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Beware the Headhunters!

(中文:〈「遇怪悲號猶可,遇番悲號……」走山路,小心碰到原住民!〉

Beware the Headhunters

Encounter with ghosts were feasible, once encountering the howls of the savages, the toll will be paid in heads

Lee Bing-Rui, a late 19th century Qing Dynasty official stationed in Taiwan once wrote:

「時人入山,常遇靈怪悲號迴野,俗謂『討路費,散冥鏹,可免。』遇怪悲號猶可,遇番悲號,則以首級為路費矣。」

(Travelling in the mountains, one often encounters howls of ghosts and spirits, the saying goes: “To pay such tolls, a toss of hell money will do.” Encounter with ghosts were feasible, once encountering the howls of the savages, the toll will be paid in heads.)

Yes, what this Chinese official was referring to was the headhunting practice of the Taiwanese indigenous people.

To speak of headhunting, the 2011 movie – Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, brings up the vivid imagery to mind with scenes of the Seediq headhunts. In Taiwan, excluding the Tao of Orchid Island, all indigenous peoples once practiced headhunting. Even the Amis, an indigenous group commonly perceived as peace-loving, and the gentle Sakizaya, had all once practiced headhunting. (The Amis of Cikasuan were fierce headhunters. The headhunting campaigns of the Sakizaya were even feared by the Turuku.)

So why headhunting?

In the era when Akiyama created the painting, the Turuku had stopped headhunting. The indigenous people in the painting were models he had enlisted to pose for the painting. 

There are various reasons. In many indigenous cultures, the head is where the soul is located, and also where strength lies, therefore, heads were hunted as offerings for blessing. However, often it would be for revenge, or for men to demonstrate bravery. It was also stated once by a Turuku elder that headhunting would be conducted between communities competing for prey. The reasons for headhunting are as varied and complicated as the rules for before and after the headhunt.

This painting here titled “Headhunt,” by Japanese painter Akiyama Shunsui in 1935, shows a Turuku warrior, wearing loincloth, appearing ready to strike his target, accompanied by 4 companions. However, in the era when Akiyama created the painting, the Turuku had stopped headhunting. The indigenous people in the painting were models he had enlisted to pose for the painting. 

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About the Translator

Jimmy Liang ,1989 年生於台北,自小對身邊的人事物有著深刻而煩人的好奇和想像,對於原住民文化的求知慾來自於小時後的閱讀和參觀過的原住民文化活動。自國中移民加拿大後對多元文化產生了敏感和深思,在北美西北岸原住民(Northwest Coastal Peoples)圖騰和紀念品充斥的溫哥華居住了大半輩子後也自然喚起了兒時的好奇也啟發了大學畢業後對文化的反思。

2011 年畢業於 Emily Carr 藝術設計大學,目前定居於溫哥華從事藝術創作及教育和在餐廳打工。 


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