Breaking Through the Fog of Taiwan’s Past: Along the Path of the Wushe Uprising

Breaking Through the Fog of Taiwan’s Past:
Along the Path of the Wushe Uprising

Gregory Bell(鍾瑞歌)

Literally speaking, Wushe is perhaps appropriately named. The first character wu(霧)means mist or fog, while the second character, she(社), means community or village. This “fog community” or “fog village” not only reflects my understanding of the uprising before the trip, but also gives us a warning about the potential disappearance of this history. It was with this latter mindset that I started on my trip through Taiwan’s history.


Traveling the path through Taiwan’s history. (photo by Gregory Bell)

Like most Westerners, I had but a cursory understanding of this island’s history. I knew, for example, that it was a unique mix of Chinese and Japanese heritages and influences, and indeed, the Japanese once made a colony of this island of Formosa. How this colonial history played out, I knew little. I knew even less of the role of Taiwan’s aboriginals through these changes of political control. I came to find out, like so many people involuntarily put under the control of a foreign power, that Taiwan’s aboriginals were forced to follow the tide of the times and the desires of the new government. Eventually this would lead to backlash, and in this case the so-called Wushe Uprising occurred, named for the location of the uprising.

A full history and background of the uprising is not necessary, and is also beyond the scope of this reflection. However, it should be noted that it started with an attack on a Japanese school by Taiwan’s aboriginals, which lead to retaliation from the Japanese colonial police and military forces against the natives. Knowing the facts, such as the numbers of those who perished or the number of soldiers sent into battle make for interesting reading, as well as helping to grasp the scope of the uprising. Yet, they pale in comparison to hearing stories from those whose ancestors were involved in the uprising itself. History goes far beyond the typical primary sources such as official correspondence, numbers of officers deployed, casualties, official orders, and analysis of later policies. While all of these are very important for attempting to recreate the setting within which these events occurred, ultimately the true history is in the story, that which those involved have passed on to the younger generations, that which has persisted within their culture since the events occurred. It is this history that is so often lost, and it is so rare, that opportunities like these must be cherished. Indeed, I shall remember these events for the rest of my life.

Thus, when I was offered the opportunity to take part in an excursion to the Wushe area, and meet some of Taiwan’s aboriginals and others that have a connection to the event, I jumped at the opportunity. We spent a weekend from March 17th to 18th in Puli and Wushe. We also happened to have absolutely perfect weather for the entire trip, which made it much easier to appreciate what we were seeing. For example, when showing us boundary lines between different aboriginal tribes, the weather was so clear that we could make out the valleys and rivers that originally divided their territories. In addition, when Mr. Dakis Pawan showed us traditional roads that passed through the mountains, much we could make out, even today. Joining us on our trip was my advisor, Professor Chou Wan-yao, from National Taiwan University, as well as my classmates from the same department. Our trip was split into two days and each day was filled with activity. We didn’t have much downtime, but this ended up being quite a blessing because we also got to see and hear so much. First, I will run through a brief sequence of events before I go into them in more detail in the next section.

On March 17th, Saturday, we left early from Taipei and took the train down to Taichung. From there, we took a local bus service from the station out to the town of Puli. Soon afterward we were off to a very nice traditional lunch, and then went to meet Ms. P’an Mei-hsin(Pan Meixin,潘美信女士). Later that night we went to meet with Mr. Dakis Pawan(郭明正老師)and Professor Deng Shine-yang(鄧相揚教授). The next day, March 18th, was an early one, and we immediately were whisked away to a day spent visiting various historical sites, while having the events of the Wushe Uprising described to us. We also got to eat at a restaurant specializing in aboriginal food—which I must say was extremely delicious (note the above picture)—and, finally, we were on our way back to Taipei. It was an odd whirlwind of events. Over two days I was surrounded in history, mountains, and stories. Within a few hours, I was back in a bustling city, always on the move ahead, which almost made the weekend’s events seem but a dream. As we shall see, though, this was more than a dream and, in fact, was a reality that left a deep impression on me.


Learning as we go; every location we visited was accompanied by a detailed explanation. (photo by Gregory Bell)

To that end, we had the wonderful opportunity to meet Ms. P’an Mei-hsin and listen to her story. Given that Ms. P’an Mei-hsin herself is not aboriginal, I was initially unsure what relationship she had to the Wushe Uprising. She is able to speak Japanese quite fluently, much she learned after she was married. Her connection to the Wushe Uprising was actually very surprising for me; a connection that is in many ways subtle yet extends to a larger relationship to the events and their results. She found out about the Wushe Uprising through her husband’s parents, though she was especially close with her mother-in-law. We could tell, by listening to the way she would talk about her mother-in-law, that she deeply respected and held her in high esteem. Her mother-in-law, in her later years, had spent much effort to talk about the Wushe Uprising. In fact, this lead to a lot of academics coming to interview her about the uprising. So, she told the story from start to finish, going through the ins and outs of the Wushe Uprising to those that asked, up until the time she passed away. This, to me, was very admirable. From what I could tell, Ms. P’an’s mother-in-law would never tire of telling her story to those that would listen. From this, I believe we can infer that this story was so important, so worth telling, that she was passionate that it would not be forgotten. I believe this is what attracted so much attention from the academics that would come and interview her. This mother-in-law is actually what connects Ms. P’an Mei-hsin to the uprising. As it turns out, her mother-in-law was Obing Tado(高彩雲). Obing Tado was the wife of Dakis Nawi(花岡二郎, Hanaoka Jirō)[1]. As for Ms. P’an Mei-hsin, she is the wife of Awi Dakis(高光華), the son of Dakis Nawi, who was born after he had died. In addition, we also had the chance to meet Mr. Tado Nawi(高信昭), who was the oldest son of Obing Tado’s younger brother. [2]

That brings us to the interesting, if tragic, story of Dakis Nawi, which is very much worth mentioning here. His wife and the wife of Dakis Nobing(花岡一郎, Hanaoka Ichirō)were cousins. However, the two Hanaoka themselves had no blood relationship. In his childhood, Dakis Nobing was in primary school with Japanese children, and was the first aboriginal to receive high level education in Taiwan.[3] Afterward he became a patrolman[4] for the Japanese police in Taiwan. As for Dakis Nawi, after graduating from primary school he became a low level officer for the police, which was acting as an assistant at the police office. Sadly, after the Wushe Uprising occurred, both Dakis Nobing and Dakis Nawi committed suicide. They left a note behind saying that the uprising was because of excessive forced labor on the aborigines by the Japanese.[5] The story of these two brothers gives us an interesting example of the assimilation policies and attempts by the Japanese at that time, and both Dakis Nobing and Dakis Nawi can be seen as products of these attempts. While we may never know where their true loyalties lay, nor which side they truly identified themselves with; however, based on the suicide note we can be sure to some extent that they still felt a strong connection to their traditional heritage.

Later that night, we heard from Mr. Dakis Pawan and Professor Deng Shine-yang. The topic was “The Dialog Between The Oral Tradition of the Wushe Uprising and Artistic Adaptation”[6], and it was specifically aimed at the liberties taken in Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, a movie that was released last year about the Wushe Uprising. Dakis Pawan described the challenges that he faced trying to translate words from the original Chinese script into his native Seediq language (such as the term “gaya"), which also had to have corresponding subtitles in Chinese. It is interesting to see how these challenges were overcome, but perhaps what had the most impact on me was the status of the Seediq language. Indeed, it is at risk of being lost, and seeing Dakis Pawan working to preserve his language—seeing the Chinese and Seediq signs at the museum in alang Gluban(清流部落)—was just one more demonstration of his passion. I find language a fascinating and precious thing; it carries the culture of a people, and if it is lost, perhaps, then, a culture is lost as well. In that, I feel it is a battle that needs to be fought, and if possible, I would do as much as I could to help in this battle. Having the opportunity to listen to their native tongue as they spoke it was truly a unique and priceless experience. Here was a living language, one I hope can be preserved and appreciated for generations, along with a deep and rich culture behind it. Seeing the challenges Dakis Pawan faced in his translations showed how culturally rich the Seediq language is. I was deeply impressed by this connection.

On the last day, we were taken to various locations where the uprising occurred. We saw where battles took place on the mountains, we looked out at old boundary lines between aboriginal societies, and we learned about the traditional livelihoods of these people. We also learned about the traditional roads that were used to travel from one place to another. After reading Professor Yang Nan-chun’s book A Story of the Nangao National Trail[7], this was particularly of interest, as he described the area that we were in. While along these trails, we were able to visit the remnants of the original Seediq village in the hills, and see the traditional style homes. We also visited the original marker that the Japanese had erected for Walis Buni, who was a priest of planting in the Seediq tribe. While he did not actively take part in the uprising, he played a role in it. However, he is often forgotten in light of the relative popularity of Mona Rudo. Sadly, much of the marker had been erased, and it was buried without much pomp and circumstance in overgrowing bush. Yet, Dakis Pawan said words of respect in Seediq, and in unison we all paid our solemn respects to Walis Buni. This marker was erected by the Japanese to remember him, as he attempted to protect the Japanese during the uprising.


Erased but not forgotten. Walis Buni’s marker reminds us of the complex roles of aboriginals in the uprising. (photo by Gregory Bell)

Later, we visited a recently built remembrance park devoted to Mona Rudo and others who resisted the Japanese, only a few miles down the road from the school were the uprising started (now used by Taiwan Power Company). Here, Dakis Pawan also led us in a moment of remembrance for Mona Rudo, saying a few words in Seediq, we all followed and paid our respects. Mona Rudo is probably the most famous individual, if not the icon, of the Wushe Uprising. He is considered the leader of the uprising, though sadly after the incident he committed suicide. The Japanese authorities later found his body, and they took his remains to Taihoku (Taipei) Imperial University (now National Taiwan University), as a specimen for the anthropology department. Finally, in 1973, his remains were returned to his native Wushe and a proper burial was held there.[8] Afterward, we were taken to the location where the Japanese colonial officials moved the aboriginal groups from the mountains. The car ride alone took nearly an hour, going from the mountains of the original villages, back through Puli, then out to the new settlement area. The entire time, my classmates and myself couldn’t help but wonder out loud how this forced migration of people was carried out, especially over such long distances, carrying their entire lives with them. Indeed, this is an area that perhaps warrants further research. I remembered back on the stories of the “Trail of Tears”, the forced migration and resettlement of America’s native inhabitants, and felt that some similarities could be traced between these two tragic events.


The serene views of alang Gluban(清流部落) belies its turbulent past. (photo by Gregory Bell)

While I did not have the chance to see Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale before joining this trip, I feel that by first getting the historical background and personally walking through the historical setting of the film, I will be much better prepared to appreciate and understand the film. It goes without saying that I could only appreciate it in so much as my guides, teachers, classmates, and those whose stories I had the honor of hearing helped guide me along the path of the Wushe Uprising. It was through their effort that I truly came away from the trip with a new appreciation and understanding of Taiwan’s unique past, and especially that of her native peoples’, a history much worth being retold.

Perhaps an image that will truly stay with me came from our interview on the first day. As I said, I was impressed with the Japanese used by Ms. P’an Mei-hsin, and with the passion that she talked about the Wushe Uprising, especially after learning of her connection to the events. The reverence with which she spoke of her mother-in-law, echoing her passion for telling the story of the Wushe Uprising to younger generations, was quite apparent in her speech. Thus, I will always remember when she and my classmate from Japan, Konishi Shōtai, were talking and he was asking her questions. Konishi himself is quite proficient in Chinese, yet they still used Japanese as the medium for their conversation. Here, to me, was a connection between the past and the present, two sides with deep respect and equally impressed with the other, chatting and smiling. Time can, perhaps, heal old wounds, and even make a colonial past seem but a page in a textbook, but for those that do remember, they also know time goes on and even now friendships can be formed. Looking at such a situation, it gives us much to reflect on. We must also be reminded that no matter what our past is, we can always come together and regard each other not as “the other” but as “the same”. It is in this vein that I would next like to turn to some words from Dakis Pawan.

After we returned, I sent an email to Dakis Pawan to thank him for the wonderful opportunity and to express my sincere appreciation for everything he did for us. In his reply, he made some truly profound comments that I would like to reproduce here and share. I feel they are the perfect way to end this reflection on my time in Wushe:


互相欣賞 互相接納 相互包容..……

I think…
Every country, every people,
all have their history and culture.
And they are all very precious;
[We must] Mutually appreciate, mutually accept, mutually be tolerant [of the other]…
Perhaps, being “human” as we are,
we must learn this.


Actually exchange between different cultures is interesting;
Of course in the past it wasn’t necessarily interesting,
because the “conflict” between different cultures
often took the top priority of “interest”.[9]

(Provided with Dakis Pawan ‘ s permission)

Of course it goes without saying that it was a great opportunity to get to know my classmates, and I wish to thank all of them for providing wonderful company, insightful comments and questions in our discussions, as well as just making the entire experience a very enjoyable one. I also would like to thank Professor Chou for inviting us to go on this trip, as well taking the time to organize everything.

The author: Gregory Bell. (photo by Wan-yao Chou)

[1] While he took a Japanese name, Hanaoka Jirō, this text will use his Seediq name Dakis Nawi. The same goes for his in-law, Hanaoka Ichirō, who will be referred to as Dakis Nobing.

[2] See related article: 高彩雲口述,高永清紀錄,潘美信譯,〈訣別的悲劇〉(日文),《臺灣與海洋亞洲研究通訊》第5期(2011年12月),頁26-31。

[3] 吳密察監修,遠流台灣館編著,《臺灣史小事典》(臺北巿:遠流,2000),頁134。

[4] At the time, a patrolman (巡查 [じゅんさ, Junsa]) was the lowest ranking police officer.

[5] 吳密察監修,遠流台灣館編著,《臺灣史小事典》(臺北巿:遠流,2000),頁134。

[6] Original:「霧社事件的口傳真相與藝術改編之間的對話」. Translation is my own.

[7] 徐如林、楊南郡,《能高越嶺道‧穿越時空之旅》(臺北巿:行政院農委會林務局,2011)。

[8] 吳密察監修,遠流台灣館編著,《臺灣史小事典》,頁143。

[9] The Chinese text is Dakis Pawan ‘ s original wording; the English translation is my own.


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