Collingwood, [Cuthbert]. "Visit to the Kibalan village of Sano Bay, north-east coast of Formosa. Including a vocabulary of the dialect." Transactions of the Ethnological Society of London 6 (1868): 135-143.


Visit to the Kibalan Village of Sano Bay, North-east Coast of Formosa. Including a Vocabulary of the Dialect.

By Dr. Collingwood, F.L.S.

[Read April 9th, 1867.]


[P. 135] On the 13th June, 1866, I visited Sano Bay, on the east coast of Formosa, in H.M.S. Serpent, Commander Bullock, proceeding thither from the harbour of Kelung. The object of this visit was chiefly the verification of some supposed dangers in the harbour, which is spacious and not difficult of approach, and, although little frequented, is of importance as the only available harbour upon the whole east coast of the island. Our visit acquired additional interest from the fact that there was believed to be a village in the bay, occupied by the aborigines of the island, whom we were anxious to meet with. We found four villages in the bay: the first and smallest upon the northern side was a mere hamlet of Chinese fishermen, consisting of half-a-dozen cottages upon the hill-side, their boats drawn up on the beach in front. Passing by this, we proceeded up the harbour, and anchored near a sandy beach, beyond which we could see some roofs of houses. All the rest of the bay had a desolate and lifeless appearance, the lofty hills sweeping down to the water's edge, generally densely wooded, and presenting an aspect of wildness, which accorded well with our belief that they were inhabited by the still savage aborigines of Formosa.

On the approach of the vessel, numbers of people assembled on the beach from the large Chinese village of Sano, attracted by the unusual circumstance: among them the gamins were conspicuous, capering about on the sand, while their more sober elders formed a long line in the background, squatting on their hams, and discussing over their pipes the cause of the phenomenon. As soon as we landed, we were escorted into the village by the crowd, and, on reaching it, were received by sundry explosions, which we were fain to consider a salute of honour. Sundry warlike-looking personages, armed with matchlocks, had turned out to meet the suspicious-looking strangers; but seeing us walking unarmed and amicably among the citizens, they fired their weapons harmlessly in the air for effect. They allowed us to examine their matchlocks, which we were told were manufactured at Amoy; and their ammunition, [p. 136] consisting of very coarse powder, with a finer grain for the priming, and bullets&emdash;some round, some oblong, some rectangular.

We found nothing remarkable in this village, which was essentially Chinese in its dirt, its pigs, and its inhabitants&emdash;closely resembling in character the other towns of Formosa; but our attention was arrested by a woman, whose handsome and European-looking features, and peculiar voice, at once marked her as non-Chinese, and shewed her to be one of the aboriginal inhabitants. How she came thus domesticated among the Chinese we could not learn, but we heard from various quarters that a system of petty warfare is kept up between the two races, and that occasionally some of the women are carried off by the opposing parties.

The following morning we landed on the southern side of the bay, where we were to find the native village, of which no trace however was visible from the ship. We were met upon the beach by a number of men and women, who were in no respect, either of dress or feature, similar to the Chinese, and along with them, after the first expressions of surprise and curiosity, we entered the village. This is rudely walled, the entrance being through doors at either side, by which we passed into an assemblage of huts constructed chiefly of grass and bamboos. The grass is woven into a kind of trellis or mat, which is placed against the sides, while the chief part of the walls is constructed of upright sticks, the interstices being imperfectly plastered with mud to keep out the weather. The door is of bamboo, and fixed upon a rude hinge, the lower part revolving sometimes upon the bottom of an earthern cup, to give freedom of motion. The roof is a thick thatch of grass and herbs (in which a species of Turk's-cap lily is largely used), and is supported by bamboos irregularly disposed among it. At one end is often an overhanging shed, containing a supply of firewood, of which there is everywhere abundance.

The interior of these huts contained but little; a stone stove, and a square flat board in one corner, which did service for a bed&emdash;apparently for the whole family&emdash;appearing to constitute nearly the whole furniture. Articles employed in fishing might be seen stuck into the thatch, and a stool or two was to be found in most cottages. Besides these, a few small articles of convenience existed which could be found when required by the owner.

The occupants of these habitations were a fine race of people, much superior in good looks to the Chinese; their features being more regular and well formed, and their expression decidedly more intelligent. The complexion was olive, the eyes [p. 137] wanting the obliquity so characteristic of the Mongol race, the cheek-bones less high and prominent, the lips somewhat thick, and the chin well turned, giving altogether a very pleasing expression, neither stupid nor savage. The hair was usually black, but sometimes had a decidedly reddish cast, and that of the women was luxuriant and tied with a loose knot, while the men had adopted the Chinese custom of shaving the forehead, though not so far back as the vertex, and wearing a pigtail. Their physical proportions were in many cases very striking, and among them we saw both men and women of stalwart proportions. Some of the young girls were decidedly pretty, and exhibited all the coquetry, the love of finery, and other characteristics, which distinguish the sex in general in other parts of the world.

The costume of these people was somewhat slight. The men were attired similarly to Chinese coolies, that is, usually in a simple pair of short drawers, to which in some cases a blouse was added. The dress of the women consisted of a sarong or petticoat, folded round the loins and meeting in front, where it overlapped, but was not fastened. This petticoat did not reach so far as the knees, and the feet and legs were bare. A sort of loose jacket, open in front, completed their attire, though some of the matrons did not make use of this addition. The young children of both sexes were entirely naked. This, however, appears to be a costume not always considered necessary, and those who landed at the village early on the second morning report that the population was more scantily clad, the men being entirely naked, and the women wearing only a flap round the loins. Seeing, however, the strangers arrive, they retired with deliberation to their huts, closed the doors, and reappeared in the costume above described. The women possessed necklaces of beads, which they wore round their necks, and some of them had stone bangles round their arms; their ears were pierced in three or four places from the lobe upwards, though none of them seemed to have ornaments in them, except buttons, often of the commonest kind. Most of the children had objects round their necks, such as coins, beads, or buttons.

It should be mentioned that, in most cases, the garments worn by these people were made from a cloth of their own manufacture. This was a stout material, the threads of which were usually arranged in a zigzag pattern, and of a whitish or [p. 138] bluish-white colour. Many of the younger girls were employed in spinning the thread from fibres of hemp; and the cloth was woven by the older women, in pieces about a yard and a half long and a foot broad; three of which pieces they were willing to dispose of for one dollar.

These people are called by themselves Kibalan, and are, I believe, known by the Chinese as the tame aborigines, in contra-distinction to the raw savages which dwell on the mountains, and on the east coast more particularly. These latter are at deadly enmity with the Chinese; while the Kibalan live in close proximity, though isolated from them. An officious half-caste among them informed us that there was another village close by; so, guided by him, we proceeded about a furlong along the beach, but were rather disgusted to find it a Chinese village, differing in no respect from other dirty Chinese villages. Returning, therefore, to the Kibalan village, the name of which I believe is Shek-fan, we made known to them by signs that we were anxious to visit the mountains, and to meet with the savages. They, however, did their best to persuade us not to go, assuring us that we should be shot. On shewing them our revolvers, however, they seemed to think we should be safer; but, when we inquired for a guide, one and all declared that their throats would be cut if they ventured among the hills. After considerable parley, the sight of a dollar induced one to accompany us, and, having armed himself with his matchlock, we set out; our guide, however, taking good care to keep in the rear of the party. Crossing some paddy fields, and proceeding along a sandy bay to the southward, our path was arrested by rocks, while on our right was a range of hills covered with a seemingly impenetrable forest. On closer examination, however, we discovered a beaten track, and up it we climbed, through a dense vegetation of tree ferns, camphor trees, etc., among which were some beautiful flowers, and many gaudy butterflies, although the overarching trees shut out most of the light. We ascended a considerable distance, tracing the path, which, although faint, was evident, and marking the trees as we ascended; but no trace could we find of the savages of whom we were in search. At length, finding the path less and less distinct, and time failing, we gave up the chase, and descended to the Kibalan village. The track which we had followed, however, was so evidently a more or less frequented one, that, considering the dread professed by the inhabitants of the village of their savage neighbours, it is difficult to understand by whom it could have been used, unless by the mountain aborigines descending to the plain in search of supplies. Subsequent inquiries at Sano, as well as some [p. 139] signs made by the Kibalans, elicited the information (whether true or false) that the aborigines of the mountains could not be reached under two days' journey from Sano Bay.

We unpacked our basket of provisions in the middle of the village, and were soon surrounded by the entire population, who pressed curiously about us, but withal civilly; and seemed to think our eatables not bad, particularly the loaf sugar, which young and old appeared to appreciate. Captain Bullock had brought with him some old numbers of the Illustrated London News, which he distributed among them; but I remarked that though all seemed anxious to get a leaf, they did not look at the woodcuts, but immediately folded it up and put it in some part of their dress -- nor could I interest them by pointing out to them the most striking illustrations, which they did not appear to comprehend. They did not, however, show any lack of interest and curiosity in most things, and the men particularly most inquisitively examined every part of our dress, feeling its texture, looking into our pockets, and shewing by signs that they wished to see the interior of any box or bag we happened to carry. Nor were they content with looking once, but the same objects must be inspected again and again. The women more particularly exhibited a great anxiety to obtain as presents anything we could give them, particularly anything ornamental. The naval buttons were a great temptation, and over and over again they pointed to them, and intimated their desire to be the fortunate possessors of them. When denied, they would point to a young child and ask for it for him, as though we could not refuse it. Darwin, I may observe, makes the same remark when speaking of the Fuegians. If the button was given under these circumstances, it was immediately fastened on a string and tied round the child's forehead. But so importunate were they, that I might have completely stripped myself and found candidates for every article I possessed. Notwithstanding this, however, and that they repeatedly put their hands into our pockets, not a single article was lost, and no attempt was made to steal, but upon its being re-demanded they never offered to retain any object whatever. After our meal was over, the empty bottles were eagerly sought after, and we soon learned that no more acceptable present than a bottle could be made to them. This, which they called brasco, and tobacco, were the only two things which they specially applied for. Nearly everyone, men and women, smoked; and almost our first greeting was a demand for tobacco, a word which they appeared [p. 140] to have previously learned. A small plantation of tobacco grew and was in flower within the walls of the village, and in several places the leaves were laid out in the sun to dry. It is smoked by them in pipes about a foot long, which the woman sticks in her hair when she is not using it, and not unfrequently we observed them smoking a bundle of scarcely dried leaves, rolled up and forming a rude and uncouth cigar.

It will not be supposed, however, that they were without occupation. In many huts the men were asleep, but towards evening they might be seen with their nets wending their way to the beach. Others I observed engaged over some seething vessels, in which I found they were extracting oil from the bones of turtle. The women had, several of them, naked babies hanging to their bare breasts; others came in from the country with pruning knives, and laden with large bundles of grass and lily straw, which they laid down to dry in the sun, and which it appeared was ultimately intended for the repair of the thatch. These women had cloths wound round their legs, as a protection while in the field, and broad bamboo hats hanging by their side for wear in the hot sun. Others were spinning thread or weaving cloth, while some were engaged in beating rice out of the husks, which they did by placing it in a hollow stone vessel, under which they put a mat, and then two of them beating it alternately with the end of a heavy bamboo. While some were thus engaged, the idlers allowed themselves to be amused by some of our party, who showed them little tricks, which caused hearty laughter, and which they tried their best to imitate. Seeing a revolver, they were very anxious to see it shot off, and stuck up a leaf upon a door to be shot at, which was done twice, upon which there immediately appeared two or three men armed with matchlocks, who had evidently turned out at the sound of the pistol to protect the community in case of need. This little incident seemed to prove that they were always on the alert, and gave colour to the general report that they, like the Chinese, are subject to the raids of the raw mountain savages, against whom they are always more or less prepared to defend themselves. This was also corroborated by the fact, that in the midst of the village a building was in course of construction, which was evidently of a defensive character. It was in a very unfinished state, having at present no roof, and the walls not all completed; but the loopholes in the walls of the finished sides, as well as the accounts of the natives themselves, showed for what purpose it was intended. Men were engaged in sawing wood, and doing other business of construction.

By the side of this unfinished building was piled a great [p. 141] heap of tiles of a dark colour, and of a most rubbishy brittle character, which they had purchased of the Chinese for roofing their fort. It seemed the greater pity, inasmuch as the rocks of Sano Bay are of a slaty character, with very distinct cleavage; and, close by the village, slates might have been obtained by a little trouble and intelligence, and these would have answered the purpose better than the wretched tiles they were about to use. A herd of water-buffalos, brought home late in the afternoon, repaired to a muddy pool in front of this building, and, with their characteristic timidity and stupidity, after eyeing us curiously for some time, they took alarm at some movement of one of our party, and bolting helter-skelter out of the mud, floundered over the heap of tiles, crushing numbers of them to pieces, and all but overset some of the native huts in their mad career. Besides buffalos, they have pigs (always black), Chinese dogs, Japanese cats with short twisted tails, and fowls.

The following morning a number of natives visited the ship in their boats, and, on bottles being shown to them, they eagerly demanded them. When thrown into the water, half-a-dozen men leaped after them, and vigorous swimming-matches took place for the prizes. They would also dive for buttons of any kind that were thrown in. Soon afterwards several boats, full of people of all ages and both sexes, came alongside and readily ventured on board. Indeed, one great distinction between these people and the Chinese was the entire absence of timidity on the part of the females, who, instead of running away and hiding themselves as soon as they are even looked at, showed the most perfect confidence and freedom from mauvaise honte. They immediately commenced eagerly inquiring for brascos (bottles), and as our supply of these desirable articles was limited (owing to the custom of throwing empty bottles overboard), considerable jealousy was excited among the unsuccessful competitors. There was no idea of barter, and perhaps it was our own fault that we obtained nothing in return for our valuable presents. A number of our visitors were induced to descend to the captain's cabin, where, as lunch was going on, they readily partook of the edibles, and made themselves quite at home. Captain Bullock good naturedly cut off the tassels from his cushions, which were immediately transferred to the hair of the native beauties. After going about the ship, and conducting themselves with the greatest propriety, they returned to the village. A little incident struck me as worth recording. One of the men passing the ward-room sky-light, where some [p. 142] of the officers were at lunch, looked down, and lingered, when he was pulled away gently by another man who was with him. It was a slight movement, but Chinamen would have remained and stared till their eyes started from their heads before such native politeness would have occurred to them.

Mr. Sutton, chief engineer, who is an experienced photographer, took his camera on shore, and succeeded in taking several excellent stereoscopic pictures of the village and its inhabitants. The people readily acceded to the desire that they should sit, and several picturesque groups were formed, some of which were successfully fixed by the camera: of course it was very difficult to keep them all quiet, and impossible to make them comprehend the necessity of absolute stillness during the critical moments. The result, however, was in several instances very satisfactory.

The attempt to learn some of their words, and to form as good a vocabulary of their language as the time would permit, was met by perfect good will on their part; and many words, as well as their mode of counting, were obtained, chiefly from the women, who appeared to take considerable interest in imparting the information. Considerable amusement, too, was excited by our mistakes in pronunciation, etc., and our efforts elicited a considerable show of intelligence on their part. We found the women much more serviceable than the men for this purpose, chiefly on account of their clear pronunciation, which was much more distinct than that of the men. Thus, for example, the attempt of the women to pronounce English words was much more successful than that of the men. The word "flint," for instance, being given them, a man would not approach it nearer than plin-iss, while the women at once said fil-lint. The voice of the women was remarkably agreeable, having a plaintiveness and softness which were really striking, and sometimes sounded more like a gentle singing than speaking.

We looked in vain for any indication of their religious ideas. Over the door of the village, by which we entered, some one had stuck a joss paper, after the manner of the Chinese, and probably some Chinese had done it, but there were no joss-houses or temples in the hamlet, nor did we find any in the houses, though among the poorer Chinese almost every house has a little altar to the lares in the principal room. We inquired as well as we were able of the inhabitants on this point, but were able to elicit nothing from them.

With regard to their diseases, we had no means of learning anything of the mortality of the village. One young woman appeared to be recovering from small-pox, and one old woman [p. 143] was covered with a skin disease, which gave her a leprous appearance, but the people in general were healthy-looking and physically strong, hardy, and well made. We observed no deformities among them, with the exception of one child of three or four years old, which crawled nimbly about on its hands and knees, and appeared to be physically unable to stand or walk. The village may have contained, at a rough estimate, two hundred and fifty inhabitants. There were plenty of children, but old grey-headed persons were not numerous.

In conclusion, I think it is evident that the race of people inhabiting this village is distinct from the Chinese. Among the women, particularly, there was scarcely one who had a Chinese feature, and their habits and modes of life also differ considerably. The feet were in no instance bandaged, as is universally the custom among the neighbouring Chinese. With regard to the men, it was not always so easy to discriminate, although in many, or rather most, instances, the Kibalan man was bigger and more stalwart, and with a cast of features superior to that of the Chinese. Some of them may have been half-castes, but I am of opinion that the majority of the inhabitants were of pure aboriginal descent, though how they became separated from the mountain savages, and the process and return of their domestication, I have no means of knowing. Their present isolation in their own special village in a great measure accounts for the apparent purity of their blood. They were in all respects a more intelligent and more engaging people than the Chinese of Formosa, though these latter affect superiority. Thus, when I inquired of a man in the Chinese village of Sano, who I imagined had a dash of Kibalan in his face, if he belonged to that race, he replied, "No, I am a man" (that is, a Chinese), "not a foreigner."

I append to this a vocabulary of words used in this village; and a comparison with a similar vocabulary of words used by the South Formosan aborigines exhibits a very great similarity between them, proving beyond a doubt the identity of the two races.