Bechtinger, J[os]. Het eiland in de chineesche zee. Batavia: Bruining et Wyt,
1871. English summary (of pp. 1-12) and translation (of pp. 13-20)
by Ann Heylen; edited by Douglas Fix.
This booklet is a 23-page travel account taken from the journal
of a Dutch medical doctor, Jos Bechtinger, who had served in the Dutch
Indies at Batavia. The text dates from 1871 and was published in Batavia.
I. Summary of pages 1-12:
The following is a brief summary of the contents of the first
I. (no title), pages 1-2; serves as an introduction to Bechtinger's "experiences on the island of Formosa."
II. "The island," pages 2-3; provides a description of the geography of the island.
III. (no title), pages 3-4; relates experiences during the twelve
days it took the Chinese junk to sail from Amoy to Formosa: bad food,
terrible weather, and conditions not to be compared with travel by
boat within Europe. This is followed by a note of the doctor's arrival
at Tamsui, and a brief description of Tamsui city.
IV. (no title), pages 4-6; describes Bechtinger's meeting with
Odd, a British opium dealer from Dent & Co. in Hong Kong, who was stationed in Tamsui. Odd had his quarters in the lijin
'customs' office, which was run by an American; the opium was
stored in a different building. Bechtinger provides a description
of how well
the building was guarded.
V. (no title) pages 6-8; gives a description of the lawless life
in Formosa. Bechtinger also tells the story of Coxinga's occupation
of Formosa from the viewpoint of the Dutch being thrown out.
VI. (no title), pages 8-11. Bechtinger met John [Dodd], the American
from the customs office, and together they went to visit Odd. Approaching
his house, they witnessed how Odd cut the pigtail of a Chinese worker
whom he had caught stealing. On their way to visit another European,
a German called Mellet who also worked for Odd, they passed by a cemetery.
There is also a description of their meeting a Chinese woman wailing
loud at night, calling the soul of her deceased husband to return.
They arrived at Mellet's house, and he turned out to be an opium dealer
as well. Mellet told them how he had been attacked, shortly before
their arrival; his Chinese employees had made a pact with bandits and
had removed the gunpowder from Mellet's canons. Mellet had driven the
bandits away by firing his gun.
VII. "The aborigines," pages 11-13; mentions that among the most savage inhabitants of Formosa there
are the Koaluts on the south coast, who had attacked a stranded
American ship, the Rover, and another English gunboat, the Cormorant.
The remainder of this section is a description of European expeditions
to Formosa including the following: 1) the English ship Inflexible
in 1855; 2) the experiences of Polish count Benyowsky in Formosa [in
the 18th Century]; and 3) the experiences of a Spanish don, Gironemo
Pacheco, who had settled in Formosa after a shipwreck.
II. Translation of pages 13-20:
[p. 13] The old-fashioned hanging clock struck midnight; the
night was pitch-black. A brown figure suddenly entered our quarters
and announced briefly that if I desired a sampan, the moment was now
favorable because it was high tide and this would facilitate the voyage
At this late hour, Odd, John, Mellet and I were still awake,
to spend the last moments together in a painful goodbye. Friendship
bonds become tight when place, time and circumstances have tested
one another's hospitality. We were about to separate to perhaps
again because Odd was going to Peking for governmental affairs,
and John was headed to Hong Kong for business. Both believed
that they were not to return before another four months had elapsed,
they wished me a "farewell forever."
Have you, dear reader, never been moved by such an emotion when
at a dear place, filled with memories, in a world that fascinates you,
yet you have to say goodbye to beloved ones forever never to see them
again? These thoughts overwhelmed me when I shook that farewell handshake
with my three friends from Formosa.
[p. 14] The Englishman had given me one of his most loyal servants,
a sturdy lad (and by all means a dare-devil) who had gained a fair
knowledge of the country as far as the inland Chinese districts stretched
via regular travels with his master, who was involved in the opium
It was midnight and I was ready to travel. There were no servants
running about with luggage, travel bags, hatboxes, and the like. I
had only taken with me a raincoat [literally a 'waterproof'] that could
serve as my mattress, blanket, sunshade and coat. Taking weapons was
of no use and could only be a source of hostilities; everything in
the mountains had to be dealt with peacefully. As far as the borders
between the Chinese districts and the aboriginal areas, my guide would
be of assistance in case of any need because he was armed from head
to toe. From thereon, I wanted to prove my lucky star among the aborigines
all by myself, like a second don Pacheco.
Once on the boat, I said goodbye to the beach. It was impossible
to row fast. First, despite the tide, we were moving slowly,
and, second, our craft was too large for the purpose of the voyage.
It could well
have been given the name "junk," in which a hundred persons could not only stand but also be seated easily. Smaller
crafts, so-called "sampans," were not available because at the time a Chinese rowing contest using sampans
was taking place, and all of these boats had gathered upstream
in Banka, the biggest city in the north. With considerable effort,
pushed the large boat with heavy bamboo poles, and slowly we
lost sight of the dark contours of Tamsui, the harbor city.
Not long afterwards, a deep male voice disturbed the soft slumber
that had come over me because of the late hour, the monotonous rocking
of the boat and the strange sailor songs. Dawn was glistening through
dew-covered fields on both sides of the river and soon revealed in
the far distance the city of Banka still lying in darkness. The men
were rowing bravely; occasionally one could see huts and villages appear
among the fresh green rice paddies.
One would consider these inhabited regions as residences right
out of paradise if one had not experienced what they were actually
like in Tamsui. Heavy layers of mud covered the streets, and disgusting
gutters ran through these hamlets, which looked quite attractive from
A couple of miles to the east, the Tamsui River splits into two
branches. One curves northward, not straying from any of the Chinese
dwellings, and finally pouring out into the sea in the vicinity of
the northeastern coalmines of the well-known harbor of Ki-lang [Kelung].
The other branch is fed by water from the southern mountains flowing
through [land inhabited by] the wild tribes of Formosa.
We were unable to manage our boatmen without trouble and, thus,
came close to a confrontation that could have cost our lives.
The arrogant coolies, encouraged by the boatmen (themselves actually "sea pirates"), demanded ten times what we had agreed to pay them in Tamsui. Fortunately,
our quiet demeanor and preparedness impressed the gang and eventually
gained their respect. Nevertheless, they were shouting, yelling,
swearing and even throwing pieces of bamboo poles at our heads.
My guide, an
experienced, deadly calm lad, whispered in my ear not to fire
any unnecessary gunshots unless the moment came when we were
about to face a battle
to the death. An old gray-haired man (for whom the Chinese always
show respect) acted as the intermediary to restore peace, and
a wide piece of silver currency (which in Formosa is called the
Mexican piaster) as his reward.
With the river branching off, we had to attempt to acquire a
suitable sampan for the shallow riverbed. While my travel companion
was trying to acquire provisions, I watched the pigtail sailors as
they worked. All the junks without exception were beautifully decorated;
fancy colored yet partly ripped flags decorated the yards of the ships,
most of which were owned by the mandarins.
One knows that enormous eyes are always painted on the bow of
a junk, just in case the deity loses sight of the direction because
of an accident. If a deceased man were carried on board during the
event of such an accident, he would be covered with blankets. All at
once a group of Buddhist priests appeared; dressed in white, they approached
a junk. As soon as they came aboard, they made a terrible noise on
the gong, and the drunken crew fired gun and cannon shots while yelling
and applauding. Without these solemn rituals and the priestly consecration,
the craft would not encounter any good luck during its sea voyage.
Everywhere joy and laughter was heard each time another craft appeared
to participate in the contest.
Banka is bigger and of more importance than Tamsui, which is
merely an outlying port for the city. All entering goods only stay
at Tamsui for a short time, and then they are stocked in the merchant
warehouses in Banka to be transported to the neighboring settlements.
If the influence of Chinese government officials is too little in Tamsui,
it terminates completely at Banka. One merely smiles at the mandarins,
and their orders fall on deaf ears. At Banka the agricultural products
are sold at the market, import and export articles being exchanged
in return. The city, like all Chinese cities of secondary importance,
is built according to the standard pattern. The Confucian temples are
not higher than the houses, no pagodas break up the monotonous skyline,
and thus all buildings have the same height. Therefore, in order to
get a good view of the panorama, one has to climb the roof of a house.
From this place my adventure began.
As soon as we had left Banka behind us, the flat lands gave way
to hills, and mountains came into sight. Ten hours to the southeast
of Banka is the independent hamlet Tsing-tam-kai. At this spot travel
by boat also came to an end. To the east of Tsing-tam-kai one reaches
the [frontier] border, which is inhabited by the ferocious aborigines
of the interior.
At Tsing-tam-kai my travel companion wished to say goodbye, after
he had recommended the village head, a bandit of first rank, to guide
me through the mountain passes inhabited by colored men. This guide
was to receive a considerable amount of pocket money only after he
had deposed of me safely as far as Tamsui. This condition, in fact,
would arouse the greed of the village head. However, had the agreement
not been made, the chap no doubt would have left me to my own devices
halfway past the curving mountain passes, or he might even have robbed
or murdered me.
[p. 15] My guide seemed to command some respect. His name was
Ling-ching, and he was not only the head of his village; with
the years of a real Methuselah, he was also lively and crafty.
The number of
his offspring in the area was considerably large. In conformity
with Chinese paternal custom, he had been given the name "elder brother." For the time being, my life was in his hands. I had taken some small presents
for the aborigines: a couple of necklaces made of glass, a couple
of suckling pigs, a couple of kalabas [bags?] filled with a kind
wine, which at this juncture deserves a special mention because
wine or spirits made from other plants and not indigenous to
The preparation of this beverage, sought after in China and Formosa,
is as follows: one slowly cooks some rice and leaves it to swell, and
then that is beaten into a dough. An old woman who prepares this beverage
takes some of this rice gruel, chews on it and spits it into an earthen
bowl, [and continues the same procedure] until the content of the bowl
weighs about a pound. She then mixes the chewed portion with the rest
of the rice dough. This mixture is then covered with water, put in
a jar, and left to ferment for twelve months. During that time the
fluid mass transforms into a strong, pleasant and fizzing beverage,
reaching its utmost maturity after 20 to 30 years. When consuming this
treat, one first pours off the liquid, and then eats the rest with
[To resume my narrative,] the carriers of the bamboo cages confining
the suckling-pigs walked up front, followed by Ling-ching, who occasionally
blew heavy smoke clouds into the eyes of the poor animals, who responded
with a hellish grunt.
The region became increasingly mountainous, and the cooler temperatures
made climbing the mountain passes rather pleasant and easy. The twisted
paths along our way looked as if no one ever walked on them, as tall
and wild bushes were to be seen everywhere. The farther we proceeded,
a taller and more impressive range of mountains appeared, alternating
with hills and fertile valleys.
When we arrived at Kattin-poo, about 5 miles east of Tsing-tam-kai,
the diminished Tamsui River appeared again, streaming down from colossal
rock formations, foaming and conquering all obstacles. At this spot,
the branch of that river, Savae, also poured into its river basin.
Bloody battles had taken place here because even now my guide shivered
and felt like avoiding the place.
For the remainder of the day, we moved along the forested hillsides
and deep ravines, crossing through the hamlets of Cio-kam-bai
and Hu-bea. Ling-ching had smoked up his entire provision of
tobacco, the coolies
had finished their rice ration, the four-legged animals had yelled
their throats hoarse, and I had walked to the extent that my
legs were tired. In the late afternoon, we finally arrived at
a place called
Takui, which was famous for its indigo culture. Not long ago,
this place was still inhabited by Formosan aborigines, until
they were chased
away by the Chinese. Because there was not a single cabin to
be found in Takui to spend the night and put my tired limbs to
rest, and as
my Chinese coolies and the guide could not be moved to spend
the night under the bare sky, we had to continue on, covering
a considerable distance before arriving exhausted at a station
camphor producers. Here we saw beautiful camphor trees, among
them such gigantic ones that more than a hundred people could be seated beneath the branches of a single tree. One rarely finds such gigantic
trees in Formosa. In the Chinese settlements camphor twigs barely
have time to sprout before a covetous hand immediately tears
them out. Poor
Chinese who despise the pirate's way of life, driven from their
native land by poverty and want, arrive empty-handed in Formosa.
into aborigine territory to obtain camphor so as not to starve
to death -- still capable of escaping by running away very quickly.
the camphor in a most unusual way. Underneath a large oven made
from clay (with many levels of clay cylinders), they maintain
a fire that
burns continually. The cylinders consist of three parts that
interlock just like the components of a coffee pot or teakettle.
In the bottom
component that is exposed to the fire, boiling water produces
steam that passes through a small oblong gap in the lid and escapes
second cylinder, and from there it creeps slowly and with difficulty
through a bundle of finely chopped camphor wood up to the second gap in the top cylinder, and finally
condenses in the form of crystals along the sides. The wood from
which the camphor has been extracted is not thrown away, but
rather is used
for fuel. The extracted camphor is transported to Banka to be
sold there via a monopoly established by the resident mandarins,
the camphor at a ridiculously low price from the poor people
who risk their lives producing the commodity. At this important
halting-place [Takui], I was offered a cupboard-bed that made
a pigsty or dog
seem like a beautifully decorated drawing room. Naturally I preferred
to spend the night on a downed camphor tree. Mosquitoes and all
kinds of crawling creatures, in addition to a cock that started
two hours past midnight, understandably did not render my night's
rest very pleasant.
At this place, Ling-ching also wanted to bid me goodbye and not
move another step further because otherwise, as he claimed, his life
would surely be in danger. We were very close to the dwellings of the
aborigines, only separated from them by a big valley, through which
mountain water was streaming. Around us we saw mountains rising high
into the heavens like an amphitheatre. Some camphor producers stood
at the border, where Ling-ching and his grunting travel companions
returned, after they had left behind the above-mentioned, relatively
less valuable, but still odd gifts. I must add that Ling-ching, when
taking his leave, had tears in his eyes -- crocodile tears -- because
he had not had an opportunity to rob me.
I stayed only one day among the camphor producers; my food consisted
of nothing more than a mouthful of dried rice. In the morning of the
second day, together with my goods, I went to the farthest part of
the valley, where the water [of the river] demarcated the border with
the aborigines. My piglets did not seem to be very happy when I put
them and their rattan cage in my raincoat and carried them on my shoulders
because they continued to produce the most terrible noises. Happy to
be out of sight of the camphor producers, who would have liked to consume
me together with my four-legged animals, I had not traveled for more
than half an hour when I heard a strange and not so pleasant screaming
coming from the woody mountain slope. The farther I walked, the closer
I seemed to be surrounded by these invisible angry ghosts uttering
long screeching noises. Without doubt, I had been noticed by the savages.
[p. 16] Maybe they were surprised by my unusual clothing or were
expecting an ambush. In short, the situation became critical
and at the same time painful. One would rather deal with an avowed
with hidden, unknown powers. I did not begin with any political
actions but rather tested means of persuasion of a domestic nature:
the screaming piglets in the air around me and pulled out my
red flannel shirt to use it as a peace banner, but to no avail.
I really must have
been a curiosity for the Formosan natives because some time passed
before their fierce-looking faces started to appear among the
nearby bushes. This gave the signal for my peace signs, which
I used while
also doubling my shouting and yelling, to which the other party
responded with a kind of strange howling, until two human figures
unambiguously betrayed the beautiful sex finally appeared. I
was considerably surprised to see defenseless women instead of
islanders armed to the
teeth, and this boosted my courage. I also counted myself lucky with the female encounter, especially when the brown
Venuses, with hair loose to the wind, came swimming over from the other
side of the river. They had not dismissed my invitation as a kind of
flighty coquette but instead rendered willing eyes to my pantomime
requests to come and accept the gifts. Without showing much concern
for me, they went straight for the suckling pigs, which they laughingly
caressed, pulling them by the ears and screaming with laughter at the
animals' squealing, which pierced one's bones to the very marrow. Afraid
to see my animals unexpectedly being taken away from me, I did my utmost
with all sorts of gestures to communicate the purpose of my gifts:
I wanted to offer these small presents to the headman of one tribe
or another. This proposition did not seem to displease the women; they
quickly made up their minds. As though in battle, they urged me to
situate myself on one of their well-built backs and even fought over
who was to be first to carry me. I had to cross the deep stream that ran through the valley, and because I was
an experienced swimmer (having learned in my youth) but less
proficient at diving, I decided to reach the shore not on the
back of the brown
female swimmers, but in between them. No sooner had we reached
the shore and shaken off the water from our bodies -- me putting
clothes again and my nymphs playing with the piglets -- than
the same unbearable screams started up again, having much in
common with the
harmonious sounds and noises of all kinds of wild animals in
the primitive forests and reminiscent of the fierce inhabitants
of the African sand
deserts. The strange screaming had been heard at a far distance
because one could hear a clear howling answer carried by the
wind. The female
islanders thereupon pricked up their ears and suddenly started
to run forward very fast, to the extent that I had to use all
my speed and
muscle power to keep track of them. The slope of the mountain
on which we found ourselves was covered in cracks that formed little hillocks, which we scrambled up and down with such
a speed that not even a roebuck could have imitated us.
I came to dislike this entire contest that was occurring in my
presence. On the way other men, women, and children joined us.
Finally the strange procession reached a pretty, high plateau,
where we came
to a halt in an insignificant aborigine village. It was about
time, too, because breathless and exhausted, I was close to collapsing.
people surrounded me, and this gave me the chance to observe
these primitives in greater detail. The native inhabitants of
very few exceptions, have something terrible in their appearance,
similar to the staring and wild gawking of certain lunatics.
This is mainly
because the eyes are wide open and the white around the eyeball
becomes more visible. I note this phenomenon because at the time
started me, and I have never noticed this feature with any other
isolated nature people [i.e., uncivilized aborigines] before.
Their build is
regular and proportionate, and the ones who excel in beauty are
about 5' 9" in height. Their hair is not as thick as that of the Mongols or as black as
that of the Malay, yet it is plentiful. Their facial features
approach the Indian type but incline more to the Caucasian race
and evoke a
pleasant impression. Sensually raised lips show two rows of shiny
white, well-formed teeth. It is a pity that they lack graceful
-- I don't
mean in the strictly anatomical sense of the word -- hands and
feet, the kind one often observes among the South Sea islanders.
The Formosan inhabitants have a strange way of tattooing themselves.
They lack the excellent skill of the Japanese, who are not surpassed
in their genre. The Formosans know how to transform the lower parts
of their face and make it completely unrecognizable. From one temple
to the other they draw elliptical lines close to one another that run
parallel to the upper lip. On top of these lines there are a number
of broad net-like figures, and these microscopic designs come together
in a pyramid shape at the corner of the mouth, and the base of the
tattoo includes the earlobe.
The women are tattooed in this fashion, but the men adorn themselves
in a much more simple way. From the hairline in the middle of the forehead
they draw a perpendicular line the width of a finger down towards the
nostrils. From a distance, this line is vaguely visible, but close
up one sees the cross-hashes. They do the same with the cheeks, starting
from the under lip and extending half way up the cheek. Ears and neck
are decorated with all kinds of valueless ornaments. Their clothing
is most simple and made from natural materials. Only during the rainy
season, which is their winter, do they cover themselves entirely in
a calico overdress, which they drape around themselves as carelessly
as the Abyssinian deer hunters.
The inhabitants of Formosa should be counted among the Malay
race because the roots of their language are similar to that
of the Malay people. "It seems," says Valentin, "that the Formosan language includes several dialects, which, it is true, are
very different from one another though still belonging to the Sidean
[Sideisch] group. The most unique one is the Favorlang dialect -- Sakam
and Favorlang are the two most important districts of the island. Favorlang
differs from the related dialects by having a certain harshness in
its pronunciation and with the frequent use of the guttural letters
ch, something which one does not find at all in the other Malay languages." This harshness is also noticeable in the frequent use of r instead of l, of
t instead of d (the opposite of the languages spoken by the inhabitants
of the Sandwich Islands), and the avoidance, as much as possible,
of harsh consonants.
Gablenz (Mémoires relatifs à l'Asie, Vol I, p. 345) has also
published something on the Formosan languages and their place within
the Malayan family, and Klaproth (Deutsche Morgenlandische Gesellschaft)
also claimed that this language belongs to the Malay branch, which
is spread over all the islands of the great ocean.
[p. 17] I would not venture to classify the inhabitants of Formosa
with the people of the Sunda Islands any more than I would call
the Polynesian people "Malays" -- strictly speaking, that is. Otherwise, one would not have invented a new
name and instead would simply have given them the name Malay.
Yet, in comparing their [racial] type with people from several
the Pacific Ocean, as I had the opportunity to do on several
occasions, I'd rather conclude that the Formosans belong to the
After this brief digression, let me return to the central environment
of my trek. It was a beautiful sight, these brown, naked creatures
with their short spears or medieval guns, staring at me like a troop
of wild animals. I did not have much time to make any comments and
observations about this encounter because suddenly this group opened
up and made room for a decent-looking savage, who, so it seemed, was
influential among the group. Similar to the way in which the brown
women took to my suckling-pigs, this man raised his hand to my raincoat.
I tried to defend it in vain.
Accompanied by fierce screams, the suckling-pigs were quartered
without delay, and the raw pieces, still dripping with blood, were
devoured. Because the inlanders had gathered in considerable number,
it was impossible to speak of a general participation in the meal.
Only the headman enjoyed the meal and once in a while he grabbed the
samshoo bottle, after he had tried to convince me to take part in the
banquet. At this juncture, in the presence of the arak, protestation
of friendship had to be exchanged.
With the Arabs in the desert, one has to smoke the chibauk; and
with the inhabitants of the South Sea islands, one has to rub one's
nose with force to express one's feelings of friendship. The Formosans
have a peculiar, yet unknown and strange manner to form a bond by means
of the lips. The parties involved face one another and push one another's
lips as if to kiss. Then they both pucker up their lips and make a
funnel-shaped opening, into which alcoholic beverages are poured in
a theatrical pantomime fashion. Neither of the drinkers is allowed
to make a movement or stir the lips with yearning. They stand immobile
like statues, and in this fashion they make offering to Bacchus. Imagine
these people, their lips still dripping with blood from a hastily devoured
victim, just like the mouth of a bloodthirsty forest animal, and you
will understand why, under such unattractive circumstances, I did not
give in so easily to this act of friendship.
After the meal was over, I was ordered to go to the dwellings
of the chief, which was a murder hole in the true sense of the
word. The huts of the Formosans are made of clay and some of
are only one story high, but they have two doors and two windows
that give views of the four directions. Furniture is made of
bamboo or scooped-out
tree trunks, and carvings in all kinds of shapes decorate the
interior. With the more "well-off" class of aborigines one notices colored calicos hanging on the walls in between
various types of weapons and macerated human skulls.
The greatest fortune of the Formosan consists of headhunting,
and he experiences a heavenly feeling when he can customarily
macerate with anatomical skill the head of an enemy, expose it
to the scorching
sunrays, and later hang up this well-deserved bounty as decoration
in the bedchamber. We also notice this mania among some inhabitants
of the Sunda Islands who are given the name "headhunters." They are always armed, the sword always at hand, and they consider everyone
their enemy. Pillage and murder, gunpowder, lead and decapitated
human heads belong among their ideals and favorite dreams. They
higher delight than that of torture; there is no greater pleasure
than on such occasions being able to decorate the poles of their
houses with bloody heads. The same kind of cruelty still exists
Dajak tribes in Borneo, despite the zealous interference and
severe attempts of the Dutch government to put an end to this
What a night! What shouting by this wild, crazy bunch! The howling
of jackals and hyenas, alternating with the screaming or roaring laughter
of other forest dwellers in the dark night or at daybreak cannot compare
to what I heard. Whereas the previous day the curious savages had turned
up in big numbers, now I was greeted by a deafening screaming, uttered
from hundreds of throats, when I appeared at the entrance of the chief's
house at daybreak. After an initial meal, very similar to the above-described
bloody dish, they seemed to gather in public council because the brown
ladies bravely moved their tongues. I do not know whether I was the
subject of the lively discussion, but it soon seemed to take another
A small number of Formosans approached, and with their heads
turned away, they added a few words to those of the chief. These fellows
seemed to bring important news, because one of them started to debate
with the crowd, or rather, he started to scream ferociously, upon which
all heads and hands gave expression of agreement. Soon afterwards the
savage crowd was muttering and a motley bunch of women, with loose
hair and carrying strange looking swords in their bare hands, descended
from a nearby mountain slope. The shouting did not end; with furious
movements all of them started on a march -- men, women, children and
gray-haired men, the latter forming the rearguard, including me.
The Formosans are extremely good runners; they compare with the
ancient Aztec [Indians] who alternately crossed the 300-mile [i.e.,
English mile] distance from Mexico to Vera Cruz within 24 [hours].
One can understand that I, despite my goodwill and greatest effort
but with lesser-trained muscles, could not keep up with them. Fortunately
they stopped at certain intervals during which they conducted some
type of apparently religious ceremonies that were incomprehensible
to me. If they had not done do, they would have had to drag me along
-- just like the Pampas treat their sacrifices -- in order to arrive
at the same time.
The region that we crossed for hours on end, stretching over
hilly land with fertile valleys and meadows in between, was also cultivated
here and there. The aborigines did not seem very familiar with the
art of farming; they are not used to working the fields. The males
despise working and leave it all up to the weaker sex: the women are
the ones who do the work.
We ran for five hours northward, until we reached a second village.
[p. 18] We were given rice, watermakronen [?], and mainly a strong
starchy root, which served as a substitute for bread. As one might
know, hunger is a strong sword, and without showing any fear of these
goods, I fell right to eating, an action that seemed to please the
Formosans more than had I remained an onlooker with a dissatisfied
face. To my dismay, the chief, under whose power I was, again grabbed
the samshoo, and I was forced against my will to drink once more the
drink of Formosan friendship bonding, to lift my lips funnel-shaped
together with his, and to consume my share of arak, which this time
strengthened my tired limbs.
After the meal the journey continued through mountains and valleys,
pastures and dense forests, and by evening we reached a place
where everything seemed in a state of rebellion. In all directions,
were burning, and in between, well-formed female figures and
ugly brown witches were moving fast. They headed in the direction
of a clay house,
out of which lamentations and a uniform beating were to be heard.
One glance inside showed me the image of an Indian, as thin as
a skeleton, with hair all cut off. Judging from the ceremonies,
an important man who was lying down moribund on a carpet. His
eyes were deeply sunk, his eyelids were almost closed, and his
facial bones, leaving no traces of flesh, showed a severe and
painful suffering. People carried this unhappy man, who appeared
outside and ended his suffering by throwing a rope round his
neck and hanging him from a nearby tree. In this fashion, he
from his earthly existence. He uttered no word or complaint when he was lifted up and quietly breathed his last. I noted
that such was the usual practice conducted by the priestesses
in helpless cases when no other methods were to any avail.
This was one remedy that even surpassed the medical practice
of the inland eskulapes [?] that aims to cure in a radical way
all sorts of fever and influences from evil ghosts by ingesting
parts of half-rotten cockroaches. The chief, to whom my status
had been made clear, had consulted me about the condition of
the patient. Unfortunately I had passed only three grades in
medicine at Wiener
College (in Vienna), and irrespective of having the honor of
a member of the medical faculty in Vienna, as well as of some
other associations, I was not a 'particular doctor' of Formosa,
I was not able to prevent the execution of this practice, given
the label "hanging the patient." At the time, it was beyond my powers to oppose the confusion of abstract terms.
Such original primitives are not easily talked into abandoning a deeply
rooted custom. They never witness their medical practitioners discussing
remedies with one another. They show little understanding for professional
jealousy and lack appreciation for the merits of the profession, even
to the extent of prosecution for slander and libel. These people are
too simple to plot; they do not belong to the kind of people without
heart and soul [literally, sans coeur et sans culotte] to be found
in the civilized world, who grudge each other the light of the eyes.
Their doctors use very simple methods; and should they need to consult,
they always agree with one another: their final word is "Hang him," and they follow this advice blindly.
The ceremony was not yet finished, as is the case known to us
when criminals are sentenced to death and hung. As already noted, the
aborigines of Formosa are real philosophers, who delightfully welcome
the moment when the fragile body is returned to dust. Similar to the
ancient Greeks, they meet death with courage and happiness, and lament
the birth of a new world civilian. The sight of a deceased person,
either a dead body turned to ash and dust or a corpse partly consumed
by worms and vermin, gives them more pleasure than life, when this
has become a burden. The old inhabitants claim that the mortal remains
need to be exposed to the elements for years, until they bury the entirely
paled skeleton at the end of the third year. The Formosans consider
this as beautiful as we do our funereal customs and ceremonies. It
is difficult for me to say what the priestesses do in case the average
mortals are not able to pay for these ceremonies with samshoo, skins
or other goods.
The following day they cut down the hanged man, after having
celebrated the entire night under his corpse. They erected a railing,
on which they threw the dead man, and lit a big fire, intending to
roast the corpse to prevent it from decomposing too fast. When the
roasted corpse started to spread an unpleasant smell, we were seated
around it in a big circle. Because these events required the offering
of rice, roots, produce from the fields, pigs and samshoo, even during
the following day, the drinking and other kinds of excesses seemed
to have no end.
The reader now surely expects some other important adventures
that befell me at that time. I shall concentrate on a few specific
First, my clothing was distinguished by its rather strange and
heavy nature. These strange "children of nature" took everything from me, even my last and most indispensable piece of clothing,
which they divided among themselves like a kind of relic. Thus,
in the morning and the evening, the fresh mountain air seeped
pores of my skin. Around my waist I had wrapped a piece of cloth,
which had been white once, but now surpassed the brownness of
the Formosan skin; on my feet I was wearing old sandals that
would not last
Secondly, I feared too close a bonding with my savage hosts could
lead to nothing else but servitude. Was I to become a second don Pacheco?
Should I be able in the course of time to lay claim to a position of
headman, leading some Formosan tribe or another, and going to battle
with warlike neighbors? Such a role was not much to my liking. My return
was bound to cause bigger trouble if I were to stay here longer, whereas
I ran the risk of being dealt with according to the customs of the
tribe if I were to make a public attempt to escape. Therefore, I longed
to see the end of this adventurous journey. My bodily forces had suffered
badly after the latest efforts, and I was in want of spiritual and
bodily rest. I was certain that I had to disappear in the same strange
way as I had come.
[p. 19] A good-natured and touching parting was out of the question.
In order to reach my goal, I had to wait for the opportune moment,
when the drinking customs, which (as described above) continued uninterrupted
until supplies ran out, presented me the opportunity to escape and
reach the Chinese settlements in a westerly direction. However, that
soon seemed easier said than done.
Slowly the sun hid behind the woody mountaintops, and the fire,
lit for the deceased, was still crackling. Nearing nightfall,
dark figures were howling and screaming, as if to make the very
the cliffs shake, while the priestesses performed strange dances
and ceremonies in front of the flames and moved about in a lustful
sensual manner. While musing and beholding this scene of the
roasted corpse surrounded by these strange brownish groups, and
the different customs and manners of civilized and savage people;
while pondering my intended escape, I suddenly felt the iron
fist of the
Formosan chief on my shoulder. I was startled, thinking that
my plan to escape had been discovered. The staggering colossus
held up a big
jar in his shaking right hand to toast a drink to his roasted "nature-companion." Once more I had to press my lips against his and pour the samshoo into the funnel-shaped
opening of my mouth. This time I made sure that not even one
drop passed through to my throat, and because the man had already
had enough, after
taking another big draught, he literally fell down next to the
corpse. The right moment had come.
One more time I saw how the corpse was turned around and around,
in order to dry it better -- the fire being stirred, and this amazing
group moving about. I took one more glance at this scene before heading
in a westerly direction to where the sun went down. Blessed by the
bright moonlight I pursued my journey, and when the first faint rays
of the silver planet appeared between the bushes and treetops, I dared
to tighten my Formosan sandals to escape this boisterous place of crude
I had crossed a considerable distance over hill and dale, when
I heard a hellish, confused screaming of women and children -- probably
upon noticing me and guessing my purpose -- closing in behind me louder
and louder, like the rolling of thunder or the fury of the released
elements, becoming stronger and stronger in size. The proximity of
the danger and the knowledge that being captured by a drunken people
I had no appeal to mercy, mixed with the prospect of regaining my freedom,
gave my muscles such a strength that I could feel the speed of a deer
awaken in me. In moments like these a man does not know fear; anguish
gives birth to determination, conquering all, like the rising current
of a swollen river. In moments of overexertion, man equals a raging
demon, taking up battle with the heavenly and earthly forces, to triumph
at all costs.
One condition was to my benefit: the heads of the raging Formosans
hastening after me were heated with alcohol. Had this not been the
case, I would have benefited little from my lead; and I would not have
endured much longer their swiftness in running. The crowd was close
upon my heels and one swift glance convinced me that the aborigines
were serious. They had drawn their weapons, swung them up into the
air and were uttering terrible noises, by which they instigated and
encouraged one another. I hurried on at full sprint over neck-breaking
mountain paths. Fortunately my youth had not spoilt me and having spent
a fair number of years in all sorts of places, my will had grown to
determination, which now came in extremely handy.
But everything has its limits and despite my hurry [literally "running in hesitation"], I felt that I would not last much longer. In spite of the tripping, falling
and stumbling of my intoxicated pursuers, they were visibly gaining
ground, albeit slowly. The faster I moved, the more angry they
became, and as soon as the distance closed in, they started to
shout for joy.
Right when I felt I had lost all my strength and had decided
to crash into the first tree on the way, rather than meet with
an obloquy and
cruel death, rescue by means of a deep riverbed suddenly came
to me. From a distance I heard the murmur of the water, which
streaming downwards from the rocks. Instinctively I guided my
tired and waggling steps in that direction; a glimpse of hope
arose at the
happy discovery that the terrain was changing, although I was
not sure at all of the nature of the change. Some thousands of
steps away from
the bank, I saw that the bottom deepened into a small abyss,
and I was soon looking eighty meters straight down below. One
me that the deep bottom was not even in all places. The water (which from nearby must have come from an average
height) carried heavy rocks, in between which it foamed and formed
deep brooks here and there.
A hurrah that pierced me to my very bone marrow, uttered by thousands
of throats, reminded me again of the dreadfulness of my situation.
The drunken crowd was screaming with pleasure when they fancied
themselves sure to take possession of their victim, because a
way out down the
inclining hills was out of the question. I could already see
their fury. With rolling eyes, only a few steps away from me,
out their armed hands, about to take the desired booty, when
suddenly a terrible scream was heard. I had trusted my soul to
God, and after
taking one more glance at the deep stream, I decided to make
that dangerous jump. Almost numb I floated over the abyss, which
took me with incredible
speed, as if by magic, away from the fury of the stunned crowd.
But just as rapidly and fatally, I was washed by the cold moving
water, which made me return to my senses. The moment I jumped
I doubled up,
wondering if my bones were to crash against the protruding rocks
and be splattered with the blood of my skull. In the wet element, however, my limbs soon stretched out, and from the
slippery, moss-covered bottom I pushed off with my feet so fast
that, swift as an arrow, I returned like a cork to the foaming
Fortunately, the water was not flowing too fast or with so much
violence that the moment when I had preservation of life in mind, it
would have been impossible to withdraw myself from the stream with
any effort whatsoever. I barely made it to dry ground and was about
to shake myself and thank God for the miraculous rescue, [p. 20] when
gunshots from above -- clearly aimed at me but missing their target
-- reminded me of the mountain dwellers, in whose reach I had been
only a few moments earlier. Despite their drunken state of mind, no
one dared to follow me and imitate my jump; they did nothing but scream
and yell with increasing anger. For hours I walked barefoot, only taking
short breaks, and although I much wanted to lay myself down on the
first green pasture, I did not dare to rest.
According to my calculations, I had to be in the proximity of
Chinese settlements. Daybreak found me in a desolate area, with no
sign of human or animal. I thought it wise to look for a safer shelter,
where I could rest during the night without any fear or danger. Despite
my fatigue, my eyes did not close. The cause for the insomnia was enormous
corporal and mental effort. [Finally,] I lay down and dozed on a pile
of earth between the dense bushes. Whether it was a dream, or whether
it was reality, I seemed to keep hearing the howling and screaming
in the distance, echoed all around by the mountain range.
Again the sun was high up in the sky and I was hungry and in
doubt, afraid and insecure about having turned the right direction
or not, when all of a sudden familiar sounds rose from the earth
and suddenly struck my ear. I was not mistaken. With great vehemence,
mixture of Chinese and English abusive language, convinced me
that I had returned to the world of the living [literally "found myself among people"] and that help was at hand. I aimed my searching eyes to the left and right,
but did not succeed in detecting a living soul. It soon seemed
that, when raising myself from my strongly wavering bottom, my
not deceived me. People were approaching my screams.
Over there between the hills a stream flowed among the depths,
which soon appeared to be the north branch of the Tamsui River. Sampans,
those famous Chinese vessels, loaded with goods, cleaved through the
water and invited me to take a place among them. Who can paint the
amazement of the Englishman and the astonishment of the pigtailed chiefs
when they discovered me in Formosan costume? My skin was all but white,
and my lower limbs were covered in mud and earth. I was forced to provide
a detailed explanation of my appearance; no one recognized me in this
shape. A cool drink quenched my thirst, gave me new strength and enabled
me to live up to the rightful curiosity and tell the story of my adventures.
We were in the proximity of Kelung, and being instructed by the
Europeans, among whom I discovered one of John's clerks, I had to walk
to this port city about 15 miles northward through fields and farms.
The clerk was thankful having me as his travel companion because he
was not especially pleased crossing the way from Tamsui to Kelung through
Chinese settlements partly along the river and partly along paths.
He had every reason to be concerned because several times a year he
had to go to Chinese customs officers to pay them tract-money and give
orders. Four times a year he had to brave the greatest dangers, carrying
a loaded gun, and Argus-eyed clear a way back for himself.
It is possible to reach Kelung with a sampan in bad monsoon weather,
but it takes a long way round to do so. Because he trusted my assistance
and had given me a redoubtable weapon in order to command the respect
of the Chinese, we pursued our journey through the several villages
of the Sons of Heaven and the settlements of the coolies. Pondering
the real and assumed dangers of this journey, it did not take long
before I fell into a deep and comforting [refreshing] sleep next to
my savior, the sampan.
The next day we continued our journey through rice paddies, fields
and little hamlets, whose pigtailed inhabitants assaulted us and showed
their hatred towards us by throwing rocks, which fortunately, be it
on purpose or by coincidence, flew over our heads. Our guns lifted
high up in the air proved fearful and kept them at a respectful distance.
The fact that these people were given the security of Peking-appointed
bureaucrats, for whom they took me as well, was a phenomenon that assured
us a safe journey.
Late at night we descended mountains and hills until we finally
arrived at the northern harbor of Kelung. To me, Kelung is one of the
most pleasant harbor cities. Big volcanic rocks have fallen down from
the neighboring heights into the sea and formed a natural barrier,
which at the same time offers a safe mooring for ships. About four
English miles to the east there are coalmines. There is much to say
about the method of operation. The sight of the dangerous pits, where
human creatures, starved and exhausted from hunger and despair, crawl
in and out on their hands and feet, putting the excavated coal on small
wheelbarrows, scares the visitors who look on the mine from nearby.
As a nation that currently plays an important role in history,
and sooner or later shall reach her summit of magnanimity and
acquire a foot on the shore on the international scene, I surely
wish her [China?]
the full possession of this island. Should that happen, the pirate
scum of the Chinese sea would soon disappear, nothing more of
piracy and murdering histories to be heard, and the civilized
gain a beautiful piece of this earth in return. As far as I was
concerned, in those days I would have desired to build a hut
on this soil and
spend my days on Formosa with long beard and hair, like the Spaniard
Pacheco (had other duties not called me elsewhere) because it
does not take long for a "nature-man" to feel at ease with "nature-people."