The TV drama Seqalu: Formosa 1867 (斯卡羅), directed by Tsao Jui-yuan (曹瑞原) and adapted from Chen Yao-chang’s (陳耀昌) novel Kui Lei Hua (傀儡花), has created considerable interest in the history of the Aboriginal Puyuma and Paiwan peoples since it premiered on Public Television Service.
Increased interest in the history of Aborigines told from their own viewpoint is always a good thing, and there are too many tragic events in Aboriginal history that need to be addressed.
Take the Bunun people’s Bulbul community in Taitung County’s Haiduan Township (海端) for example: An ancient cannon in the community has witnessed many changes in the world and the sadness of the community.
Although dubbed the “ancient cannon of Bulbul,” the weapon did not originally belong to the community. Rather, it was deployed by Japanese colonial troops to intimidate the residents. The cannon was first deployed in Hualien County’s Batongguan (八通關) area during Japan’s campaign to control Taiwanese Aborigines.
At that time, the Japanese colonial government seized the weapons of Aborigines, who were deeply offended, as it made hunting very difficult. Disputes between colonial police and Aborigines eventually triggered a series of bloody conflicts.
The 1914 Bulbul Incident happened during the Bunun people’s anti-Japanese movement. Although the incident appears to have had a clear outcome, too many questions remain.
The most notorious incident between Japanese and Aborigines is perhaps the 1930 Wushe Incident in Nantou County, on which the 2011 epic film Seediq Bale, directed by Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖), is based. Although Japanese troops suppressed the local community with heavy weapons, they failed to subdue them.
In 1932, the Bunun people once again took up arms to resist the Japanese in the Daguanshan Incident in Taitung County, and the colonial government sent several big cannons to the area to deter the Bunun.
Those cannons have an impressive background: Originally used by the Russian Empire during the Russo-Japanese War, those then-state-of-the-art weapons were seized by Japan after Russia surrendered in 1905.
Eventually, one of the cannons was in 1945 left behind on the Batongguan Historic Trail (八通關古道) in the mountains of Taitung County, when Japan withdrew from Taiwan after its defeat in World War II.
The site is now a tourist spot with historical significance.
Tracing the background of the cannon is not difficult. However, what really happened during the Bulbul and Daguanshan incidents is not entirely clear.
In particular, the Bunun people say that Japanese troops used traps to initiate a “massacre” during the Bulbul Incident, while Japanese documents show that the troops were protecting the community from other Aboriginal peoples.
That there are two diametrically opposed interpretations of the incident makes one wonder if one side is trying to cover the historical truth. The ancient cannon of Bulbul is a reminder that we must not forget to strive for the historical truth.
Weber Lai is a professor in National Taiwan University of Arts’ radio and television department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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