“The old great-uncles from Beitou’s Pingding mountain area look indigenous…”
Every year during the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations with the entire family, my oldest uncle always mentions this in between sips of slowly brewed tea, his eyes looking deep.
But is that really true? The indigenous Austronesian peoples from the Taipei Basin area should be “Pingpu”, which is the term that was given by the Chinese Qing Imperial government to the indigenous peoples who used to live on the broad plain area of western Taiwan. During the period of Japanese rule, Japanese scholars referred to the Taipei indigenous peoples as the Ketagalan Tribe. Is it possible that our family is a part of them?
I’ve wondered about this question since 2008. My curiosity tempted me to start searching for the lost legends in the modern metropolis of Taipei.
So my maternal grandmother’s mother is a “Mature” indigenous. According to the Japanese era household registration documents, her name is “Min Shiting” (閩石廷). Unlike the Korean surname Min (閔), this is the Min (閩) from “Minnan” (it means the southern part of Fujian Province in China), which is probably one of the special Chinese surnames given by the Chinese officials to Taiwanese indigenous Pingpu peoples.
The Japanese household survey on Taiwan’s ethnic groups categorized “ethnicity” as follows:
Fu (福): Minnan
Guang (廣): Hakka
Assimilated (熟, or literally “ripe, or mature”): Taiwan Plains Indigenous
Unassimilated (生, or literally “raw, or unripe”): Other Taiwan Indigenous
As I tried to contain my excitement, I further asked household registration officers to trace back the records as far as they can. With all the information we found, I was stunned by the truth that my great grandmother’s immediate family, as well as her entire maternal family line, all had their ethnicity column noted as “Mature”. Everything proves that our family does have indigenous roots.
This is a family secret that none of my relatives know, even my mother. For all of them who identified themselves as Minnan Han Chinese all their lives, to find out that their own grandmother was actually an indigenous, I wonder how they would react.
The beautiful girl reclining on the grass in the photo is my mother. Tall with delicate facial features, and the way she carries herself is always so elegant, it’s hard not to notice her. Possessing great leadership, she was the conductor of the school’s color guard and a leader of the choir for many years; she plays piano, trumpet, and is also a great folk dancer and a wonderful vocalist. This talented lady even taught herself how to speak fluent American English just by listening to the US military radio. This is a woman with both beauty and brains. Yet the thing that I admire the most about her is not just the fact that she is endowed with these talents, but that she is very open-minded and forever curious about learning new things. My aunties told me when they were young, there was a famous doctor from National Taiwan University (NTU) Hospital who pursued my mom, but her considerations were apparently different from other young women – most of them considered a physician as the perfect Mr. Right candidate at that time.When I asked my mother why she chose my ordinary looking and skinny father out of all the great options she had, she told me with a sweet girlish smile:“Your dad is very thoughtful. Before getting married, I had to take a long bus ride from Taipei downtown to my parents’ house in Beitou after work every day. Your dad and I were teaching at the same school at that time. Although he knew that there were several people chasing after me, with little salary but very strong will he found ways to save money and get a mortgage loan to buy a house near Beitou so that he can take the same bus with me on the way home. Every day after class, whether it’s a rainy or a sunny day, he always brought my favorite fresh pineapple and stood by the bus stop with great patience, just in case he met me.”
“That’s it? So dad persevered with the pineapple act and you bought it? What actually made you decide to marry him?” My instincts tell me that there must be some hidden reason. My mom suddenly wrapped in thought and had some tears in her eyes. “When my mother passed away, your dad was the first person to come to the funeral and paid his respects to your grandmother,” she said as she gently wiped away her tears.I see.
I’ve had never met my maternal grandmother; she died two years before I was born. My mother, as her oldest daughter, was very close to her. My grandmother was long tormented by rheumatic heart disease, so my mother would always stay with her and take care of her until she fell asleep every night. One early morning, my grandmother suddenly fell from her bed. My mother who slept right next to her panicked and immediately called for help, but when the doctor finally arrived, it was already too late. At that time, grandmother was only 50 years old and the grief left my mother with serious trauma. I remember when my mom turned 50, she said to me she wasn’t sure if she could outlive her mother past half a century.
When I was little, I temporarily lived with my grandfather in Beitou while my parents were both busy with work. Every morning, grandfather would take me, a little girl with big eyes and a deep gaze, outside to show me off. My aunt told me, whenever my grandfather took me to the temple square and rolled dice with his friends, he would always win money, because I was his lucky charm. Afterwards, grandfather would always give me a prize, which was essentially taking me to eat traditional o-a mi-suann (oyster noodles). This is my most beautiful childhood memory. Grandfather grinned and shook his head as I ate one bowl after another, and the bowls on the table stacked higher and higher. And as a little girl, I know my grandfather spoiled me and loved me just as much as how high those bowls are.
After having a great meal and both of us with our appetite fully satisfied, my grandfather and I would go home and cross our legs on the bed while we had our siesta time (grandfather said sleeping with our legs crossed was cooler). Every time we looked at grandmother’s large portrait that hung in front of us, my grandfather would proudly said, “Your grandmother is so pretty, isn’t she!”
According to my oldest uncle, when grandfather and grandmother got married, grandmother’s adopted parents actually asked grandfather to marry into their household, because she is their oldest and the only daughter. But on the second day after the wedding, grandfather secretly took grandmother away from her home in Songshan back to Beitou. However, since grandfather along with grandmother always took care of grandmother’s little brothers with very sincere love, he was forgiven by grandmother’s foster parents and was loved dearly by them afterwards.
My grandfather once served as a driver in the Provincial Government. At that time, he and grandmother moved the entire family of six kids to live in a moderate-sized government housing, located in the Fifth Alley of Zhongshan North Road. Zhongshan N. Rd. was like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Taipei at that time. The Fifth Alley is now Lane 83, Section 1, Zhongshan North Road. Most of their neighbors and fellow classmates were either rich or famous. Diagonally from their home was the first mayor of Taipei after 1949, Huang Chaochin (黃朝琴); behind them was the mansion of the Vice President Yen Chiakan’s (嚴家淦) nephew; on the side of the Fourth Alley was the former President Chiang Chingkuo’s estate; and Taiwan’s first MD PhD Tu Tsungming (杜聰明) and the well-known folklorist Lin Hengtao (林衡道) who is from one of the most prominent families in Taiwan – the Banqiao Lin family, were also neighbors.
My uncles and aunts used to joke that their house was the ghetto of the rich people’s neighborhood. Nonetheless, my grandfather often lent his warm hands to people without hesitation, and during the outbreak of the 228 Incident, he protected an innocent Mainlander government staff by allowing him to hide in our house. Grandmother often offered her tailoring services to the rich neighbors, and since she was fluent in Taiwanese, Japanese, and Mandarin, she helped the rich neighbors’ illiterate Taiwanese servants to write letters to their families. Life was not abundant with riches, but this couple was frugal in their expenditures, had many friends, and smoothly settled down in this neighborhood.
By the way, grandfather was a great cook. After leaving his job in the Provincial Government, he opened a Japanese restaurant. Unfortunately, since my grandfather was so generous, the restaurant closed after three months because he treated too many of his friends for free. The family was poor, but my amazing grandfather has the magic power to bring joy to his children and to transform simple ingredients into delicacy: Radish Peel Feast, 100-Styles of Congee, Variations on the Yam, Water Spinach Special, and so on. Interestingly enough, all of his sons, not daughters, inherited grandfather’s culinary talents. When the family eats together, it’s always the uncles that cook in the kitchen while mom and aunties cross their legs in the living room, chatting away. In our family, you can say that the women have more power, so consequently I thought that the other families in Taiwan were all the same as mine. After my Hakka father married my mom, he also took care of all the cooking, laundry, and handling the kid’s lunchboxes. Not until I talked to my classmates I realized that our family life style was so different from the mainstream in Taiwan society. Male chauvinism is usually preserved even better in Hakka society – my father transform himself for love.
My mother’s eyes glowed, waiting for me to tell her what I’ve found at the household registration office.
“You are really a barbarian.” I said half-jokingly and half determinedly, to break the ice.
“Really?!” she said, not sounding the least bit surprised but quite excited, and she immediately asked me, “So you have confirmed that the great-uncles living in Beitou’s Pingding mountains are all indigenous as well?”
“No, I couldn’t find anything regarding the Beitou side of the family, I guess they assimilated very early on. I was only able to find information regarding grandmother’s side.”
“What?” My mom was amazed. She sat straight and asked me, “So it’s your grandmother? Do you have any solid proof?” I knew my mom will definitely ask for proof, so I was well prepared. I took out the whole stack of documents from my household registration office expeditions, and arranged them chronologically on the table for her. She listened to my explanation and carefully reviewed her ancestors’ profile that she has never seen before.
While listening to my explanation, she slowly held up one of the documents and said, “Although your grandmother was taken away from her biological parents, her foster parents loved her very much and treated her like their own. They even sent her to school and gave her control over the family assets. Her younger brothers from her foster parents all highly respected her. When most of the families at the time valued sons over daughters, this was a very unusual situation.”
After going through careful research of data, I was able to discover that my grandmother was really fortunate. She was the only child to receive formal education, whether in her biological family or her foster family. Especially for a girl at that time, this was very significant. If my grandmother weren’t sent to the foster family, her destiny would have been completely different. My mom told me that my grandmother actually tried to find her biological parents, but apparently was only able to connect with one of her younger brothers, and his family was poor, living next to the Xinsheng Ditch (also known as the Horikawa Canal, underneath today’s Xinsheng South Road), catching sparrows and selling BBQ birds for making a living.
“I remember there was once when your grandmother visited that uncle, and they were apparently arranging a funeral at that time. I wasn’t sure who passed away, but your grandmother wanted to pay her sincere condolence, but the uncle’s family didn’t ask grandmother to go in, and only chatted with her outside the door. I could tell that your grandmother was sad, but she was still politely gave the gifts to uncle’s family. Maybe it was the old thinking at that time that sending your daughter to another family is like the water that already splashed out and will never return, so she must go through certain rites of passage so that she can return…” My mother said thoughtfully.
“Do you think grandmother knew that she was a plains indigenous?”
“Probably not……She was only eight months old when she left her biological family, and there was no way for her to find out, she was too young.” My mother shook her head, putting down the document on the table.
Even today, Songshan and Beitou seem rather far away from each other. However, according to my family record, the two sides of the plains indigenous clans were still very close and intermarried at that time. Apparently for our ancestors, the distance to climb over the Datun Mountains was just like walking from our house to our own backyard. All our ancestors’ indigenous names and marriage records were all written clearly in the household registration profiles.Pan Shu, my grandmother’s grandmother, lived in Taipei’s Dajiana Castle’s Upper TayouVillage (臺北大加蚋堡上塔悠庄), which is currently the area bordered by the end of Songshan International Airport’s runway, the Guanshan section of the Keelung Riverside Park, between Mingquan Bridge, all the way to the edge of the Zhongshan Highway. After some research, I learned that many rivers and canals once crisscrossed this ferry port area, therefore it was called “Little Suzhou” (And Suzhou was called “the Venice of the East” by western travelers) for its beautiful scenery in the Qing dynasty period. This was also said to be the location of Tatayou Clan of the Ketagalan Nation, and even today some Songshan residents still call this area with the discriminatory terms “fanshe” or “huan-a-sia” (番社), which means a “barbarian” community.This “Mature” indigenous family, to which clan do they belong? Maybe Tatayou? To find out, I returned to the household registration office again in Songshan. I took the papers from last time, and with persistence, I again asked the officer to please further investigate this matter. The officer was patiently inputting all the names into the system, but she shook her head while she typed and said, “The household registration system was only started during the Japanese period, and you already have records that can trace back to the mid-19th century. I’m afraid that this is the end of the trail.” After spending almost 15 minutes, there weren’t any more new results from the household registration office.Is this really the end of the story?
After I started working abroad, my family tree research project was delayed for a while. After two years, when I returned to Taiwan and based in Taipei for a few months, one day, I was relaxing in a daze after a long day’s work, habitually opening the Google browser on my laptop. Suddenly, I remembered my family tree project, so I tentatively typed some of my ancestors’ names in the Google search bar.
My mom’s grandmother – Min Shihting, no results found; Min Shiting’s father Min Dehe, no results found; her mother Pan Shu, no results found; Pan Shu’s mother DingMi, no results found. While I was thinking it’s probably another dead end, something popped out after I inputted Pan Shu’s father’s name – Pan Zhengfang! Bingo!
The first result was a marriage contract which can date back to Qing’s Guangxu 19 (1893 AD) from Taiwan’s National Digital Archives. I opened the file with curiosity and found that Pan Zhengfang was the signatory.
Is this marriage contract one that belongs to our family? I nervously held the monitor of my laptop to look carefully at this contract, which is stored at the Department of Anthropology, National Taiwan University (NTU). The following is the modern language translation of this ancient contract text:
Pan Zhengfang and Min Qingjiang both agree to this marriage.
I, Pan Zhengfang, have married a girl whose surname is Ding. We only have one daughter, no sons, and we named her Pan Shuliang (潘贖涼). She is 25 years old this year. She already reached the age of marriage without marrying. There is an old saying that “you can’t raise fish without water”, so I was afraid that my only daughter will be lonely without somebody take care of her.
Together with my wife we sought out a matchmaker to talk to Mr. Min Qingjiang because he has a nephew named Min Dehe who is 29 years old this year, and still single. My precious daughter is well suited for him. We will pick an auspicious day for them to become husband and wife forever. I hope that we can have a fruitful family after this new beginning, and that we can finally be at ease. But oral commitment is not just enough, we should commit this on a written document with one copy for each party.
P.S. Also, if our daughter bears many sons, the second son’s surname will be Pan, for continuing our Pan family bloodline; if she only has daughters, then the oldest daughter will inherit the Pan family name; if there are more daughters or sons afterwards, then they will all belong to the Min family.
P.P.S. Also, Min Dehe can take my daughter to another place to farm, by boat, but he has to give us a living stipend equivalent of two silver dollars every month. In this way, we will still have money to eat, and to worship our god.
P.P.P.S. If we pass away, Min Dehe has to take the responsibility of taking care of our family, and this is not the responsibility of other relatives.
P.P.P.P.S. The final matter: our asset, including our estate and property, etc., is all given to our precious daughter, other relatives are not allowed have a say in this matter.
The handwriting is clear, but the characters at the end of the document kept getting smaller and denser. All of the postscripts in the world could not describe everything in the parents’ minds, and even reading this document today, I could feel the anxiety from the parents negotiating with the bridegroom’s family in order to secure their precious, sole daughter’s future happiness.
This marriage contract is already over one hundred years old, using beautiful literary language to describe a marriage on an auspicious day to have a fruitful family and wishes to bear many offspring with good morals, etc. The contract also recorded the names of the couple, the marriage date, the parents’ names, the uncle’s names, and the fact that the bride is the single child and her family lived by the river. All matched the information from the household registry records I had, but one – the bride’s name in the contract and the household registration document is different. The bride’s name in marriage contract is Pan Shuliang, while the household registration document recorded her name as Pan Shu. Could this just be a giant coincidence, that two girls of the same age, living in the same area, had parents with the same names, got married at the same time, to two men with the same name?
Struggling with doubts about all these questions, I immediately wrote an e-mail to Department of Anthropology at National Taiwan University to see if some scholars already had the answer. In order to prove that I am the direct descendant of the couple mentioned in this marriage contract, I scanned and sent all my household registration documents to them. Soon after, I received the reply from the NTU Anthropology Department’s teaching assistant saying that Professor Hu Jiayu (胡家瑜), who is in charge of this marriage contract, has agreed to let me take a look at the contract that should belong to my family.
Unable to hold my excitement, after I scheduled a date with Prof. Hu, I immediately took the day off and rushed to the Department of Anthropology at NTU. As soon as I entered their office, I saw Prof. Hu had kindly taken the ancient marriage contract out from storage and placed it on an elegant classical wooden table for me to examine. I nervously breathed in, and couldn’t help myself trembling with excitement and joy when I looked at this ancient piece of paper. This century old cotton paper contract was a burgundy color and has now faded into a light pink. It was carefully preserved in an acid-free paper box that is designed to protect paper artifacts. While some of the handwritten portion is very blurry, most of the contents are still very clear.
Is this really the maternal grandmother of my maternal grandmother – Pan Shu’s – marriage contract?
Prof. Hu told me that this marriage contract was from a private collection of Father Fang Hao (方豪), a former Academician of Academia Sinica, Professor of History at National Taiwan University, who had already passed away. After Professor Fang moved to Taiwan from China after WWII, he was the first mainland Chinese historian to conduct research on Taiwan history. This old marriage contract and other ancient Ketagalan Tribe documents were all collected by Father Fang after he came to Taiwan. After he passed away, these documents were sent to the General Library of NTU, and then transferred to the Department of Anthropology. These ancient Ketagalan Tribe documents quietly stayed in the storage room for many years and weren’t rediscovered until Prof. Hu came back to Taiwan from Canada and systematically sorted out those precious items.
Prof. Hu specifically told me, “This ancient marriage contract has never been displayed in public before. Currently this is probably the last Ketagalan Tribe marriage contract that exists in the world.”
Still, I was puzzled about the difference of the bride’s name between the marriage contract and the household registration files, so I humbly asked Prof. Hu to look into it. After a detailed discussion, Prof. Hu thinks that the name “Shuliang” was probably a transliteration from Austronesian Ketagalan language, and when the Japanese officials recorded the household registry, they wrote down “Shu,” which is pronounced similarly in Minnan Taiwanese to “Shuliang.” That is probably why the household registration document has “Pan Shu” while the wedding contract says “Pan Shuliang”, but the two should be the same person.
Sometime later, Taiwanese History Professor Chan Suchuan (詹素娟) from Academia Sinica also told me that in the heyday of the Ketagalan Tribes in the greater Taipei area, there was a population of only about 3,000 people since the start of recorded history in the 17th Century. Since the population declined even more, the possibility of two ladies having the same name, home, age, is very slim. Thus, this particular marriage contract should be the marriage contract of my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother Pan Shuliang (Pan Shu).
This is really a surprise from Google!
As we can see from this century year old contract:
- This is a marriage where the man marries into the woman’s household. The bride is the single child, and her parents wanted her to live with them. This was not uncommon at that time, but I am not sure if this was to preserve the plains indigenous matriarchal society’s traditional values.
- The bride was already 25-years-old when the two families agreed to this marriage proposal. It’s rather late for a lady to get married, at that time. Why did she marry so late? Were there some specific reasons? Or maybe she was adamant about something?
- The two families both lived by the river because the bride’s father mentioned that he allowed the groom to take his only daughter to his home by boat. Was this tribe relying primarily on water transportation at that time?
- It was clearly indicated in the contract that the bride Pan Shuliang, single child of her parents, will inherit all her parents’ land, estate, rental tax, The groom’s family and other relatives had absolutely no rights to claim these assets. This was firmly announced in the context. The parents were afraid that someone will take advantage of their precious daughter, and they determined to protect her against all odds. This is similar to the prenuptial agreement nowadays.
Pan Shuliang (Pan Shu) is my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother. This girl, with an Austronesian name, led what kind of unique life? How about her father Pan Zhengfang, my great great great grandfather, what was he like? Through the journey of my family history investigation, of peeling away layers of historic dust, my ancestral spirits seem to guide me all the way to discover the forgotten stories hidden under the modern cosmopolitan Taipei. Where is the next clue?
(To be continued)
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