On the sunny day of Feb. 9, Dutch Representative Menno Goedhart and his wife Ingrid arrived at Kinuran, a remote Rukai Aboriginal village in the mountains of Wutai Township (霧台), Pingtung County, and received a warm welcome from the villagers. However, they were not just ordinary visitors — they were there to become members of a female Rukai chieftain’s family.
Menno and Ingrid were not the first Dutch to be in touch with the village. In fact, the Dutch had traveled to Kinuran as early as the 17th century when they ruled part of south Taiwan, Menno said.
“The Dutch feelings strengthened around 1900 when the Rukai princess married a Dutchman, who became the tribal chieftain,” Menno said. “He was loved for his generosity and honesty. Some tribe members do still remember him.”
Since the Rukais have a very strict social hierarchy, with chieftain status being passed down in the family from generation to generation, current chieftain Zuruzuru is the fourth generation descendant of the Dutch chieftain, said Ullun, Zuruzuru’s niece.
Some elder members of the village, such as Kuay, in his 80s now, still remember the stories that people passed down of the Dutch visits in the 17th century.
“My ancestors passed down stories about the visit from people who looked different from us — they had a different skin color, a different hair color, they had longer legs and hands,” Kuay said. “They brought us very useful gifts such as rifles for hunting and metal pots.”
The Rukais still make pottery in a specific shape today that they call “Dutch pottery.”
“The Dutch pottery was brought here by the Dutch [in the 17th century], but it’s actually from Thailand,” Menno said, citing the result of his own research.
Menno and Ingrid are both very interested in Taiwanese Aboriginal cultures and have visited many remote Aboriginal villages across the country since they were sent to Taiwan more than six years ago.
“I found out about the Rukais’ Dutch connection four years ago when I first visited the village, but it was not until about three months ago when I met Princess Ullun that we talked about giving me Rukai tribal membership,” Menno said.
As soon as the Dutch couple set foot in the village, members of the Rukai tribe rushed to their side to shake and kiss their hands.
One village elder explained that kissing the hand of a guest is the Rukai gesture of respect.
Showing appreciation in return for the Rukais’ hospitality, Menno brought gifts, including wine, beer, vegetables, fruits and — most importantly — a live pig.
Kinuran villagers invited Menno and Ingrid to join them in a traditional group dance, while others sang to the side.
The villagers did not forget what their guests were there for. A ceremony to confer Rukai membership to Menno and Ingrid soon began.
Zuruzuru along with other elders first helped Menno and Ingrid to dress in traditional Rukai outfits. Zuruzuru then crowned the two with Rukai headwear — a symbolic gesture that Menno and Ingrid had formally become Rukai, Ullun said.
“Now you may put your hands on the sacred pottery,” Ullun told Menno and Ingrid.
Menno and Ingrid followed her instruction and placed their hands on a black earthenware pot embossed with the design of the hundred-pacer snake.
Zuruzuru, Ullun and other elders in the chieftain’s family also joined by putting their hands on the pot.