Bullock, T.L. "A trip into the interior of Formosa." Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London 21 (1877): 266-272.


A Trip into the Interior of Formosa.

By T.L. Bullock



[P. 266] We started from Taiwanfoo, the capital of the island, in the month of October, 1873; the party consisting of Mr. Campbell, a missionary going to visit his native converts, Mr. Steere, an American naturalist, and myself, with our servants and porters.

For three days we marched in first a northerly and then a north-easterly direction across the flat and fertile plain, inhabited exclusively by Chinese, which forms the western part of the island. The third evening, just at the conclusion of our day's journey, we mounted a number of steep steps on to a platform or terrace, stretching out some distance from the hills. We were now passing from the plain country into the mountain district; and the part we were entering had never been visited by any foreigners except Mr. Campbell and a brother missionary.

The next day we travelled eastwards up a stony valley, which ran far into the mountains, continually fording the net-work of streams which descended it. In the afternoon we mounted a high and steep hill towards the north, covered with brushwood and long grass. As soon as we commenced the ascent our party was required to keep together and not straggle, as we had arrived in the country infested by the wild savages, though their nearest villages are many miles away.

When we crossed the ridge of the hill we entered suddenly upon another world. Before us lay a succession of peaks, of valleys, of mountain-sides, all covered with the bright green foliage of a dense forest. Between the trees there grew a profusion of plants, some with giant leaves, others with long leaflets, ferns and tree-ferns, and feathery bamboos. We passed the night in a small Chinese settlement in a neighboring valley.

Next morning an hour or two's walk through the forest brought us to a small lake. Here we dismissed our Chinese porters, who were to return to Taiwanfoo with the first party they found leaving [p. 267] the mountains; and we ourselves embarked in two canoes, and were paddled down to the village at the further end. The lake is crescent-shaped, about three miles long, with numerous little bays or indentations between the spurs that run down from the mountains. The mountains are steep and high, and wooded from the base to the summit. At the head of the bays there are little patches of flat ground, irrigated by the mountain-streams, and cultivated with rice. There are also a few spots on the more gentle slopes, where tea and rice and sweet potatoes are grown in small clearings. A certain number of Chinamen live round the lake, and a small tribe of savages, called by the Chinese Tsui-hwan, or "water-savages." The tribe is now very small, consisting of between 100 and 200 families. It has its own customs, language, and dress; and it is said by tradition to have been once much more numerous and powerful than now, and to have possessed a considerable tract of country. The aborigines of Formosa are divided broadly into wild savages and friendly savages. The former are the inhabitants of the higher mountains, whose hand is against every man: the latter those dwelling on the edge of the plain, and near to the Chinese, who are inoffensive, and are too civilised to really deserve the name of savages. The Tsui-hwan, excepting that they live at peace with their neighbours, deserve to be classed among the wild rather than the friendly aborigines. They are a good-looking and well-made race, without being very tall or powerful, and are fat and healthy. Their skin is of a light reddish-brown colour. Their hair is long, black, and straight. The women are quiet, happy, and pleasant-looking. Their hair is parted in the middle, thrown back, and tied behind. The favourite occupation of the Tsui-hwan is hunting. Every man can handle a gun, which, however, only the richer possess, and a bow and arrow. They carry a long, pointed knife, thick and heavy enough to be used as a chopper. I found afterwards that it was the custom of all the aborigines, of whatever tribe, to carry a knife of this kind. They have various modes of fishing, among others, one by torchlight; but they did not employ it at the season when we were at the lake. We once saw a man fishing from a canoe with a bow and arrow, and a fish he had just caught. The head of the arrow was like a four-pointed fork. They also employ themselves to some small extent in tilling the land, either for themselves or for their Chinese neighbours, who now possess the greater part of that which is cultivable round the lake. Their houses are built of wood, and consist only of one large and high room, which is inhabited by several families, or perhaps by several couples belonging to the same family.

[P. 268] With the help of a few native men and boys, we compiled a list of words in their language. I afterwards compared this and some similar lists, obtained at different times, in other Formosan languages, with some lists of words in various Malay languages, and found a very large number of words identical or resembling in the two.

The next morning we started off, and travelled in a northerly direction for about 15 miles. The path lay along the valleys, crossing no high pass, but with many short and steep ascents and descents. The country was entirely covered with forest, excepting a few of the wider valleys, which had been cleared by Chinese settlers and planted with rice. The end of our day's journey was at a place called Posia, where we took up our abode in the little Mission-house of a Christian community.

Posia is a flat oval plain, about five miles long and four broad, surrounded by the mountains on all sides. From the western end of it one sees towards the east the lofty peaks of the great central range, 10,000 to 12,000 feet high; and from the eastern end one sees line upon line of hills far away to the west, showing how far one has penetrated into the mountains. There are a good many Chinese living in the various villages of Posia; but the bulk of the population, some two or three thousand, are aborigines, belonging almost entirely to the tribe called Sek-hwan, a name composed of two words meaning tame or friendly savages. The Sek-hwan, in point of civilisation, are equal to the lower orders of Chinese, but are more simple and less cunning. Having lived outside the mountains on the edge of the plain before they migrated comparatively recently to Posia, they must have been in close intercourse with the Chinese during some centuries. They subsist principally by agriculture; but though tolerably good farmers, they are not in this respect the equal of the Chinese. They are passionately fond of hunting, which they pursue sometimes singly, sometimes in large parties, whenever they have the necessary leisure. The game they kill consists of three kinds of deer, wild boar, squirrels, monkeys, pheasants, flying squirrels, and occasionally panthers and wild cats. Fortunately for themselves, they have no taste for opium; but they are fond of wine and spirits, in both these points resembling the rest of the aborigines of the island. The rice-wine, however, which they make is so weak that they very seldom become intoxicated. In appearance they differ considerably from any other aborigines that I have seen in Formosa. They are taller, slighter, and rather fairer. They have large dark eyes, and wide mouths, with long and projecting upper teeth. The men wear short trousers [p. 269] and jackets, differing but very little from those worn by the Chinese. Their hair is tied in a knot at the back of the head, after the fashion of the Chinese before the introduction of pig-tails by the present dynasty. The women fasten their back hair in a knot, and comb the front hair down over the forehead, cutting it in a line just above the eyes.

The English Presbyterian missionaries have met with great success among the Sek-hwan of Posia. Though the Mission has been opened but a short time, there are sixty baptized Christians, and about four hundred regular hearers.

A long day's march to the east of Posia, high up on the mountains of the central range, lie the villages of the Boo-hwan, a large tribe of wild savages. When they are at peace with the inhabitants of Posia, that is to say, when they have not murdered any of the latter very lately, a small amount of intercourse is kept up between the two districts. Some two or three Sek-hwan traders, who are well known to the Boo-hwan and speak their language, are allowed to go into the villages of the latter to trade; and a few of the Boo-hwan come down to the border-villages of Posia for the same purpose. The articles brought down by the Boo-hwan are principally skins and deer-horns, and pieces of grass-cloth and embroidery, which they exchange for gunpowder, salt, red calico, and iron work.

After many days' delay, we prevailed on the trader who had interpreted for Mr. Campbell to accompany us on a visit to their people. Our party consisted of our three selves, the interpreter, two porters, a servant, and a Boo-hwan woman, married to a Sek-hwan of Posia. Though we had two porters we had hardly any baggage, as the country was too rough for a man to be able to carry more than a few pounds. Our route lay due east, up a long valley with steep and lofty sides; that to the south covered with dense and almost impenetrable forest, full of prickly climbing plants, that to the north covered with high grass, and a few pines and oaks. After a short day's march we arrived at some small clearings and cultivated patches, with a few temporary huts. The one or two Boo-hwan living there declined to take us on to the villages, but offered us a night's lodging. As the hour was late, we accepted the offer. A few pieces of sweet potato and taro, and a mess of pounded rice and millet, were given us for dinner. The hut allotted to us being too small to accommodate all our party, and very dirty, we gave it up to our servants, and slept on the hill-side under a small granary raised on posts about 3 feet from the ground. The next morning after breakfast the native woman [p. 270] went back, and the rest of us continued our journey. The valley soon narrowed into a deep gorge, with no semblance of a path, up which we scrambled along the rocks or through the water as best we could. After midday we halted and ate a little rice, and then commenced the ascent of a long and extremely steep hill, halting frequently to rest the porters. On a plateau near the top we passed a few patches of millet, and one of China grass; and we could see similar plots dotting the upper part of the hills on the opposite side of the valley. At last we reached the summit, and found ourselves in a village situated on the ridge of the central range, perhaps some 5000 feet above the sea. At first there were not many people about; but those we saw received us in a friendly, though not in a cordial, manner. Not long after we arrived, when strolling about the village and looking at what was to be seen, we discovered a row of skulls laid out on a raised board in front of one of the houses. There were no less than twenty-five of them, a few not yet bleached, others evidently many years old. We paid a good deal of attention to this display, and one of the party sat down and took a sketch of it. This, and our staring, put the savages into a bad and suspicious temper, which frightened our guide, who insisted upon our sitting down quietly instead of looking about. Our servant now became so terrified, either at what the guide said or at the looks of the savages, that be became perfectly useless, and was only fit to sit in a dark corner during the remainder of our visit. We took a seat in front of one of the houses, and, to produce a better impression, we brought out some packets of needles and made presents from them to the women. Some men who had wounds or sores now applied to us for medical aid. Having a bottle of iodine, we painted the wounds with it, to the great satisfaction of our patients. After a time we went to have a look over the back of the hill towards the east. We saw a long valley running in that direction, and then more mountains; but we were too much shut in to see the sea, or to get a very extended view. One of our party wandered a little way off into a neighbouring grove, which was used for a cemetery; and cries of horror were raised when his presence in it was discovered. On his return a small quantity of dust was poured on his head to purge him. One of the savages gave up to us his hut for the night, and after dinner we had a large audience of both sexes and all ages. The room was lighted by the fire and by knots of resinous pine burnt on a low stool. More men came to have their wounds dressed. Indeed, nearly every man in the village seemed to have abrasions of the skin somewhere. All who liked were allowed to smell at a [p. 271] bottle of ammonia. The extremely energetic way in which they showed their astonishment afforded the greatest amusement to the lookers-on, and everyone seemed to be in the best of humours again.

Next morning we made various presents in recompense for our entertainment, and set off in good time upon our homeward journey. We descended the big hill in less than a quarter of the time we took to ascend it, and soon afterwards came upon a small party of armed savages sitting in the road, who got up and followed us. Then a few more overtook us from behind; then a few descended the hill on our left, then some on our right; then we came on a chief and a stronger party. All we saw joined company with us; till at last we were marching along surrounded by thirty or forty men in war-dress, and armed with spear and knife. As they did not seem particularly friendly, matters looked rather unpleasant, and we did not know what might be coming. We tried to let them get ahead of us; but when we loitered, they did the same; so we had nothing to do but go on steadily. Our guide spoke neither to us nor to them, but led the way in front of everyone, walking fast. At length, when we had got past their last clearing, but were still some miles from the edge of what they consider their territory, some of them began to drop behind, and in a little while the main body halted, while we continued our march alone. We reached Posia shortly before dark, after nearly nine hours' hard walking.

The Boo-hwan savages are of small stature, with good chests and shoulders, but their muscles, excepting those of the legs and thighs, are very little developed. Their faces are pleasing, rather mild than fierce, generally intelligent-looking, and not unfrequently handsome. The wild savages I have seen of two or three other Formosan tribes further south are of a darker red, and of a coarser and less agreeable appearance. In warm weather they wear absolutely no clothes, but some have a small handkerchief tied round the waist with the ends hanging loose in front. They are tattooed across the lower part of the face, with a broad band of net-work passing from the ears under the nose and covering the chin. They have also a few small marks on the forehead, made when they are children. The broad band is tattooed at marriage. The men have a line an inch broad down the forehead and continued on the chin. The women weave a strong and useful kind of canvas from China grass. They also make some rather tasteful embroidery, taking the canvas for a base, and unravelling blue or red calico to obtain the thread for working with. Their houses, which are built of flat stones [p. 272] without mortar, consist of one large room. The floor is two or three feet below the level of the soil. They have no window and a small door, so that they are very dark even in the daytime.

The wild savages in Formosa seem to carry on the practice of man-hunting out of mere devilry and for the sake of obtaining skulls. They kill all alike, Chinese and aborigines, except those of any tribe with whom they may be anxious to keep on good terms at the moment. They leave home in parties of generally from ten to twenty, armed with spears and knives, not with guns, and carrying a small bag of boiled rice on their backs. They sometimes go for as much as two or three days' march till they reach the edge of the frequented spots. Here they lurk about the forest, sometimes cutting off a man working alone in his field, sometimes falling upon a band of travellers whom they are strong enough to master. They never attack unless they think themselves the strongest, and, so thick is the forest, they never show themselves but at the moment of attacking. When their provisions are exhausted, or they have obtained a head, they return home. In the latter case a feast is organised. The skull is roughly cleared out; wine is poured in, and it is handed round for the company to drink from.

Two days after our return to Posia we started on our homeward journey, going due west, and taking the usual road of communication between Posia and the plain.