Ritchie, Hugh. "Notes of a journey in east Formosa." The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal 6 (1875): 206-211.

Notes of a Journey in East Formosa,

by Rev. Hugh Ritchie.

[P. 206] On March 15th, along with an elder who voluntarily accompanied me as a preaching companion, and a servant, I left Takao in a junk for Po-song on the east coast. We had twice to put into harbours on the way, and after a tedious passage of fifteen days we reached our destination. Travelling by one of these native craft, the European is taught to set a proper value on the comforts and advantages of a well-appointed steamer. Po-song is only as yet a village with twenty to thirty Chinese houses; it had been chosen by the authorities as their residence; a yamen is about to be erected, and as emigrants from the west coast first of all find their way here, it will in all likelihood become the future centre of Chinese influence. It has no harbour; every junk or steamer that arrives, runs a risk of not being able to discharge their cargo, or, in the act of discharging it, being compelled to run before a gale.

For twenty-four hours after our arrival, I had to content myself on the deck of the junk, listening to the roar, and watching the ceaseless surges of the North Pacific.

This great drawback to trade could easily be remedied, at no very great expense, by selecting one of the estuaries found at various points along the coast. Northward from Po-song there are several landlocked harbours, with four to five fathoms water and a clayey bottom. Were such inlets subjected to a competent survey, it would assist the Chinese government in their efforts to colonize this quarter, and might lead to the opening up of one or more good harbours, on this hitherto much avoided dangerous coast.

The sixty miles of coast over which I travelled, presented various features of interest. At some places the distance from the sea to the hills is considerable; and on the plains, wheat, millet, sesame seed, potatoes and tobacco are the chief products; while in the forests to the north-east the camphor tree is found in abundance. In no other part of Formosa have I seen such numerous herds of cattle, and in the forests the natives hunt the deer, boar, panther and bear.

At other places the hills touch the sea and are wooded to their summits, waterfalls issue from their flanks, and occasional knolls covered with verdant grass eight to ten feet high relieve the scene, while the variety and beauty of the feathered tribes lend an additional charm to the landscape.

Some years ago, a chief from this region came round to our hospital, and being cured by Dr. Manson, other patients soon came to [p. 207] know the value of western medical science. The daughter of another chief had her foot amputated by Dr. Rennie more than a year ago; so that the good effects of these successful operations, opened my way, and induced me to visit these tribes. Pi-lam, three miles east of Po-song is the village where the superior chiefs reside. This pre-eminence dates back from the time of the Dutch occupation. A sword, a pike and a book were given by their former masters to Pi-lam as the insignia of authority, and to this day they respect these relics of antiquity. The sword and pike are still there; but as the book was to me an object of far greater interest, I was sadly disappointed on being told it was burnt about twenty years ago, along with the house of the chief. The wife of the chief was a fine specimen of the savage lady, bore heavy ear-rings, had a string of large beads round her neck, wore coloured gaiters, and smoked rather a fanciful pipe. The menials, both male and female, seemed to acknowledge her authority, at least in domestic manners; one of them having in some way or other offended her, got a slap on the cheek. Her son wore a head-dress made of the feathers of the Swinhoe pheasant. The seat of honour is a four-legged stool in the centre of the floor, near the hearth; and the rest of the apartment is a large bamboo bed raised about a foot from the floor where men, women, children and dogs squat during the day, and sleep at night. There is a private enclosure, under the same roof, for the women. The door is in the gable of the hut, and the windows in the front; so that in the event of wet weather, in the hot season, there being no provision for ventilating the house, and as the living scene inside one of these huts is like a bee-hive, all kinds of diseases are generated. Since the middle of last year the small-pox has destroyed thousands of these aborigines, and about one half of the children and youth bore the traces of that dreadful epidemic. To relieve this over-crowding, the chiefs have built public dormitories for the youth. Some of them are bee-hive looking structures of bamboo and grass forty feet high, to which the ascent is by a ladder; the mats on the beds are deer-skins; along the roof are scores of deers' antlers and boars' skulls.

In one corner of the apartment the guns and spears of the inmates were in rows; in the centre of this strange loft was a square hearth built by four heavy beams, and on the inclosed earth a fire was burning, with no exit for the smoke but the door and windows. Some of the inmates were crouching on the beams warming themselves, and in one of these dormitories, a number of the occupants were industriously employed making coats of deer-skin. As numbers of the people of the village were clad in such garments, we thought of the primitive condition of man.–"The Lord God made coats of skin and clothed them."

[P. 208] During my stay among them, I made frequent and careful inquires as to the existence of religious emotions; and from several of their habits it is easy to infer, they do recognize the existence of a Supreme Being and an invisible world. Before going to hunt, the savage splits open a betel-nut into which he puts a red bead (no other colour will do), and laying it in the palm of his hand, waves it in the face of Heaven, invoking his assistance and protection in the chase, and then laying it on the ground, goes on his way.

When any one is sick, the sorcerer waves the leaf of the banana over the person, kisses and sucks the painful part, and whether the patient lives or dies, the only reward to which the doctor is entitled is this red bead. When these people drink the spirit extracted from their millet, and of which they are all fond, one may occasionally observe that the person about to drink dips his forefinger in the liquor, and sprinkles a few drops on the ground. Others again, drink it right off without any ceremony.

Those who have killed an enemy sprinkle these drops on the earth as a sacrifice to the departed spirit of the person killed. As the betel-nut is the symbol of reconciliation among these tribes, the offering of the nut and the scarlet bead may indicate an indefinite desire to be at peace with their Maker.

Unlike their Chinese neighbours, they leave the arrangements of matrimony entirely in the hands of their children. If a damsel sets her mind on any youth, she manifests her love, by going every other day, and giving her lover her assistance at his work, whether in his father's house or in the fields; and if she succeeds in winning his affection, she brings him into her father's house. On the marriage day the husband brings a gift to the parent of his bride;–cloth, a gun an a pot;–a pig is killed and wine is handed round; and if it be the wish of the husband to take his wife elsewhere, she will not follow him during the life-time of her parents.

The Saturday Review, October 4th, 1873, states. "In the matter of marriage, both in Formosa and in some parts of Burmah, the husband for a given time has no recognized claim to his wife's society; and only visits her at her father's house by stealth at night, escaping by the window at dawn of day." No such custom obtains among the aboriginal tribes of Formosa. My informants were Chinamen who had married savage women, and who in doing so, are compelled, when they cross the border, to abandon their own ideas of marriage, and conform to the established usages of the mountains. This statement has been confirmed by the testimony of the aborigines, with whom I have spoken through an interpreter.

[P. 209] In the event of a birth occurring in the family, a daughter is the more desirable acquisition, as she not only brings gifts to the house, but also a husband. The marriage of a deceased wife's sister obtains among them.

Although the small-pox had just carried off half of the population of some of the villages through which I passed, not a single grave was visible. When the husband or wife dies, he, or she, is buried under the nuptual bed; and if it be the husband who is buried first, on no consideration can the wife leave the apartment till death. She can marry a second time, if she chooses; but only on the condition that the second husband enters her house. The other members of the family are buried in the centre of the house, or at the doorway, at much the same depth as we bury in Europe.

Some of the older men had ear-rings of bamboo, much the same size of a common cork; and in some cases they were ornamented by being overlaid with the lining of a shell. The practice was formerly fashionable, but they seem to be growing ashamed of it; most of the middle-aged men, and youths, had the holes in their ears, but the corks had disappeared.

Day by day, we were surrounded by scores and hundreds of these poor people who wanted medicine;–many of whom wanted it badly. For many years, I have had frequent opportunities in our hospital of learning the art of bandaging, and gaining some acquaintance with the more common forms of disease in the island. Accordingly, in setting out on this journey I was well furnished with lotions for washing eyes and ulcers, and with one or two others of the more useful medicines; but when difficult or serious cases were presented, they were recommended to attend our hospital; as a passing visitor could do such cases no good.

At all events they were taught the importance of cleanliness; and as we passed from village to village, the very fact that we had a little medicine brought great crowds together, and they heard about the "name which is above every name." In so far as their language could express such truths, they listened daily to such important utterances as these:–"God is the great Father of all men.–God is love.–We are all sinners against God. Jesus is the Saviour from sin. I come among you as the servant of Jesus." One day, when busy binding up a child's toe, a man on my left was telling a new-comer my connexion with Jesus. It was refreshing to hear that ever-blessed Name dropping from the lips of a savage. After passing through savage territory, on the third day we came to the first village of the Pe-po hoan. These Chinese-speaking aborigines formerly dwelt on the western plains and hills; but owing [p. 210] to pinching times, during the last half-century, batch after batch they have emigrated to the eastern coast. Many of their kindred on the west side and along the central belt of the island, have gladly received the gospel some years ago; but there seems to be so little communication between them, the majority of those we saw had never heard of the gospel of Christ. One aged Hoan of seventy-eight, the chief of one of their villages, gave us a hearty welcome, with every facility for the delivery of our message, and was not ashamed to kneel with us at prayer. I had arranged to visit a large settlement of these people a day's journey inland; but as the weather proved unfavourable for a mountain journey, after spending five days in the villages on the coast line, I began to retrace my way southward.

On the way round, the junk was obliged thro[u]gh stress of weather, to put into a harbour near the south cape. We spent a few days on shore, and one evening after the service, a Chinaman came to me uttering a number of English monosyllables; on asking how he got acquainted with my language? he told me the following interesting story, to which I listened with breathless attention:–"About twenty years ago, a ship was wrecked on the south-east side of the cape; the majority of the crew were murdered by savages, but a number escaped in a boat and made their way round to the west side of the island. Standing in need of water they ventured on shore, when they were suddenly set upon by the neighbouring tribe and all killed except three,–Jim, Bill, and Alick, who ran along the shore; but the latter being too exhausted, fell into the hands of the pursuers. The two Englishmen found their way round the point to the white-sand inlet (where a lighthouse is about to be erected), and for a day or two hid among the brushwood; but being observed, it was soon noised abroad that there were two foreigners in the district. Along with some others I went in search of them; and when the seamen saw us approaching, they clapped their breasts, shewed their hands and legs torn by the rocks, and I led them up to my mother's house. The two seamen were clad in native dress, squatted on the floor at meal-time, and for nearly two years lived in our house. They willingly planted and dug potatoes, ploughed the fields, and assisted our family in their daily toils; and sometimes they would come running into the hut, shouting, 'Engli ship! Engli ship'! but we could not understand what they wanted. Jim would always ask me what this and that was is Chinese, and I would ask him what he called them in his language. After some time we came to understand each other pretty well, and they told us their desire to return home to their families, and that on the first occasion they wished to depart. When the next ship hove in [p. 211] sight, a raft was manned, and on approaching the vessel we were taken for pirates and guns were pointed at us; but when Jim and Bill stood up and shouted 'Ship a-hoi! Ship a-hoi!' the vessel hove to, lowered a boat, and we all went on board. After getting refreshments we took our leave of the two sailors, who said they would be sure to come back and see us at the white-sand inlet. About a year after their departure, a letter arrived inviting my mother and myself to visit a ship lying in the offing. On entering the cabin of this large ship, two soldiers stood at the door with guns and daggers stuck at their ends, and when we were brought inside, there sat the great man with stripes of gold on his coat, and Jim and Bill standing beside him. The great man put a hundred and twenty dollars into my mother's hands, and Jim said that when vessels were wrecked on this coast we were to treat the sailors kindly, and we would not lose our reward. After we had all eaten, Jim and Bill took a gig and brought us on shore."

My informant then asked me if I knew Jim and Bill–and said that if I saw them on the other side, I was to give them his remembrances. He added, "when I heard you telling about that good and loving God, I was sure you were from Jim and Bill's country and that explains why they treated my mother and myself so kindly!" It was now past midnight, and before parting my informant (whose name is Lai) sung, or rather imitated the hum of an English song. I thanked him for the story, and gave him a hearty invitation to visit me at Takao.