Dodd, J. "A Glimpse of the manners and customs of the hill tribes of Formosa." Journal of the Straits Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 15 (1885): 69-78.

A Glimpse at the Manners and Customs of the Hill Tribes of North Formosa.

[P. 69] In a previous number of this Journal, I touched lightly on the subject of the probable origin of the Hill Tribes of Formosa, adding at the same time a short vocabulary of a dialect spoken by certain tribes and families occupying the savage forest-clad mountains to the South-East and South of the Chinese town of Banca the quondam emporium of foreign and native trade in the North of the island -- a town said some twenty years ago to have been composed of thirty to forty thousand Chinese souls. Its position as a trading centre has been somewhat interfered with of late years by the rival town of Twatutia (situated only a mile or so to the North of Banca), whose growing importance is owing almost entirely to the establishment there of foreign mercantile houses, and to the rapid development of the tea trade, of which Twatutia is the principal mart.

It is my present object to give a description of the aboriginal tribes living in the hills in rear of Banca extending in various directions toward Sû-oh Bay on the East coast, and more especially of those tribes living nearest to the western borderland in the neighbourhood of Kot Chiu [Chinese characters] formerly a Chinese border outpost, as well as of those residing in the mountains at the back of San Ko Yeng [Chinese characters] and to the East also of To Ko Ham [Chinese characters] extending down to the "Sylvian and Dodd" ranges in the vicinity of the "Petroleum Wells" discovered by myself in the spring of the year 1865.

[P. 70] The Hill Savages of North Formosa are, without doubt, exactly like other human beings in the shape of their bodies and number of their limbs, and although they are as wild as the animals which roam about their country, have no written language of their own, and live in a most primitive style, yet there are no signs of a Darwinian tail, neither do they at all give you the idea that their progenitors were of the monkey species.

The men are not remarkably tall; in fact I should say that few of them measure over five feet nine inches, and the majority of them are, probably, under five feet six inches. In the South of the island, it is said, the men are of a larger mould than those residing North of Latitude 24 N.

The complexion of old men of the tribes is very sallow and often swarthy; that of young, healthy warriors much lighter and clearer, but there is observable in the majority of faces a dark tinge not to be seen in the faces of Chinese, not quite so dark as the complexion of mixed descendants of Portuguese settlers in Macao, but resembling more the tint to be seen in the faces of fair-complexioned Japanese. They are, if anything, darker-skinned than ordinary Chinamen who have not been exposed to the sun; but the peculiar strain referred to, does not appear so distinctly in the younger members of the tribe, or so strong, as it does in the complexions of those who have taken an active part in hunting, fighting, and in the hard daily struggle for existence.

The skin of the darkest savage of the North of the island is not so dark as the complexions of many representatives of Spain, southern France and Italy, and in higher latitudes, many faces of Celtic type shew as dark a hue as that observable in the faces of the aborigines of the North. In old members of the tribes, the colour of the skin assumes a duskier and sallower tint, constant on the frequent exposure to the sun and to the weather, but with all this, there is no similarity of colour to that visible in the faces of African negroes.

The strain of negro blood was plainly visible in the faces of the wrecked Pellew Islanders, but in the colour [p. 71] of the skin and in the texture of the hair of the northern tribes there are no signs of negro extraction. Their hair is invariably dark and lank, not curly or frizzled, their lips are not so thick even as those of Malays, and the high noses possessed by many approach often the European type. With these evidences before us, it is safe to assume that these savages have inherited an intermediate colour not apparently traceable to negro admixture. The diversities of colour in men, whether in a civil sed or wild state, have puzzled enquirers, I imagine, up to the present day, and it is impossible to say with any certainty now, after all the speculations and theories enunciated in books on the subject, whether our first parents were created black or fair-skinned. The stronger reasons are in favour of the former colour, in any case the hot rays of the sun seem to have the effect of only tanning the skin brown, even in the tropics, and this effect in Formosa, where, in the valleys, it is extremely hot for more than half the year, would appear to have no hereditary consequence on the colour of young savages who are launched into the world year after year. The colour of the skin of all peoples must necessarily be a guide to descent, for it must be inherited, of course with modifications. I have considered it advisable to allude to this subject to prove that the savages of North Formosa are not apparently directly descended from the Eastern negro section of the human family, specimens of which are to be found in the islands of the South Pacific Ocean. It is well known that there are certain dark curly-headed tribes in the Philippine group, and possibly similar representatives of that class of people may later on be discovered in some of the numerous valleys of Formosa amongst the tribes to the South of the 24th parallel, when the whole of the country between Mount Morrison and the Sylvian Range has been thoroughly explored. The colour of the skin of all the Northern tribes I have seen appears to be of a uniform hue, without any variety, beyond a darker or lighter complexion observable when comparing bronzed and swarthy old men with younger members of the tribe who have never been much exposed to the weather.

The general contour of the face resembles somewhat that [p. 72] of a Malay, but the lips of the Formosan savage are not so thick, neither are their noses (excepting in few instances) quite so flat as those of the Malays whom I have seen at Singapore and in China. It may safely be said that there is nothing in their physiognomy which resembles the Chinese, their natural enemies, whom they imagine to be the only other inhabitants of Formosa or indeed of the world.

On first meeting a savage of the true type (not beggar savages who are to be found on the borders and often in Chinese villages), you notice immediately the wide difference between him and the Celestial whom you have left on the opposite side of the borders, not only in the shape of his head, but particularly in the expression of the eye, which reminds you more than anything else of the wild and anxious gaze of a Scotch deer-hound. The eyes of most of the young warriors are strikingly black and piercing, they always appear to be on the move, staring to their full extent and gazing with a clear but eager look as it were at some far distant object beyond you. In the eye of the younger huntsmen and warriors, you cannot recognise care, but the look of those in their prime speaks of anxious thought for the morrow and is an index of the general feeling of insecurity, which must frequently and naturally exist amongst men who almost daily encounter dangers from contact with their human enemies, in the shape of neighbouring unfriendly tribes or the wily Chinese invader, as well as at times the wild animals of the forests, on the flesh of which they are, for the most part, dependent for their subsistence. The expression referred to is not one of fear, but denotes rather a life of care and anxiety.

The head being generally small and round, the face is not particularly large or full. The eyes are very dark-coloured and straight cut, not at all oblique. In those of good-looking young men and women, the lashes are dark and long, eyebrows black, strong and thick, but not overhanging. In some faces they often nearly meet at the root of the nose. They are decidedly a very distinct feature of the face, as beards and whiskers are unknown and a moustache is seldom attempted, though I have seen certain old members of tribes [p. 73] wearing a resemblance to one: as a rule all hairs appearing on the chin or cheek are plucked out by the roots, a small pair of tweezers being used for the purpose.

The shape of the heads of savages varies considerably, though the majority of them appear round and rather small. Their faces are for the most part of a Malayan type, some have a Jewish cast, and again you observe faces whose profiles resemble those of Europeans. I am inclined to think that these differences in physiognomies are attributable to the mixture of Malay, Philippine and Polynesian blood with the original ancient stocks previously existing in the island.

The men of the northern tribes are in the habit of tattooing the forehead and chin in horizontal lines of about three quarters of an inch in length, and one-sixteenth part of an inch in breadth right in the center of the forehead from the parting of the hair, which is always in the middle, to the root of the nose.

On the chin, also, are similar horizontal lines, and these are, as a rule, the only tattoo marks that are visible on the faces of the men. On the body they tattoo slightly, but it is not very general amongst them. The men have also a curious custom of piercing the lobes of their ears. Each lobe has a hole through it, large enough to receive a piece of bamboo about the size of a Manila cheroot. They usually wear therein hollow pieces of young bamboo with tufts of scarlet long-ells sticking out of the opening at the upper end; others insert pieces of what appears to be white cuttle-fish bone, about four inches long, with a disc made of the same material in the outer end. On the foreheads of some of the men may be seen similar flat but round pieces of cuttle-fish bone, fixed there by means of a piece of string round the head or attached to a circlet or wreath of embroidered camlets or native-made cloth. On their small, tight-fitting caps, they frequently fix circular pieces of this white cuttle-fish bone, or whatever it is. It seems to be quite a common article of barter amongst them. They use strings of small beads made of cuttle-fish bone not only as ornaments for their heads and necks, but as a "circulating medium." Necklaces, earrings and trinkets of various kinds are made of it. The [p. 74] aborigines of the northern and central mountains are immensely fond of all sorts of trinkets. Round the necks of old men and young warriors are seen necklaces of wild boars' tusks and teeth of animals. They are worn often as heirlooms, but principally as symbols of individual prowess. They often load their necks with metal trinkets, cuttle-fish beads, &c., to which they attach numerous little appliances connected with the priming and loading of their matchlocks, a motley sort of collection, which excites the curiosity of the beholder. Every man who possesses a gun (pâhtûs) wears round his neck curious-looking priming-flasks full of powder, and over his shoulder, or round his waist, an oblong-shaped case, made of skin, often containing several cylindrical-shaped wooden receptacles full of powder. He has generally about him a small bag containing shot and long iron projectiles almost the size of the little finger, which are slipped down the muzzle of the long-barrelled matchlock on top of the powder without any wad between. Matchlocks, however, are not very common in the interior, and even the border tribes are only scantily furnished with them. The majority of the men are armed with bows and arrows, with which they make good practice at stationary objects. Bowmen wear round their waists a deer skin strap, or arrow-belt, and not a man is without a long knife called lalão. Another common appendage is a bag made either of hempen cloth or skin, about four or five inches broad and nine or ten inches long, in which they place dried tobacco leaves. Tobacco grows wild in many parts of the country inhabited by the savages, and in Chinese territory it is cultivated to a large extent in certain districts. The savages simply sun-dry it, then rub it in their hands and place it in their pipes. In this form it is very mild. Foreigners make it into blocks by placing the leaves one above the other; a little water is then sprinkled over them, sometimes a dash of rum, the leaves are then pressed into a compact block, or are compressed into a circular shape about the size of the wrist and tapering to a point at both ends. Tobacco made in this form is tied round tightly together with rope, and is a very good substitute for what is called ship's tobacco. Native-grown tobacco, has been often prepared in this way by sailors on board [p. 75] British gunboats visiting Tamsui, and has been much appreciated by every one fond of a pipe.

Chinese cultivate the tobacco plant, and large quantities are exported in junks to the mainland, where it is "cured" according to Chinese taste, and in this form is re-imported for the use of Chinese only. The plant seems to thrive in Formosa luxuriantly, and it is a wonder that no attempt has been made here to manufacture cigars and cheroots for foreign exportation. Judging from the quality and size of the leaf, there ought to be no difficulty in producing cigars equal to those made in Manila.

The aborigines of the North one and all smoke tobacco. Men and women invariably do so, and even young boys and girls are addicted to this pleasant vice, and as the plant grows wild and Formosa is a feverish and aguish country, it is not astonishing that smoking is such a common habit amongst them. Their pipes are made of hollowed bamboo and the stem (tûtû bidnâ kûi) is also made of very thin bamboo reed, being about half a foot to a foot in length, according to the taste of the owner. The bowls are often very tastefully and prettily carved and are frequently ornamented with pieces of metal. When not in use, the pipe is generally stuck in the hair at the back of the head by both men and women.

The clothing of these so-called savages living in the lower hills adjoining Chinese territory is, especially in the summer months, very scant. It consists chiefly of a coat, called lúkús resembling very much an enlarged singlet open in the front and as a rule without sleeves. Four straight pieces of native hempen cloth are sewn together two to the back and two in front, leaving room for the arms to pass through, sewn also at the top over the shoulders, but open in front, exposing the chest and stomach. Sometimes they are buttoned across the chest, and sleeves are occasionally worn by border savages. These coats cover the back entirely, and reach down nearly as far as the knees, and although they are usually made of plain, coarse, bleached, hempen cloth, they are almost always embroidered from the waist downwards, or interwoven with either blue or scarlet threads of long-ells, which they obtain from the [p. 76] Chinese borderers.

The patterns vary very much, resembling somewhat the carvings to be seen on their pipe stems and not unlike the tattoo lines and bars on the faces of the women. They shew great diversity as well as regularity of design, and if not imitations derived from outside sources, they indicate not only originality but great taste. In addition to the lúkús the men wear round their waists a strip of woven hemp four or five inches broad, embroidered in the same way as the lower part of the lúkús. This girdle or belt is called habbock, and is worn next to the skin as a rule, but sometimes outside the coat. The lúkús and habbock are almost the only articles of clothing worn by the men in the lower ranges of hills, but on the higher levels many wear coats with sleeves, and sometimes clothes made of the skins of animals.

In the summer months, one often meets men and boys roaming about with absolutely no clothes on at all. Some consider "full dress" to consist of a rattan wicker-work closely fitting cap (mobu), others strut about all day long with only the belt or habbock round their waists, with the lalão stuck in it.

The blade of the lalão is about a foot and a half long and is always kept sharp. It is set in a haft of wood, which is usually adorned in the same way as their pipes, with carvings and pieces of metal. The blade is protected by a sheath of wood on one side and an open wire work guard on the other. At the end of this scabbard is often fixed part of the tail of a Chinaman, or other enemy, who has fallen a victim in some border war or on some head-hunting expedition. The lalão is a most necessary article to possess, for with it they cut their way through the jungle and thick undergrowth, with it they give the death-blow to the game they hunt; they use it in dividing the animals they kill, they eat with it as sailors do with their knives, they cut and split firewood with it, and last of all they cut off the heads of their enemies with this most useful implement. The blades are made by Chinese and are obtained by the savages in barter for deer's horns, &c.; often they are taken from the bodies of Chinese killed by them [p. 77] in their numerous encounters with their would-be exterminators.

On occasions the men sometimes wear tied over their right shoulder and flowing down the back and across the chest, a square piece of variegated cloth (worn by women as a sort of petticoat, tied round the waist and reaching to the knees), but this article of apparel is worn more by the women than the men.

They wear another kind of coat, or rather jacket, called the fighting jacket. It is made in every way like the lúkús, but in its size. Instead of extending low down the body; it only reaches as far as the waist, and is more like a shell jacket without sleeves than anything else. It is made of hemp, very closely interwoven with threads of scarlet long-ells, a colour which, amongst the northern tribes, seems to be the favourite. Further south, towards the Sylvian Range, coats embroidered with blue thread of long-ells are more the fashion. The long-ells and camlets used by the border savages are obtained from their neighbours, the Chinese hillmen. In describing the dress of the savages, I am alluding at present more especially to that worn by men living in the hills to the North of N. Lat. 24, and to the East of 121 E. Long. There appears to be very little variety in the costumes worn in this region, that is, in the lower ranges of hills, but at 6,000 to 8,000 feet above the sea level, great differences in the appearance of the dresses as well as in the manners and ways of the people are observable. A rather curious apology for a great coat is worn in damp or rainy weather, of which they get a very full share at all times of the year, for the lofty mountain ranges, varying from 4,000 to 12,000 feet running nearly the whole length of the island, offer a great attraction to rain clouds.

This coat is made generally of the skin of the large brown deer, only partially cured by exposure to the sun and wind. The design is about as rude as anything can be, a slit of about six inches in length is made in the hide and at the end of the slit a circular piece of the skin is cut out, allowing just room for the neck. The stiffness of the hide and the narrow space [p. 78] allowed for the neck, prevent the coat dropping off the shoulders. A man with a covering of this kind can screw himself up into such a position that no part of this body is exposed, excepting his head, and on this he places his jockey-shaped rattan cap, with the peak at the back, thus securing perfect protection from rain. A few other articles besides those named are carried, such as hand nets, fishing gear, rope port-fires (made of hemp or the bark of a tree), worn round the wrists of men armed with matchlocks, &c., but such articles will be referred to later on.

(To be continued.)