Sunday, November 23, 2008

SERIAL III: Kondo Katsusaburo among Taiwan's Atayal/Sedeq peoples, 1896 to 1930

Kondo goes headhunting! Installments 5 & 6 of Dr. Paul Barclay's translation of Kondo Katsusaburo's experiences up to and during the 1930 Wushe revolt, which were serialized in the local Taiwan Japanese-language papers in the early 1930s. Kondo married into an aboriginal family and traveled extensively in aboriginal territory. (For introduction to Kondo and his era, see Installments 1 & 2. Installments 3 & 4.) Dr. Barclay is the general editor of the wonderful Gerald Warner Taiwan Image Collection which I urge everyone interested in Taiwan to visit.

Chapter Five: Kondō is Adopted by Bassau Bōran
(Trans. from Taiwan nichinichi shinpō January 13, 1931)

Kondō's employee at the trading post, Nagakura Kichiji, was fortunately married to a woman from Truku. Kondō asked Nagakura for help, thinking it would be less dangerous if she were his guide. On August 20th, 1897, all preparations were set, and Kondō left Puli. Kondō, another employee named Itō Shūkichi, Nagakura Kichiji and his wife Tappa Kurasu constituted a group of four. They had to leave secretly, so they chose the backroads because they could not go through Wushe. Furthermore, Kondō could not even tell his wife Iwan Robau, who was from Wushe.

The next morning, a severe storm commenced. They lost their way among unknown mountains. Their provisions and trade-gifts were soaked, and they had to throw them away. It rained three days in a row, so they became tired and hungry. On the morning of the 23d, they finally reached the path that led from Xakut to Truku. This was near Sanjiaoling. They were unable to walk any longer, but had to crawl. Leaving his two employees on the path, Kondō screwed up his courage and prodded Tappa Kurasu to [accompany him]. They descended Sanjiaoling for little over a kilometer (10 chō) towards Truku. Suddenly, something quite unexpected appeared. Kondō saw about thirty Aborigines on a small hill poised to attack and behead him. They were awaiting the signal of the chief who stood behind them. When he saw them, he looked for his guide Tappa Kurasu, but she was no longer behind him. What a horrible moment! Kondō composed himself and planted his legs firmly. He raised his hand to beckon them. Fortunately, there was an Aborigine there who used to come to the trading post, who knew Kondō well.

"Aren't you Mr. Kondō? That was close!" Kondō was relieved to hear these kind words. It was a Truku headman named Bassau Bōran, who would have a thirty-year relationship with Kondō, one that had just begun.

"What did you come here for?"

"I figured you had difficulty trading because of your dispute with Wushe, that is why I came to reconnoiter land to build a new exchange post."

"Is that so? You are welcome here."

Kondō has always said that one need not carry weapons to enter Aborigine country. True to his own advice, Kondō has since always traveled among his Aborigine associates unarmed. Kondō says that going among them half-cocked can even lead to suspicion. The Aborigines have something akin to the "Japanese spirit." If one proceeds in the proper manner, without ulterior motives, and the situation is well understood, then an unarmed person would certainly not be in harm's way among them.

Kondō became a guest at the home of Bassau Bōran. He woke up each morning and toiled with [his hosts]. He pumped water, cut firewood, tilled land, and did other chores to gain their trust. At night he taught them how to make straw sandals, produce moxa and use the moxa to cure and treat ailments. At length, he garnered the trust of the headman, who came to regard him as loyal. Therefore, when the Xakut tribe, which was powerful at the time, sent seven men over to threaten Truku to hand over the Japanese man among them, Bassau Bōran answered that they could not turn over the Japanese, even if this meant they would have to fight. [Bassau] treated the seven [Xakut] emissaries quite badly and sent them packing. Thanks to this incident, Truku and Xakut were now enemies. Kondō was moved by the headman's sentiments, and asked to be his son. Thereafter, Kondō and Bassau vowed to be as father and son. This relationship, not without the elements of a romance, came to play an important role in Kondō's life. Countless times the headman supported and helped Kondō. Even now, Bassau Bōran still loves and cherishes Kondō as a son. He has reportedly expressed the following hope:
I want to see Kondō again. I am old now and do not know when I will die. By all means, please come to see me one last time!
Kondō was concealing his true purpose, while pursuing it all along. That is, he still wanted to find the heads of Captain Fukahori's troupe, and explore a route from Truku country to Hualian Harbor. He waited for the annual headhunting expedition and its attendant festivities, which occur around October. In order to accomplish his aims, Kondō would have to go headhunting himself, and participate in their various martial exploits.

"With feet like those, you cannot come with us," they said to Kondō. What they meant was that Kondō had to temper his feet so that he could run upon rocks and mountainsides. It was part of his training to burn his feet daily with a bellows to toughen up—he did this for almost a half-month.

Chapter Six: “Kondō the Barbarian” Goes Headhunting
(Trans. from Taiwan nichinichi shinpō January 14, 1931)

The reason why Aborigines can climb slate-like sheets of rock that stand vertically, or step down jagged stones, is that they burn the bottoms of their feet to prepare for it. In a word, they train by stepping on hot iron rods. Of course they begin at a temperature that will not damage their feet and gradually raise the heat of the rods they walk upon. While he underwent this training, Kondō awaited the October headhunting season. Kondō, however, was a believer in the Shingon sect of Buddhism, and did not want to do any killing. But Kondō wanted to find out whether or not the Fukahori troupe's heads were around, so he would go along with the headhunters. They even called him their weak little "Japanese savage"; he served them as a lowly infantry grunt.

The time had come. October, 1897! The men set out in high spirits. After a few days of sleeping in fields and running around as if on a battlefield, they obtained their quarry, a head. They returned to the village's border singing their triumphs.

Here, like something straight out of an ancient Japanese military saga, they cleaned the head and set it up for display and viewing. They washed the neck, pulled the teeth out completely, shaved the hair, and then removed the filth from what remained of the face. Then they wrapped a white sash around the neck. They carefully wrapped the hair to bring home to use as medicine; the teeth were saved for jewelry. The afflicted will exchange a whole chicken and a melon for two or three of these hairs. The beautiful, unadorned heads were hoisted up. Now it was time to enter the village. The populace welcomed them, wearing festival finery. From here, the undertaking known as the "head festival" would commence.

Underneath a triangular white piece of paper, they tied a tassel made of fibrous paper fringes, which they hung from the top of the tallest tree in the village; this was a landmark for the descending ancestor's spirits. Under this they placed the skull shelf. They put the new head in the center, among all of the previously acquired skulls. An old woman known as the "guardian of heads" walked up to the fresh one and opened its eyes. Then she said a rather self-serving prayer to the departed soul:
"You are welcome here. I have been awaiting your arrival. This village is a good place, please stay here forever..."
Then she placed a slice of sweet potato into its mouth. From a pig killed for the festival, she skewered a little bit of meat, bone, and innards, putting them into the mouth, attaching it to the potato. This is not such a hard scene to picture; it looked something like a Taiwan festival pig with incense stuck in its mouth. After all of the preparations were completed, everybody gathered in front of the tree and called the ancestors' spirits towards the triangular paper in the tree. They offered saké to the head. The headhunting dance began. For a number of days, the people of Wushe danced and drank crazily. Kondō himself had been attracted to Aborigine country, drawn by a grotesque question, "why do the Aborigines hunt heads?" Now, according to Kondō, for the first time he was able to grasp the reality of headhunting. He says, "Aborigine men and women, it doesn't matter which, have a passion for heads, and a way of conceptualizing heads, which Japanese people would never understand." Kondō laughed and continued, "maybe it would be better to have one's head taken by the Aborigines rather than just dying and being cremated in the normal way."

It might have been around the 10th of October, the day of the head-hunting festival, that Kondō discovered eight distinctive skulls among the older skulls on the shelf—these had hair on them. Since all Japanese have the "half-inch hair-cut," the Aborigines presumably did not shave them. The faces of these skulls were not identifiable, but [Kondō was] certain they belonged to Captain Fukahori and his men. Kondō had imagined it might turn out this way, but when he actually saw [the heads], irrepressible tears welled up from the bottom of his heart. Kondō had tried so hard, up until that day, to find them, but he was not pleased to see such deformed figures, even though his efforts were now crowned with success. He felt the urge to at least cradle one of the heads and weep. However, this was no time to just break down and let go; he had many things left to accomplish. In order to conceal his tears, he danced and drank with the crowd, pretending that nothing had happened. Now Kondō sought to ascertain whether this was an opportune moment to extract the details about the distinctive heads from the Chief and the other Aborigines. "Oh those skulls!"

5 comments:

Andrew said...

I think this provides an interesting question for any anthropologists out there. Why was this serialized in the papers? It really brings to mind other products of the colonial project on Taiwan, like the play, The Bell of Soyen and other stories promoted by the Japanese to instill in the Aborigines and Taiwanese in general,with a sense of loyalty to Japan. Kondo is a demonstration of the Japanese desire for the abandonment of resistance to Japanese acculturation/assimilation and maybe even more so, a message to other Taiwanese that "if even a 'savage' can be (tamed), why can't everyone else".

Very interesting

Andrew said...

The other part of a piece like this to be published in Taiwan and Japan is to help Japanese imagine their empire. They there was a very public demand for consumption of the seemingly exotic elements of a quickly sprawling empire. These Formosan "savages" were "our Formosan savages". This placed the Japanese in the position of leader and head of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, and validated to many, the civilizing project in the name of a Japanese claim to modernity. For the Japanese reader, Kondo traverses the imagined gap between civilized and "savage", forward and backward, modern and ancient. He demonstrates the potential for Japanese to "tame" the borders of the empire and he validates the civilizing project through his "improvement".

historyguy said...

In addition to the apt comments Andrew has added, I would suggest a few related more specifically to Kondo. First, if we read earlier dispatches from the same newspaper, published in 1907, we learn that Kondo was much less in charge than he intimates in his 1930/31 memoir. In the serial published here, Kondo often infantalizes his supposed comrades, though there is overwhelming evidence that he would have been very lost without them. That is to say, the narrative serialized here retroactively asserts a measure of Japanese confidence and control that would have been unthinkable in the 1896-1903 period discussed in these opening chapters. Secondly, Kondo appears to have been a shady character to many Japanese. His first patron left Taiwan in disgrace in 1897, and he spent many years in between the lower rungs of a bureaucracy and an informal economy of smugglers and bounty-hunters. Thus, one could read this narrative as his attempt to recast his days as an adventurer and petty merchant in a more noble light: as one who sought to avenge or at least honor the death of his 'lord,' captain Fukahori.

marc said...

Great reading, Michael. So interesting to read an account from this period, regardless of the perspective.

Andrew said...

"Secondly, Kondo appears to have been a shady character to many Japanese."

I think this is an important point in that Kondo represents the unbridgeable colonial gap between colonized and colonizer, despite the "assimilationist" (Kominka) policies of the late Japanese period. I hope casual readers are reading through the lines here and apply this evenly for evaluating coloniality in general, and especially Taiwan's different forms of colonial/neo-colonial experience.

Kondo suffers from the taint of his own coloniality. To the Japanese he is never fully trusted as he is, and can never be "pure" Japanese. Furthermore, to the indigenous peoples his contact and acculturation has tainted him in their eyes as well.

Furthermore, Kondo freely deploys his cultural hybridity as as asset in his complex negotiations between the worlds of the colonized and the colonizer, much like many Taiwanese did after the KMT arrived and resumed business with Japan.

There is a lot of meat here to chew over.


It brings to mind the Wu Ming Tai's book Orphan of Asia in dealing with a similar "taint"; the original sin of the protagonists own coloniality.