative control.
The Plains aborigines mainly lived in stationary village sites surrounded
by defensive walls of bamboo. The village sites in southern Taiwan were
more populated than other locations. Some villages supported a population
of more than 1,500 people, surrounded by smaller satellite villages (Kang
2003:111¡V17). Siraya villages were constructed of dwellings made
of thatch and bamboo, raised 2 m from the ground on stilts, with each
household having a barn for livestock. A watchtower was located in the
village to look out for headhunting parties from the Highland tribes.
The concept of property was often communal, with a series of conceptualized
concentric rings around each village. The innermost ring was used for
gardens and orchards that followed a fallowing cycle around the ring.
The second ring was used to cultivate plants and natural fibers for the
exclusive use of the tribe. The third ring was for exclusive hunting and
deer fields for tribal use. The plains people hunted herds of spotted
Formosan Sika Deer, Formosan Sambar Deer, and Reeves's muntjac as well
as conducting light millet farming. Sugar and rice were grown as well,
but mostly for use in preparing wine (Shepherd 1993:29¡V34).
Many of the Plains peoples were matrilineal/matrifocal societies. Men
married into a woman's family after a courtship period during which the
woman was free to reject as many men as she wished before marriage. In
the age-grade communities, couples entered into marriage in their mid-30s
when a man would no longer be required to perform military service or
hunt heads on the battle-field. In the matriarchal system of the Siraya,
it was also necessary for couples to abstain from marriage until their
mid-thirties, when the bride's father would be in his declining years
and would not pose a challenge to the new male member of the household.
It was not until the arrival of the Dutch Reformed Church in the 17th
century, that the marriage and child-birth taboos were abolished. There
is some indication that many of the younger members of Sirayan society
embraced the Dutch marriage customs as a means to circumvent the age-grade
system in a push for greater village power (Shepherd 1995:61¡V5).
Almost all indigenous peoples in Taiwan have traditionally had a custom
of sexual division of labor. Women did the sewing, cooking and farming,
while the men hunted and prepared for military activity and securing enemy
heads in headhunting raids, which was a common practice in early Taiwan.
Women were also often found in the office of priestess or medium to the
For centuries, Taiwan's aboriginal peoples experienced economic competition
and military conflict with a series of colonizing peoples. Centralized
government policies designed to foster language shift and cultural assimilation,
as well as continued contact with the colonizers through trade, intermarriage
and other dispassionate intercultural processes, have resulted in varying
degrees of language death and loss of original cultural identity. For
example, of the approximately 26 known languages of the Taiwanese aborigines
(collectively referred to as the Formosan languages), at least ten are
extinct, five are moribund (Zeitoun & Yu 2005:167) and several are
to some degree endangered. These languages are of unique historical significance,
since most historical linguists consider Taiwan to be the original homeland
of the Austronesian language family (Blust 1999).
European period (1623¡V1662)
Under the Dutch Rule
Main article: Taiwan under Dutch rule
The opening paragraphs of the Gospel of Matthew in bilingual parallel
format, from the first half of the 17th century, in the Dutch and Sinckan
languages. This orthography is a predecessor of the Sinckan writing (·s´ä¤å®Ñ),
a kind of land contract written by Plain aborigines (¥®H±Ú)
of the Xingang Tribe (·s´äªÀ), Taiwan, between
later half of 17 century and first half of 19 century.
During the European period (1623¡V1662) soldiers and traders representing
the Dutch East India Company maintained a colony in southwestern Taiwan
(1624¡V1662) near present-day Tainan City. This established an Asian
base for triangular trade between the company, the Qing Dynasty and Japan,
with the hope of interrupting Portuguese and Spanish trading alliances.
The Spanish also maintained a colony in northern Taiwan (1626¡V1642)
in present-day Keelung. However, Spanish influence wavered almost from
the beginning, so that by the late 1630s they had already withdrawn most
of their troops (Andrade 2005:296 2n). After they were driven out of Taiwan
by a combined Dutch and aboriginal force in 1642, the Spanish "had
little effect on Taiwan's history" (Gold 1986:10¡V11). Dutch
influence was far more significant: expanding to the southwest and north
of the island, they set up a tax system and established schools and churches
in many villages.
When the Dutch arrived in 1624 at Tayouan (Anping) Harbor, Siraya-speaking
representatives from nearby Saccam village soon appeared at the Dutch
stockade to barter and trade; an overture which was readily welcomed by
the Dutch. The Sirayan villages were, however, divided into warring factions:
the village of Sinckan (Sinshih) was at war with Mattau (Madou) and its
ally Baccluan, while the village of Soulang maintained uneasy neutrality.
In 1629 a Dutch expeditionary force searching for Han pirates, was massacred
by warriors from Mattau, and the victory inspired other villages to rebel
(Shepherd 1995:52¡V3). In 1635, with reinforcements having arrived
from Batavia (now Jakarta, Indonesia), the Dutch subjugated and burned
Mattau. Since Mattau was the most powerful village in the area, the victory
brought a spate of peace offerings from other nearby villages, many of
which were outside the Siraya area. This was the beginning of Dutch consolidation
over large parts of Taiwan, which brought an end to centuries of inter-village
warfare (Blusse & Everts 2000:11¡V20). The new period of peace
allowed the Dutch to construct schools and churches aimed to acculturate
and convert the indigenous population (Campbell 1915:240; Shepherd 1995:66).
Dutch schools taught a romanized script (Sinckan writing), which transcribed
the Siraya language. This script maintained occasional use through the
18th century (Shepherd 1995:66¡V8). Today only fragments survive,
in documents and stone stele markers. The schools also served to maintain
alliances and open aboriginal areas for Dutch enterprise and commerce.
The Dutch soon found trade in deerskins and venison in the East Asian
market to be a lucrative endeavor (Shepherd 1993:451 19n), and recruited
Plains aborigines to procure the hides. The deer trade attracted the first
Han traders to aboriginal villages, but as early as 1642 the demand for
deer greatly diminished the deer stocks. This drop significantly reduced
the prosperity of aboriginal tribes (Andrade 2005:303), forcing many aborigines
to take up farming to counter the economic impact of losing their most
vital food source.
As the Dutch began subjugating aboriginal villages in the south and west
of Taiwan, increasing numbers of Han immigrants looked to exploit areas
that were fertile and rich in game. The Dutch initially encouraged this,
since the Han were skilled in agriculture and large-scale hunting. Several
Han took up residence in Siraya villages. The Dutch used Han agents to
collect taxes, hunting license fees and other income. This set up a society
in which "many of the colonists were Han Chinese but the military
and the administrative structures were Dutch" (Andrade 2005:298).
Despite this, local alliances transcended ethnicity during the Dutch period.
For example, the Guo Huaiyi Rebellion in 1652, a Han farmers' uprising,
was defeated by an alliance of 120 Dutch musketeers with the aid of Han
loyalists and 600 aboriginal warriors (Shepherd 1993:90).
The Dutch period ended in 1662 when Ming loyalist forces of Zheng Chenggong
(Koxinga) drove out the Dutch and established the short-lived Zheng family
kingdom on Taiwan. The Zhengs brought 70,000 soldiers to Taiwan and immediately
began clearing large tracts of land to support its forces. Despite the
preoccupation with fighting the Qing, the Zheng family was concerned with
aboriginal welfare on Taiwan. The Zhengs built alliances, collected taxes
and erected aboriginal schools, where Taiwan's aborigines were first introduced
to the Confucian Classics and Chinese writing (Shepherd 1993:92¡V103).
However, the impact of the Dutch was deeply ingrained in aboriginal society.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, European explorers wrote of being welcomed
as kin by the aborigines who thought they were the Dutch, who had promised
to return (Pickering 1898:116¡V18).
Qing rule (1683¡V1895)
This is a photograph of an aboriginal hunting party with their Formosan
Mountain Dog in Ba?k-sa, by John Thomson, 1871: "A Native Hunting
Party Baksa Formosa 1871" ¤ì¬]ì¦í¥Áªº¬¼Ây²½¨å.
After the Qing government defeated the Ming loyalist forces maintained
by the Zheng family in 1683, parts of Taiwan became increasingly integrated
into the Qing Empire (Teng 2004:35¡V60). Qing forces ruled areas
of Taiwan's highly populated western plain for nearly two centuries, until
1895. This era was characterized by a marked increase in the number of
Han Chinese on Taiwan, continued social unrest, the piecemeal transfer
(by various means) of large amounts of land from the aborigines to the
Han, and the nearly complete acculturation of the Western Plains aborigines
to Taiwanese Han customs.
During the Qing Dynasty's two-century rule over Taiwan, the population
of Han on the island increased dramatically. However, it is not clear
to what extent this was due to an influx of Han settlers, who were predominantly
displaced young men from Zhangzhou and Quanzhou in Fujian province (Tsao
1999:331) or from a variety of other factors, including: frequent intermarriage
between Han and aborigines, the replacement of aboriginal marriage and
abortion taboos, and the widespread adoption of the Han agricultural lifestyle
due to the depletion of traditional game stocks, which may have led to
increased birth rates and population growth. Moreover, the acculturation
of aborigines in increased numbers may have intensified the perception
of a swell in the number of Han.
Reports from American envoys and others suggest that Taiwanese aboriginals
under Qing rule were treated extremely harshly. Presbyterian missionary
George Leslie Mackay in From far Formosa (1896) reported that "if
a savage is killed inland, the heart is eaten, flesh taken off in strips,
and bones boiled to a jelly and preserved as a specific for malarial fever"
(Mackay 1896:276). American consul James W. Davidson described in The
Island of Formosa (1903) how the Han Chinese in Taiwan ate and traded
in their aboriginal victims' flesh (Davidson 1903:255), a practice also
mentioned by Owen Rutter in Through Formosa (1923), whose account bears
some similarities to Davidson's (Rutter 1923:224¡V25). Sangren,
in History and Magical Power in a Chinese Community (1987) mentions Davidson's
account, adding that elderly Ta-ch'i informants had corroborated his claims
The Qing government officially sanctioned controlled Han settlement, but
sought to manage tensions between the various regional and ethnic groups.
Therefore it often recognized the Plains tribes' claims to deer fields
and traditional territory (Knapp 1980:55¡V68; Shepherd 1993:14¡V20).
The Qing authorities hoped to turn the Plains tribes into loyal subjects,
and adopted the head and corvee taxes on the aborigines, which made the
Plains aborigines directly responsible for payment to the government yamen.
The attention paid by the Qing authorities to aboriginal land rights was
part of a larger administrative goal to maintain a level of peace on the
turbulent Taiwan frontier, which was often marred by ethnic and regional
conflict. The frequency of rebellions, riots, and civil strife in Qing
Dynasty Taiwan is often encapsulated in the saying "every three years
an uprising; every five years a rebellion" (Kerr 1965:4). Aboriginal
participation in a number of major revolts during the Qing era, including
the Taokas-led Ta-Chia-hsi revolt of 1731¡V1732, ensured the Plains
tribes would remain an important factor in crafting Qing frontier policy
until the end of Qing rule in 1895 (Shepherd 1993:128¡V29).
The struggle over land resources was one source of conflict. Large areas
of the western plain were subject to large land rents called Huan Da Zu
(µf¤j¯²¡Xliterally, "Barbarian Big Rent"),
a category which remained until the period of Japanese colonization. The
large tracts of deer field, guaranteed by the Qing, were owned by the
tribes and their individual members. The tribes would commonly offer Han
farmers a permanent patent for use, while maintaining ownership (skeleton)
of the subsoil (¥Ð°©), which was called "two lords
to a field" (¤@¥Ð¨â¥D). The Plains tribes
were often cheated out of land or pressured to sell at unfavorable rates.
Some disaffected subgroups moved to central or eastern Taiwan, but most
remained in their ancestral locations and acculturated or assimilated
into Han society (Chen 1997).
Migration to highlands
One popular narrative holds that all of the Gaoshan tribes were originally
Plains tribes, which fled to the mountains under pressure from Han encroachment.
This strong version of the "migration" theory has been largely
discounted by contemporary research as the Gaoshan people demonstrate
a physiology, material cultures and customs that have been adapted for
life at higher elevations. Linguistic, archaeological, and recorded anecdotal
evidence also suggests there has been island-wide migration of indigenous
peoples for over 3,000 years.
Small sub-groups of Plains aborigines may have occasionally fled to the
mountains, foothills or eastern plain to escape hostile groups of Han
or other aborigines (see Tsuchida & Yamada 1991:1¡V10; Li 2001).
The "displacement scenario" is more likely rooted in the older
customs of many Plains groups to withdraw into the foothills during headhunting
season or when threatened by a neighboring village as observed by the
Dutch during their punitive campaign of Mattou in 1636 when the bulk of
the village retreated to Tevoraan (Blusse & Everts 2000:11¡V12;
Shepherd 1993:1¡V6; Shepherd 1995:66¡V72). The "displacement
scenario" may also stem from the inland migrations of Plains aborigine
subgroups, who were displaced by either Han or other Plains aborigines
and chose to move to the Iilan plain in 1804, the Puli basin in 1823 and
another Puli migration in 1875. Each migration consisted of a number of
families and totaled hundreds of people, not entire tribes (Shepherd 1993:391¡V95;
Pan 2002:36¡V7). There are also recorded oral histories that recall
some Plains aborigines were sometimes captured and killed by Highlands
tribes while relocating through the mountains (Yeh 2003). However, as
Shepherd (1993) explained in detail, documented evidence shows that the
majority of Plains people remained on the plains, intermarried Hakka and
Hoklo immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong, and adopted a Han identity,
where they remain today.
Bunun mother and child in sling in Lona Village, Taiwan
Imperial Chinese and European societies had little contact with the Highland
aborigines until expeditions to the region by European and American explorers
and missionaries commenced in the 19th and early 20th centuries (Campbell
1915; Mackay 1896). The lack of data before this was primarily the result
of a Qing quarantine on the region to the east of the "earth oxen"
(¤g¤û) border, which ran along the eastern edge of
the western plain. Han contact with the mountain tribes was usually associated
with the enterprise of gathering and extracting camphor from Camphor Laurel
trees (Cinnamomum camphora), native to the island and in particular the
mountainous areas. The production and shipment of camphor (used in herbal
medicines and mothballs) was then a significant industry on the island,
lasting up to and including the period of Japanese rule (Pickering 1898:220¡V24.).
These early encounters often involved headhunting parties from the Highland
tribes, who sought out and raided unprotected Han forest workers. Together
with traditional Han concepts of Taiwanese behavior, these raiding incidents
helped to promote the Qing-era popular image of the "violent"
aborigine (Teng 2004:230¡V36).
Plains aborigines were often employed and dispatched as interpreters to
assist in the trade of goods between Han merchants and Highlands aborigines.
The aborigines traded cloth, pelts and meat for iron and matchlock rifles.
Iron was a necessary material for the fabrication of hunting knives¡Xlong,
curved sabers that were generally used as a forest tool. These blades
became notorious among Han settlers, given their alternative use to decapitate
Highland tribal enemies in customary headhunting expeditions.
See also: Wu Feng Legend
The Highland tribes were renowned for their skill in headhunting, which
was a symbol of bravery and valor (Hsu 1991:29¡V36). Almost every
tribe except the Yami (Tao) practiced headhunting. Once the victims had
been dispatched the heads were taken then boiled and left to dry, often
hanging from trees or shelves constructed for the purpose. A party returning
with a head was cause for celebration, as it would bring good luck. The
Bunun people would often take prisoners and inscribe prayers or messages
to their dead on arrows, then shoot their prisoner with the hope their
prayers would be carried to the dead. Han settlers were often the victims
of headhunting raids as they were considered by the aborigines to be liars
and enemies. A headhunting raid would often strike at workers in the fields,
or employ the ruse of setting a dwelling alight and then decapitating
the inhabitants as they fled the burning structure. It was also customary
to later raise the victim's surviving children as full members of the
tribe. Often the heads themselves were ceremonially ¡¥invited'
to join the tribe as members, where they were supposed to watch over the
tribe and keep them safe. The indigenous inhabitants of Taiwan accepted
the convention and practice of headhunting as one of the calculated risks
of tribal life. The last groups to practice headhunting were the Paiwan,
Bunun, and Atayal groups (Montgomery-McGovern 1922). Japanese rule ended
the practice by 1930, but some elder Taiwanese can recall the practice
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