The University of Edinburgh is to return the skulls of four Paiwan Aborigines who were killed in 1874, following requests from the central government, Pingtung County’s Mudan Township (牡丹) Mayor Pan Chuang-chih (潘壯志) said on Friday.
Japanese soldiers originally took the skulls as war trophies when they fought Paiwan Aborigines in retaliation for the killing of Ryukyuan sailors in the Mudan Incident, Pan told a news conference in Mudan.
The remains changed hands twice before reaching the university in the same year, Pan said, adding that if the institution returns the skulls as planned, it would be the first time that human remains were repatriated to Taiwan.
The conference was held to discuss how the return would be handled to meet the traditions and wishes of the Paiwan community.
The Mudan Incident stemmed from the killing of Ryukyuan sailors, who were shipwrecked off the southern coast of Taiwan in 1871 while returning to Miyako Island after paying annual tribute to the seat of the Ryukyu Kingdom in Naha. When the 66 people aboard the vessel entered Paiwan territory, they were attacked due to a misunderstanding, and 54 were killed.
The Japanese government sought compensation from the Qing court for the killings, but the court said that the incident was out of its hands. Japan then used the incident to challenge Qing sovereignty over Taiwan and in May 1874 sent a naval force to attack the Paiwan in retaliation.
During the conference, Pan reiterated his proposals to the Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Ministry of Culture to build a memorial museum for the incident in the township, saying that hopefully on the 150th anniversary of the incident in 2024, people would have a proper venue to learn about this important chapter in Taiwanese history.
Pingtung Cultural Affairs Department Director Wu Ming-jung (吳明榮) said that the department’s program to teach local people about the incident has ended, with more than 100 participants finishing the courses and activities in the nearly one-month training program.
These people are to volunteer to take visitors on tours of the historical locations related to the incident, as well as to teach them about local stories, in an effort to preserve the county’s tangible and intangible cultural assets, Wu said.
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