Guérin, M., and M. Bernard. "Les Aborigènes de l'île de Formose." Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de Paris 5th series, 15 (1868): 542-568. Note: Partial translation in HRAF, AD1, Formosa, #24. Additions and corrections to that translation were made by Miranda Fix and Hugh Hochman; the translation was edited by Douglas Fix.
The Aborigines of the Island of Formosa
By Mr. Guérin (former vice-consul of France to Formosa) and Mr. [Joseph] Bernard
[Original editor's note, which appeared as a footnote in the original:]
The delay brought to the publication of the interesting note of Mssrs. Guérin and Bernard is due to the fact that the map enclosed with the document gives the name of Mt. Morrison to a massif different and at quite a distance from that to which the name is attributed by the British Admiralty map of Formosa. While a request for clarification directed, over a year ago, to the authors of the work below was awaiting response, the editorial staff of the Bulletin believed it was necessary to publish, without any revision, the summary sent to the Society by Mssrs. Guérin and Bernard. On their map, Mt. Morrison occupied the position where there appeared, on the British maps, two unnamed massifs, of which the altitudinal heights were from 9,500 to 12,000 feet; this last number is somewhat neighboring that of the 13,000 feet that Mssrs. Guérin and Bernard give for the altitude of the massif which they call Mt. Morrison. One experiences some difficulty recognizing the position given to this mountain by the authors of the notice on the Aborigines of Formosa as being the result of an error. There is every reason to acknowledge the possibility that attributing in a general manner the name of Mt. Morrison to the entire mountainous group that traverses the island of Formosa from north to south, they have assigned this name specifically to the massif around which the aboriginal tribes that they visited have settled.
Letter to Mr. Vivien de Saint-Martin, Vice-president of the Central Commission of the Society of Geography
Yokohama, 16 November 1866.
[P. 542] Sir, here is the document on the island of Formosa, which I had the honor of announcing to you in my previous letter. The contour of the island was modeled on a map of the British Admiralty; the interior is the work of my collaborator, Mr. Bernard, and myself. The aboriginal territory [p. 543] is composed of mountain ranges more or less elevated and detached from the Morrisonian Alps. An ascent of Mt. Morrison would be, no doubt, very interesting: twice, we wanted to attempt it, but twice the season served us badly, and the neighboring tribes counseled us to return at a more favorable time. We voluntarily omitted, either in the plains or in the mountainous portion that the Chinese occupy, a crowd of small towns of little importance, the names of which would have blackened the map considerably.
At this moment when I am about to leave Yokohama, will you forgive me for jotting down some simple impressions? A fragment of conversation, or only a few words striking the ear, leaves the idea of a sister language of the idioms of the island Formosa (to quote only those which are known to us). Also there is no doubt that the origin of the Japanese language is not located in the surrounding islands or in the tribes who inhabit the mountains of the continent. But while the neighboring dialects of its cradle remained stationary, the Japanese language had to go through a series of evolutions, corresponding to various phases of civilization of those who spoke it, before it was fully developed. Writing brought it precision and some inevitable modifications.
The savage parentage betrays itself in many other ways. The Japanese woman, like her counterpart (congénère) in the tribes, encircles her waist with a loincloth; but here is a more characteristic resemblance. In Japan, a woman does not show herself in this state of inferiority that, in our days, is to some extent the rule in Asia. Civilization, while corrupting her, could not take away her legitimate place in society.
The men of the race preserved the custom of dressing scantily, and, among them, one encounters the shirt of the aborigine filling the office [p. 544] of principal garment with a few modifications. The cloth differs; the designs are analogous. Tattooing is observed on the body or the limbs with illuminations and capricious developments. Then one finds this custom: two talkers (causeurs) dealing with business serious in their eyes, putting themselves at a distance, sometimes in the middle of the street or of an intersection, and squatting one facing the other until the end of their discussion.
Just like the Tagal of Luzon, the Japanese appears resistant to the ways of the Chinese. He distinguishes himself specifically from the latter by the faculty and desire of imitation. This precious quality is called to play an immense role in the future destinies of his country.
Thanks to a diversity of temperament, the Japanese never bows completely to Chinese civilization; not that the latter is not revealed at every step and often by its unpleasant dimensions; not that it did not have, moreover, an erudite initiative, and that Japan does not owe it to have left a state of barbarism; but it was only for lack of anything better. The Japanese nation, removed from certain obstacles, will get rid of the lessons of its first schoolteachers as soon as it will have found better masters.
The instinct and need for amelioration and improvement does exist, with a state of highly-pronounced feeling, within all ranks of the nation, and engender a movement that must carry Japan away in the eddy of European civilization. However, it is regrettable that the aristocracy, powerless to seize the movement for itself, represses it, frightened to see a drive toward equality.
How was the social hierarchy of castes introduced to Japan? It is certainly not a product of Chinese importation, but rather the result of the method by which the invasion took place. The first occupants, less numerous or not sufficiently hardened, knew neither to defend [p. 545] their adopted land nor to enforce their freedom; and being left to subjugation by a migration stronger and more compact, they became a conquered people. It was not, without doubt, an absolute serfdom; the victor was of their race, but their resistance, uncrowned by success, placed them in a position of manifest inferiority.
The Portuguese are the European patrons of Formosa, of which the name expresses the sensation of pleasure that bold navigators, tired of the monotony and bareness of the coasts of the celestial-empire, experience at the sight of green hills, rivers with clear waters, and shady forests.
Formosa is an island that extends along the Chinese continent from lat. 22° to 25° 20” N. Measured on the map, its greatest length equals 4 degrees from north to south. The book by the American writer William gives its surface as 14,000 square miles (36,000 square kilometers). It is volcanic in nature, and its distinguishing feature is the chains of parallel mountains, which traverse it from north to south.
The mountains are assembled to the East, where their perpendicular slopes drop down into the tides of the ocean and cover the southern tip of the island. Then on their western slopes they make a fairly regular curve, which forms a plain between the mountains and the sea that is uninterrupted from Takao to Taika, and which, narrow at its origin, widens until it spans 20 kilometers in some places. Between these two points, a series of peaks rises perpendicularly from the central chain. From Taika to the north, the mountain system is more highly developed, and the northern quarter of the island is an enormous mountainous area. Moving from the east toward the sea on the west, there are always some isolated peaks, but one would say they are more disordered, or rather the effects of a less regular radiation. Large and fertile valleys extend [p. 546] along the watercourses. The same arrangement is found in the N.N.E. extremities, as far as Sau-o-bay.
The center of this radiation, and probably the origin of all the mountains of Formosa, is the Alps of Mount Morrison [Mt. Sylvia?], which rise up in this part of the island. The summit towers to a height of 12,000 to 13,000 feet, and it is covered with eternal snow. These peaks include more than one cluster 5,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude. While the eastern slope of the chain is covered with vigorous forests, to the west, and in all the points where Chinese domination has been able to extend itself, the trees have disappeared, replaced by cultivated fields, tall grasses, and occasional groves.
In the plain, the soil is generally sandy; the valleys are formed by alluvia or pebbly layers covered with a rich vegetal earth.
The long slope of the mountains is on the western side, and the eastern slope offers no proper rivers, but only brooks or torrents. The western part of Formosa is, on the contrary, furrowed with watercourses that empty into the sea, after they have been swollen by several tributaries. The main rivers, going south to north, are: the Taiwan-fu and Pakan Rivers, the Black River (la riviere Noire), the Lokan, Taika, Héou-lang, Tion-kan, Touk-Shan, Tam-sui, and finally the Sau-o-bay River. They have a number of tributaries at the point where they reach the plain; these meet after a short ways, and each river empties into the sea via a single mouth.
In the plain, the watercourses have a broad bed with a bottom of sand that the winds of the S.W. monsoon accumulated on one of their banks. The Black River, which is the broadest one on the island, is peculiar in that it carries along water as black as the sand of its riverbed. Starting from the Taika River, the waters are more confined and move along on a bed of pebbles.
The Tam-sui River is the only one that is navigable; ships can anchor [p. 547] three miles up stream while fairly good-sized junks can go 10 miles farther up; then its tributaries are such that light boats can go into the heart of the mountains.
We add, in concluding this brief exposé, that Formosa has one serious fault: There are no good anchorages, and the coasts are inhospitable. On the east, the waters are deep and the mountains practically vertical. Sau-o-bay could only be a place of refuge because the commerce is on the west coast. It is true that the harbor of Ki-long is vast and easy to reach; but most of it is filled with coral shallows, and the surrounding hills are not a sufficient protection, so vessels anchoring there are frequently thrown on shore during a typhoon. Even when the weather is not really bad, the sand bar protecting the entrance to the Tam-sui River [near Tamsui harbor] becomes impassible. Taiwan-fu is only an anchorage on the open sea, and ships do not dare stop there except during the northeastern monsoon. The sand bar at the entrance of Takao harbor makes it impossible for any save small vessels to enter it. All the other points on this coast are only anchorages that are several miles from shore; they have no protection, and are treacherous because of their bars of quick-sand.
Formosa does not have original inhabitants [for all migrated in from elsewhere]. Its first inhabitants belong to the great family whose cradle was in Indo-China but which was doomed to wander because of the invasions of conquering races. They are a part of that human sub-soil which is formed by the savage tribes of China, Hainan Island, the Philippines and its neighboring archipelagoes, the Mois of Laos, etc. However, as they were the first, and for a long time the only, inhabitants of our island, we shall call them the aborigines. [p. 548] Their migrations must have taken place at a very remote time; they were successive and had no unity as to their point of departure.
At that time, the forest dropped way down to the sea so the immigrants could settle in the valleys and the plain. The watercourses were natural frontiers between these newly arrived clans. They lived by hunting and fishing, spoke completely different languages and fought one another. Hospitable, in contrast, to the foreigner, the aboriginal tribes welcomed the Chinese who were fugitives or castaways thrown upon the shores of Formosa during storms; they failed to worry the Spanish when they tried to make a pied-a-terre at Ki-long; they let the Japanese walk, as if they owned the place, all over the island; and they finally allied themselves with the Dutch, at war therefore with the pirate Koxinga. Unfortunately, the Dutch were annihilated. In the 17th Century, the ambitious Chinese, wanting to carve out a kingdom for themselves in their victory, led an expedition against the Formosans, and removed the plain and the valleys from them without difficulty. This was the only military operation that had ever jeopardized the existence of the tribes.
Due to practices and processes that we will analyze elsewhere, the aborigines lost much of the hilly territory. However, this repression had been gradual, similar to a voluntary movement of retreat and without offering any of the actors a precipitate rout.
The wind of migration blew many tribes to Formosa, but there were a very small number of individuals in each agglomeration. Some of these clans have disappeared, others have been dominated by the Chinese, but the majority of them have bravely retired into the heart of the mountains.
What is the precise savage population at the present time? [p. 549] Although it is impossible to answer this question exactly, we estimate that it is between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
One important point is the localization of the tribes on the soil to which they retreated. With the exception of slopes that are used for cultivation, and the thickets that are in the immediate vicinity of the villages and hamlets, the territories of the aborigines are very complicated. Several clans use them for hunting; those in the east have a right of passage, which enables them to approach the Chinese frontier. Yet there are certain boundaries, which are rarely crossed. These barriers are essentially of a moral nature, and they are due to the linguistic differences existing between neighboring tribes. Let us add that there are always watercourses which form a corresponding frontier. These, however, are in the middle of the mountains, and are nothing but a nominal obstacle. However, if it is difficult to circumscribe the dependent territories (dependances territoriales) of a tribe, its hearth (that is to say the village) occupies a nearly immutable position.
Our ethnographic task is limited to noting (relever) the principal aboriginal centers, with a gap however, for we have not yet visited a few clans at the southern extremity of the island, as well as several oriental races.
The distinctive characteristic of the savage condition is a wide diversity of language in a small area, and we find this on Formosa. But in spite of this diversity, as well as a few differences in clothing and customs that are really due to typography or surroundings, the familial characteristics stand out in relief. There do not exist two ways of being savage, that is to say of satisfying the basic needs [p. 550] using limited methods or imperfect instruments.
In general, each tribe has its own dialect, which is often incomprehensible to the neighboring clan, but there is one notable exception. In the northern third of the island there is a group of aborigines that belong to various denominations, obey independent chiefs and are not jointly liable, although they live peacefully and share their hunting territories and frontiers. The whole agglomeration speaks the same language, although a few idioms reveal that there are different tribes. We shall call this group the Morrisonian, for the peoples composing it live on the slopes of this alpine region. [VMM: The authors seem to have mistaken Mt. Sylvia for Morrison.] A simpler term would be the Tayal, and we are glad to borrow it from their idiom. Although this idiom does not resemble that of the island of Luzon, the analogy of the words Tayal and Tagal is worthy of note; the latter is the generic name of the inhabitants of the Philippines.
There are sixteen or seventeen Tayal tribes. They are: on the east and adjoining the sea, south of Sau-o-bay: the Tapehan, then the Katasiek. Parallel to them but farther west are the Menibo, the Mouiaou, the Selamaou, the Kaiaou, and the Kouan. As we approach the Chinese frontier we find the Takassan, the Kakaougan, the Keoui, the Lahaou and the Tetounan. And finally along this frontier are the Tangav, the Takoham, the Malipa and the Malikouan. This circle is limited by Chinese on the western and northern sides; by the Taoussai and Taioukou on the east, and by the Kalapai on the southwest. [p. 551] From a geographical point of view, the Taoussai and the Taioukou complete the Morrisonian center, but they have a different language; they fight each other, the Kaiaou, and the Salamaou and the Mouiaou.
All of these clans have property along a watercourse. The Tapehan have a brook, and the Katasiek a river, which empties into the eastern sea. The watercourse which has watered the Taoussai territory has its mouth in the Taioukou region. A large river traverses the country of the Kaiaou, the Selamaou, Mouiaou and Menibo, and then ends near Sau-o-bay. The Tangav have the Manka River at its source; the Takassan, the Kakaougan, the Keoui and the Takoham each have one of the tributaries of this same river.
The most populous of these tribes are the Takoham, Menibo, Mouiaou, Taoussai and the Taioukou. The Menibo are reputed to be thieves. The Taoussai have goiters, so they are an object of horror to the other tribes.
We have had frequent and intimate relations with the Tayal; since we knew their dialect, it was possible to learn their habits and customs. Our visits to the other tribes were shorter, and they were made for the purpose of drawing comparisons.
The language of the Kalapai is unlike that of the Tayal, and the two tribes are separated by a watercourse; but they cross it whenever they like, for they are on friendly terms with each other, and with the Maraikoun, a tribe whose language is derived from the Tayal.
The Bouiok are in the interior, and they only have some frontier camps. Their dialect is a peculiar one, so they use the Tayal idiom when they want to talk with the Chinese. Their women only have their foreheads tattooed, while the men are the first ones that we have seen with a supplementary tattooing pattern on each side of the chest. [p. 552] We had been told that the Bouiok were a scaly people, and it is true that a great many of them have skin diseases.
There are six tribes between the territory of the Bouiok and the windings of the river whose mouth is at Héoulang; they are the Meianhan, the Karbouron, the Baoukéton, the Makama, the Kaou-lo and the Shabagala. They still speak a language that is derived from the Tayal, but they use a number of words which are foreign to this idiom.
There are two rivers that empty into the sea near Taika and at Lokan; they serve as barriers to the powerful Ata-bou tribe, which has its own language. It is feared by the Chinese and by the aborigines in the south. The men of this tribe have their faces tattooed with the same designs that we have already seen and then they also use horizontal arabesques on it.
The clans that we have just mentioned make rice paper, hemp and weave some materials. Those who come after the Ata-bou are less favored: for them, clothes made out of animal skins predominate.
Between the Black Riverand the Pakan are the Tsoo, who are also called the Tibou-la, as that is the name of their largest village. The Tsoo are the unique example of a tribe of savages that are allied with the Chinese, and they are not tattooed at all. However, they have little pity for their Ata-bou neighbors and those of Sibou-koun. There is another language here, and we find that the race has become smaller, more thick-set, more southern, in a word. The house is round with a conical roof, instead of being square. The native no longer bids you welcome by laying his hand flat on your chest; he presses your forearm instead. (These observations apply to all the southern tribes). The Tsoo have replaced the Chinese head trophies with [p. 553] enormous piles of wild-boar skulls.
Still within the limits of the two watercourses, we find the aborigines of Sibou-koun and those of Kanagou. Each of these tribes has its own dialect. Tattooing and the hatred of the Chinese are characteristic of them. The territory of these two tribes extends to the eastern slope.
The aborigines have customs and prejudices that are interesting to know. Our method of explanation may appear dogmatic, but we feared that the details of our excursions might be perceived as unnecessarily lengthy. Several times we shall mention the aborigines of the north, as a contrast to the southern ones. Then the Lokan River will serve as a frontier between the two groups; in other words, we shall consider that the Ata-bou is the last of the northern tribes.
The Formosan savages are similar to the higher quadrumanes, such as the gorilla, in their gait. Their arms are long, and they have enormous feet. When they walk the front part of the foot is the only section that touches the ground; this is managed in some way by a perfect manipulation of the toes. The savages are above normal height, except among the southern tribes. The hair of the savages is usually tied in a knot at the back of the head, although it is occasionally cut short. Body hair is not very abundant. The features are those of a race that has been degraded by the difficulties of eking out an existence. Children in the north look very much like Europeans. You are amazed by the variety of physiognomies, for flat faces are seen side by side with Greco-Roman profiles. Unfortunately, the natural beauty is soon destroyed by an artificial ugliness. The southerners look like Malays or Tayals, but they are all extremely vigorous and agile. The savages are all alike [p. 554] in having an expression of defiance and anxiety, which shows that they are undeveloped mentally. Some of the women are pretty, and they are small.
The basis of the savage garb is a blue or black cotton scarf that is wound around the thighs and knotted in front. In a pinch, he considers that this is sufficient raiment. Usually, however, he adds a waistcoat that has no buttons, or a large sleeveless shirt, which is open way down the front. If he is cold, he fastens a smock around his neck, and this hangs down to his feet. The women sometimes wear shirts with sleeves; their costume consists of leggings, and an apron, a piece of material which passes under the arm and then ties like a towel in back, and, finally, a kind of turban which is wrapped around the head. The fabrics of these garments are solid color, or they may be a mixture of bright wools. The savage keeps the rain off by means of a goat skin; a split makes it possible for the neck to fit into a round opening which is made in the upper edge of the skin. If the weather is fine, this coat is folded in fourths, and then kept in a net that the Tayal carries over his back whenever he leaves home.
Generally there is no headdress, but the tribes in the northern circle use reeds to braid plain skull caps, broad-brimmed hats, or -- and this is the most remarkable shape -- real jockey caps. In this case, the visor is turned back. These helmets, more or less durable, are painted red and provided with chinstraps of glass beads.
In the eyes of the aborigines, the ornament is more important than the costume itself, and men and women vie with each other in frivolity. Thus, there is a whole collection of [p. 555] copper bracelets, collars and belts of crude glass trinkets, and plaques of bone, which are arranged around the forehead or neck as if they were ivory; others are made into earrings, bells, etc. The ear lobe is pierced in the European fashion, but in the case of the men, it disappears almost entirely so that it can hold a bamboo cylinder which is decorated with designs, and whose front end is completed by a tuft or rosette of red wool. The aborigines of the north are much more wealthy, so they have a great many ornaments of this kind. In the south some flowers are occasionally worn in the hair.
The apparatus for fighting or hunting is more dignified. It consists of [these implements:] There is a bread knife, whose sheath is of wood that has been painted red, and this is slipped through the belt. There is a long gun with a fuse, and in front of it two or three powder-horns are suspended from strings of false pearls. In back the man carries a coat that is folded into the net, a bag for balls, and a parchment case containing eight powder charges in eight bamboo holders. Then around his wrist is a cord, a lighter with a fire-stone, and some banana marrow instead of tinder. Sometimes the hunter has a bow, and in that case he always uses it with consummate skill. The dogs of the savages are coupled and held by rush thongs; these valuable animals are one of the sources of the tribal wealth. Some of the clans cut off the dogs' tails, but most of them respect this appendage.
Two things are axiomatic among the savages: 1) Every tribe that fights the Chinese practices tattooing; and 2) the tattoo marks on the forehead and the chin are the only ones that have any fundamental meaning. In the middle of the forehead there is a rectangle two centimeters long and one centimeter wide; it is filled with parallel lines that are spaced a millimeter apart. The same median design is found on the chin, except that it is a little shorter.
The Chinese, who is either too naïve or ill-informed, [p. 556] states that the formula inscribed on the face of the savage corresponds to two periods of his life: puberty and marriage. Unfortunately for the son of Sem, the savage has a different interpretation for these signs. When a boy is between twelve and fourteen years old, his father, brother or some relative takes him on a Chinese-hunting expedition. If the hunt is successful, the child receives his first chevron, in this case a tattoo mark, when he brings the heads back to the village. But his chin is not decorated until he has slain a Chinese with his own hand. There is often a very brief lapse of time between the two. The aborigines of the Morrisonian group only use these two signs. We have seen other clans, which added a transversal bar both on the face and the chest.
It is unfortunate that women should be tattooed, too, since they have no share in the hunt; but a blue mark defaces the forehead of the marriageable girl. In many cases, this is the extent of the work, but occasionally, as among the greater number of the Tayal tribes, the bride is covered with marks until her cheeks and lips disappear beneath the linear streaks of the designs. Naturally, this may cause severe inflammation, whereas the plain tattooing on the forehead and the chin is of no significance.
Women are the only people entitled to exercise the profession, or really the priesthood, of tattooing. They use a splinter of resinous pine, which is burning; the flame is held against a polished surface that is covered with a thick layer of a black substance. A thread is sprinkled with this stuff and then held at both ends to show what the design should be. The metallic teeth of a kind of comb are placed on this sketch, [p. 557] and then hammer blows pound them into the skin. The first flow of blood is stanched with a bamboo scraper, and at this moment the tattooer dips her finger into the resinous smoke and rubs it over the wound. The operation is over, the blood soon stops flowing, and the scar is an indelible blue. Most of the clans get their tattooing wood from the Kakaougan tribe, where there are forests that are unusually full of resinous products.
The aborigines have places to rest when they are hunting or traveling: huts that are fashioned of tree branches and ferns. The houses are carefully built, but they are arranged in a manner that looks more like a hamlet than a village. Enormous piles of offal show that you are approaching the settlement, and then you come into a vast clearing that is surrounded on all sides by the forest. The dwellings are perched on the slopes of the hills, and there is a good deal of space between them; they are rectangular or square (or circular and with a conical roof in the south). The walls are made of planks that are poorly squared, and the roof is bamboo, covered with thatch; they have doors and windows.
The floor inside a savage house is well stamped down, and in each corner there is a bed (made of a bamboo framework resting on wooden feet), with a weaving box on top. In the space separating two beds there is a hearth on each side, and it is made of three stones. Above it is a bamboo screen that is used to dry skins and stag horns. The weapons and hunting equipment are arranged in panoplies, and finally in one corner you see tubs, jars (water vessels), baskets of various shapes and household utensils.
Across from the savage dwelling there is a granary on piles, where the family provisions and treasures are stored. Bouquets of rice, barley, chickweed and millet are artistically arranged. Then in the coffers of a savage house you find woven materials, clothing and festal decorations, Chinese [p. 558] scalps and money. The savage money consists of little white cylinders, like those made of jet, and they are made of the bony parts of certain kinds of fish. When strung on a chaplet, they are worn around the throat and head as if they were jewels; they are marked when they are given to the aborigines, and are arranged in series on pieces of red material.
Around the savage house are several fields of sweet potatoes, hemp and Aralia papyfera (rice paper plant). At the end of these cultivated lands there is an area with some high grasses, but the passer-by avoids it. If you go into this region, you will understand the reason for this repugnance because the green conceals a set of crude wooden shelves that have rows of Chinese heads; they are arranged as if they were in an anatomical museum, and there are always some new ones.
Cereals are harvested by the savages on the slopes or plateaus that are near their dwellings. Fertilizer comes from the ashes of large tree trunks that lie flat on the ground and are burned every year. In the spaces between them you see turnips, a kind of dandelion that is a remedy for intoxication, and tobacco. Although the soil is carefully cultivated by hand, these plants are frail and do not grow close together; they look like the agricultural attempts of a people that is still in its infancy. The rice grains are very large, but that is the only successful crop. The tobacco leaves are stripped from the plant as needed, and are dried by the fire; several tribes in the south prepare them in the shape of carrots. You miss the noise of the farmyard around the savage dwellings. However, the savage feels that he has enough trouble finding food for himself, and he is unable to comprehend the fact that domestic cattle can be a valuable source of food.
Women do the work in the fields among the savages, and men help them when they are not hunting or taking trips.
The aborigine lives, to say it thus, from day to day; so short is his foresight! Among the privileged tribes, the [p. 559] family squats around a small pan of rice twice a day. Sometimes sweet potatoes and a little venison complete the repast. The flesh of the wild boar, deer and goat is preserved by cutting it in pieces, flattening the fragments and then drying them in the air. The Formosan savages ferment barley and thus obtain a sour drink that produces an inoffensive type of intoxication.
The aborigines are hunters both by inclination and necessity. They track the boar and deer, although the latter is also captured in traps. The hunters perch in trees, and then lie in wait for leopards and bears. Bear-skins are prepared in the south, but in the north they are roasted along with the animal, and only the four paws are removed.
Savage wives accompany their husbands on peaceful expeditions, but usually they stay home. They have to do the housework, and a great deal of the cultivation in the fields. The women are real companions for their husbands, and by nature they are happy and gay. The savage women like to sing, and in some tribes they play [musical instruments] as well. The instrument is a bamboo segment that is a decimeter long; two copper tongue-like strips are fastened to one of the extremities, and a thread is slipped through each end. When you want to play this instrument, you place its convex side between the lips; your hands pull the two threads and this gives the instrument a movement of traction and rotation, while the tongue keeps pressing the metallic valves. In some of the tribes the women and girls accompany their recitative chant with an obscene motion of their hips, and they do this in the most innocent manner imaginable.
Although there is no prudery in the language of the savages, prostitution is unknown, and there is almost no adultery. Moreover, the husband has rights of a Draconian severity to protect his honor, and he would avail himself of them if it were necessary. [p. 560] In the south, custom authorizes widows to sell themselves, but this was doubtless a means devised to enable them to make a living and support their young children.
Marriages among the savages are performed at a very early age, even before the girls are nubile. The savage boy offers the girl's father some gifts, which consist of a pan without a handle, a knife, a jar and money cloths. If he is too poor, he may give one of his brothers instead. The father of the girl gives his consent or refuses it; in the first case, the period of engagement is set at once, and it varies between a month and a year. If there is only one daughter, the parents delay the moment of separation as long as possible. Among the savages the wedding is held at the home of the fiancé. The bride has no share in it, and she waits at home until a noisy procession comes to get her, and then she accompanies her husband. If her father is dead and she has no brother, or just little ones, the husband and his wife live with her mother. Perhaps a savage father will be too ambitious and will refuse the first suitor. Then the daughter resigns herself to wait for someone who has more money. As time passes her beauty fades, and she usually gets a poor husband.
All marriages among the savages are arranged according to the wish of the young people unless the parents refuse permission. In this case the couple may go off to hide in the mountains. Then the chief of the hamlet and the friends of the family intervene to obtain forgiveness and the recall of the fugitives. The difficulties are smoothed away, [p. 561] and then it only remains for the tattooer to do her duty. In these conditions, it costs the guilty woman ten times the price that is charged a girl before her marriage.
There are some clans in which the husband has his two canine teeth extracted at the time of his marriage. The bride is even more enthusiastic and she has the adjoining incisor removed as well.
You see few men who are crippled; they could never hope to marry.
Monogamy is the custom, if not the law, among the savages, although a few of the chiefs have two wives.
The woman in labor is her own mid-wife, and five days after her delivery she resumes her normal occupations. There are no difficult deliveries among the aborigines. The arrival of a child of either sex is considered a benediction; when it is a month old, the parents select a name. The mother nurses the child as long as she has milk for it, and there is no weaning.
The most common diseases among the savages are: intermittent fever, tuberculosis, intestinal disorders and small-pox. The remedies for disease among the savages are rest and a few prayers. If the patient does not have a family or a dwelling, his charitable neighbors build a hut for him where he can get well or perish in peace. If it is a case of small-pox, the whole hamlet flees as quickly as possible, and takes refuge in temporary shelters at some distance from the village. A line is drawn around the spot where the infection is raging, and only people who have already had small-pox are authorized to approach it. We asked one guard if the same person did not get the malady again, and she replied that once was quite enough.
[P. 562] Among the savages there is a code governing funerals and mourning. The deceased is always buried in his clothing and ornaments. He remains on a bed of state for twenty-four hours, so that his relatives and friends can bid him farewell, and then the immediate members of the family attend to the burial. They dig a deep hole under one of the beds, and lower the corpse in a sitting position. A pinch of rice and a bit of deer meat are laid on his knees, and a pan (of the same shape as the one used as a household utensil) is placed on his head. This acts like a vault, and the soil is thrown on top of it. The knife, gun, powder flasks -- in a word all the hunting and fighting equipment that the savage used during his lifetime -- follow him into the tomb. The child who has never hunted or worked in the fields does not have the pinch of rice or the piece of deer; then, too, he does not have a right to the honors of the sauce pan. When the grave has been filled and the earth trampled down on top, the bed is set up again, and then the family goes to spend a month with some relatives. If a man is killed by some violent or accidental means when he is away from home, he is buried in the mountains.
Mourning consists of weeping and fasting. These manifestations of sorrow are regulated according to a precise ritual, and they vary according to the status of the deceased and the relationship of the survivors.
The aborigines do not have an external cult; there is no adoration of gods or fetishes, and no belief in a future existence. However, they invoke a kind of familiar genius who visits them in their dreams; he does not assume a divine shape, but comes in the guise of a father, a mother or close relative. There is never any doubt about the interpretation of a dream; the councilor limits himself to recommending or forbidding the action which the dreamer envisages.
Both men and women observe a daily superstition; every morning at dawn every one of them [p. 563] goes to the center of the path to watch the augural bird (a blackish wren, which is very common in the mountains). If the bird cuts the road obliquely, the omen is favorable and plans will turn out well. However, if the bird flies perpendicular or parallel to the path, the savage resigns himself to spending the day in his hut; it will be full of disaster, and there will not be any game or Chinese heads. Women hesitate to go down to the fountain, fearing that they might encounter some venomous reptile on the way. Tattooing is postponed, and the lover will not propose to his lady-fair. The omens derived from the direction of the bird's flight are corroborated in good and evil when it sings its confused but rhythmic song. When we lived among the tribes, we never failed to regulate our conduct according to this pattern.
The aborigines celebrate three annual feasts, which correspond to the sowing or harvesting of rice, millet and chickweed. The Tayal call them by the picturesque name of "work of the cups." As a matter of fact, there is a great deal of drinking, and according to a custom that is fraternal rather than convenient, people drink two by two out of the same vessel. There is some preliminary hunting, so the natives always have an ample supply of venison. The guests get drunk, fight, and then when the ceremony is over, they limber up their stiff muscles in a hunt.
We see no trace of political institutions. The head of the family has absolute authority over his household, but he soon shares this with his eldest son, who will be his successor eventually. The tribe does not have any high chief. At the hamlet level, there is a magistrate both hereditary and elective at the same time; the son does not replace his father unless he is judged worthy of it. The magistrate's power and influence are based entirely upon his wealth and courage. Theirs is a justice [p. 564] of peace, proceeding always by the way of conciliation. Murder has remained unknown to these savage peoples. Burglary is not at all rare; and the burgled do not impose their own justice other than in exceptional cases. The parties appear before the magistrate, who above all tries hard to allay the feelings of hatred and to bring the offender to provide restitution or compensation. There was never any federation among the tribes: the only link is the similarity in language.
Commerce, in the form of barter, plays a vital role among the Formosan tribes. From the Chinese they receive firearms, gun powder and lead, knives, pottery sauce pans and jars, salt, rice, wine, cotton goods, wool stuffs (destined to be unraveled and mixed with native materials, to give them color and design), needles, thread, buttons, bells, copper, glass ornaments, ivory ornaments, money, etc. In return they furnish hemp goods, rice paper, bear, leopard, and a great many deer skins, the tendons, feet and horns of deer, the fangs of the wild boar, venison, mushrooms, medicinal plants, kamatchi (a tubercle for dyeing), and above all, the right to exploit the neighboring forests or to cultivate the valleys and turn them into rice fields. The north is the most wealthy because there are more products to trade, and the savages there have, in a way, the Chinese at their doors.
Here we broach a delicate topic, the assessment of the relations between aborigines and the Chinese.
If the Dutch had succeeded in establishing their dominion, it would have been an excellent thing for the Formosan tribes. Under the rule of these prudent and clever masters, the tribes would have been taught a relative kind of civilization; in any case, [p. 565] they would have learned how to live and to prolong their race. However, the Chinese invasion took all their possessions without teaching them anything in return. It has been pitiless from necessity, for the island was small and the invaders were both numerous and hungry. During Koxinga's time there was a general retreat of the poor tribes, and since that time, events have proceeded at the slow tempo that still characterizes them today. The newcomers see that the valleys and the plain are still occupied, so they move toward the mountains and infringe upon the territory belonging to the tribes. They want to get land which may be transformed into rice fields, to seize a watercourse that is essential for irrigation, or to cultivate indigo, tobacco, and especially sweet potatoes on the slopes, and then they are anxious to exploit the forests, especially those containing camphor trees.
In the north, the advance has been very slow. It may be that the aborigines have defended their land foot by foot, or it is possible that the Chinese have found a permanent source of wealth in the lands that they have annexed, and so they have not been spurred on to new conquests. In the south, on the other hand, there were some enormous deforestation projects at the start. This resulted in some vast empty regions that extend from the last Chinese farms to the frontiers of the aborigines. The tribes may have developed more safely on this account, but they have suffered from the difficulty of bartering their products, and this was caused by the absence of roads and the difficulty in navigating the rivers. This deforestation would have been more difficult if several tribes had not joined the conqueror, so there was no resistance whatsoever.
The Chinese pioneer tries to obtain what he wants by buying it, and his favorite tactics are persuasion; but if he encounters an obstinate refusal, he will try other means, at his own risk, of course. Thus, wood choppers scatter [p. 566] through the forests singly or in small groups, and they are an easy prey to marauders. Sometimes the villages or wealthy proprietors do business with a part of the tribe, which then comes to the neighborhood to protect the workers. These good services are rewarded by a subsidy (rice, wine, poultry, young pigs etc.) Finally, if the savages refuse to make any concessions, the Chinese proceed in a large group, and half of them keep armed guard over the safety of the workmen. In this way, there is no danger, and if the Chinese adopted this procedure all the time, the tribes would be condemned to retreat a little more each day. However, the Chinese only do this on rare occasions, and they do not like to use this method.
The aborigines have adopted a system of defense that is very similar to their plan of attack. Hunters scour the frontiers in small groups; they lie in ambush in strategic spots, do not appear until there is no danger, and are very rarely surprised. The bordering tribes would be unable to protect their territory unless the clans in the interior helped them perform this task. The aborigines who are protecting the Chinese, by virtue of the conventions of which we have spoken earlier, do not attempt to flee from what every savage considers as his chief duty, so they kill their enemies, but at a safe distance, where they are no longer responsible for them. These subsidized protections are limited, moreover, to a very small number of points.
Should we judge severely these homicidal practices, especially when the victim is surprised and defenseless? Do not the aborigines obey rather a need for self-preservation? And the logger, in taking away with impunity their most precious resource, the hunt, and in advancing step by step, does he not compel them to perish from [p. 567] hunger? It is true that to a defense (which is after all legitimate in itself), there is added the profound sentiment of hate on the part of the dispossessed towards his despoiler. Perhaps this explains the ferocity with which the heads are separated from the trunk and brought back in triumph to the tribe, where their arrival becomes the pretext for riotous celebrations, in which everyone takes part.
The Chinese arm their murderers themselves, since for them self interest takes precedent over all other considerations, and happily for the savages their enemies do not follow any fixed policy. A good many Chinese live on fortified farms that are dotted here and there at the foot of the mountains. Some of them are centers for trade and barter, especially those where there is a savage woman who has married a Chinese. These women are the natural mediators.
Then there are also the half-breeds. When a Chinese father has several children by a savage wife, he keeps them for several years, and then sends them back to their mother's tribe. The girls marry and learn to hate the Chinese. The sons marry too, but have more sympathy for their father's race, so they do not take part in the head-hunting expeditions, or in the celebrations that follow them. Some, however, have innocent tattoo marks on their foreheads. They take charge of the clan commerce and attend to the exchanges. Then there is a system of peddling, which distributes the Chinese products to the most distant tribes.
What will be the destiny of the aborigines of Formosa? One can put forward immediately the opinion that these peoples are not those whose contact with civilization would fatally condemn them to perish. The Japanese, the most brilliant of the migration groups of Indo-China, provide us if necessary the irrefutable proof. But we have vaunted [p. 568] them too much, according to us, and besides they had bad instigators in the Chinese. We wished for our tribes an improvement of another sort. The cessation of the forced encroachment would quickly put an end to barbaric reprisals. The freedom of trade; the introduction of seeds, agricultural tools, and domestic animals; and the exploitation of forests, jade quarries, mines of coal, copper, silver and gold would drive the aborigines by imperceptible degrees toward the comforts of civilization.
These simple wishes will probably never be realized. A terrible blockade tightening in a continuous manner, though slowly, imprisons the Formosan peoples between a sea on which they have lost the habit of taking chances, and a plundering and jealous race. The Chinese, masters of all the accessible exits, will never let anything enter nor leave.