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 Austronesian Southeast Asia:


An outline of contemporary issues



Christian Alan Anderson

Department of Anthropology

University of Southern California



Ph.D. Qualifying Exam:  Regional



DRAFT:  March 19, 2002






Southeast Asia


Austronesian origins:  Archaeology, linguistics, and local knowledge

Navigation and Austronesian colonization

Political dynamics of exchange systems

Religious diversity and syncretism

Status and autonomy for women

Social obligation and debt bondage

European colonialism

Postcolonial independence and nationhood

Discussion: Globalization, jihad, and ethnic relations


Anthropological research on Taiwan  

The prehistory of Taiwan

Taiwan¡¦s colonial history

1.  Dutch and early Chinese settlements in Taiwan

2.  Japanese colonialism in Taiwan

3.  The Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalists in Taiwan

The Urbanization of Taiwan & native movements

Discussion: Taiwan¡¦s place in Austronesian studies



Map 1:  Geographical boundary of contemporary Austronesian language speakers (Pawley & Ross 1995, 45).

        The first section of this paper defines a region of Austronesian Southeast Asia. The second and main section of this paper deals with several contemporary issues in the region. The final section examines ways in which the Austronesian world is connected with Southern China and Taiwan, and elaborates Taiwan¡¦s place in Austronesian studies.



        Austronesian is a linguistic classification, yet when considered as a region, there are also similarities in the archaeological, ethnographic, historical, and even genetic records (Bellwood 1995). There is, of course, great cultural diversity throughout the Austronesian world, and so successful efforts to find common, yet meaningful, ground have been relatively few. James Fox (1995) suggests one common Austronesian theme is a notion of multiple origins, and a preoccupation with precedence. Others have noted that Austronesian populations are generally associated with animal domestication and agriculturally based economies (Bellwood 1995; Spriggs 1995; Groves 1995; but see Sather 1995 for a refutation). Still others are most impressed with the navigational technology that enabled the Austronesian colonization of the Pacific (Oliver 1989a, 1989b; Horridge 1995; Howe 1996). With the exception of New Guinea and some of the islands of Melanesia, Oceania was not populated prior to Austronesian colonization, so in Polynesia and Micronesia, Austronesian cultures are considered indigenous.  


With the exception of linguists and the volume edited by Peter Bellwood and colleagues at the Australian National University (1995), few anthropologists have published comparative research on Austronesia. Many of the most famous anthropologists, however, have researched particular Austronesian societies, and many of the most significant problems and questions of social anthropology have been found and dealt with in Austronesian cultural contexts. For that reason, the field of Austronesian studies is among the richest in anthropology. Yet, since most of the Austronesian societies did not keep written accounts of history, there is a wide gap of unknown history.

        Before the European colonization of Southeast Asia and Oceania, documentary sources on Austronesian Southeast Asia came from accounts of traders and religious expeditions from India, the first of which is dated to the 2000BP inscriptions in East Kalimantan and Java (Supomo 1995). The rise of state-level society in Java and Bali is attributed to influences from Hindu and Buddhist priests who traveled to Southeast Asia on the trade routes since the first century AD (2000BP).

        The earliest human occupation of Southeast Asia was between 40,000 and 50,000 years ago, achieved by voyaging in watercraft across up to 65 kilometers of open ocean (Bowdler 1993: 57). These early settlers were not, however, Austronesian. They are linguistically and racially distinct, having more in common with contemporary peoples of New Guinea. The Austronesian colonization of island Southeast Asia, according to linguistic reconstruction of Proto-Austronesian and archaeological evidence (Bellwood 1995), happened between 6,000 and 4,000 years ago. Exactly from where the Austronesians came, discussed in depth below, is still debated.  

        Southeast Asia

        Southeast Asia is a modern concept used to construct a region of modern nations, those south of China, east of India, and west of the island of New Guinea. Cultural and economic life on mainland Southeast Asia, which includes the modern nations of Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Burma, is more influenced by Chinese cultural values. Conversely, cultural and economic life in what Anthony Reid calls the ¡§Lands Below the Winds¡¨, or Peninsular Malaysia and Island Southeast Asia, while indeed influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism (for example, Bali) and Chinese values (brought by immigrants now concentrated primarily in Singapore and Malaysia), is more influenced by Islamic cultural values. It was the Malay (Austronesian) traders who spread the Muslim religion throughout Southeast Asia during the time when the great trade port of Malacca was a central hub for the spice trade (around 400AD), connecting the islands of Indonesia to India and China. Throughout Indonesia and Malaysia, Austronesian societies networked in trade routes, supplying spices to the kingdoms of Southern Asia much earlier than their counterparts in Oceania (Blundell 1995).



        Some of the most interesting and provocative anthropological studies are based on ethnographic research in the Austronesian region (for example, Malinowski 1922 in the Triobriands; Mead 1928 in Samoa; Mauss 1950 comparing Trobriands; Lutz 1988 in Micronesia (Ifaluk); Weiner 1988 in the Trobriands again, Sahlins 1985 in Oceania, Geertz 1980 in Bali, etc.). Recent studies of Austronesian populations are concerned to understand processes of religious syncretism (Reid 1995; Yengoyan 1995; Supomo 1995). Other studies are concerned with political dynamics of exchange systems among Austronesians before, during, and after the influences of Western capitalism (Thomas 1995; Stoller 1995;Weiner 1988, 1986, 1980). The following summary provides an outline of some of the most prominent anthropological issues in contemporary Austronesian Southeast Asia.  

Austronesian origins:  Archaeology, linguistics, and local knowledge

Linguists, archaeologists, physical anthropologists, and cultural anthropologists have all contributed to the ongoing debate on the origins of Austronesian languages and cultures (Bellwood, Fox & Tryon 1995). The archaeological record suggests that Austronesians, having a distinctive language and having developed agriculture and animal domestication, as well as expert navigational technologies, colonized what became the Austronesian world at a time when other settlers, mostly foraging cultures, inhabited the islands of Southeast Asia, the island of New Guinea, and Australia.

Some suggest that Austronesian languages, and therefore cultures, originated on Taiwan between 5000BP and 6000BP (Bellwood 1995). Three factors mark Taiwan as a likely place where Austronesian language and culture first developed:  (1) Taiwan has the greatest diversity of Austronesian languages presently and historically, so much so that a top level linguistic subcategory of Formosan languages is currently used to identify Austronesian languages spoken in Taiwan, contrasted with the neighboring subcategory of Malayo-Polynesian (Tryon 1995, 24-27); (2) the physiological, or genetic, variation of Taiwan¡¦s Austronesian population is greater than any other island in the Pacific; and (3) archaeological dates for the Austronesian cultural complex of pig domestication, agriculture, and pottery are found in Taiwan earlier than elsewhere in Island Southeast Asia or Oceania.

Others suggest that Austronesian languages and cultures originated in the Southeastern Asian mainland that is now Southern China, or that they conversely originated in what is now mainland Southeast Asia, and spread out through the Malay/Indonesian archipelago (Bowdler 1993). This issue is difficult to resolve because the linguistic and archaeological data at times disagree, and there are large gaps in archaeological records.

The general pattern of Austronesian colonization, however, is clear enough. Whether originating on mainland Southeast Asia, Southern China, or Taiwan, there was an initial movement to the southern islands¡Xwhat is now the modern nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines¡Xfollowed by movements outward in all directions, reaching the western extreme of Africa and settling the island of Madagascar, and reaching the eastern extreme of Easter Island, then north to Hawaii and south to New Zealand around 1000BP. Significantly, the mountains of New Guinea and the Australian continent were not colonized. Linguistic data suggest subsequent voyages and migrations between already colonized islands, and trade connections throughout.

        Local stories of origins, of course, do not extend unchanged thousands of years into the past, but focus on the most important aspects of these stories for the contemporary population, which is the identification of the founders of specific communities. It is through this sort of precedence that Austronesian cultures everywhere establish social relations between and among various sub-groups within a larger community. Fox (1995) has described a process of ¡§apical demotion¡¨ to account for such a preoccupation among Austronesian peoples generally. He points out the importance of local origin myths in establishing and maintaining local social relations. Other research into the way kinship ¡¥falsification¡¦ is used to provide ancestral links with the most powerful and increase one¡¦s own chances of rising to power in Austronesian Southeast Asia are noted by Paul Cohen (1993:183). Further research into the political implications of scientific and popular notions of cultural identity throughout Austronesian Southeast Asia also relates, if less directly, to the issue of origins in terms of what they mean in contemporary daily life (see Anderson 2002 and Anderson 2001 on this issue in Austronesian Taiwan).  

Navigation and initial colonization

        The navigational technology required to voyage hundreds of miles across open sea that was widely employed as early as 6000BP, the dates suggested by both linguistic Proto-Austronesian reconstructions and archaeological evidence in Southeast Asia for the peopling of the Austronesian world (Bowdler 1993, Bellwood 1995), remain among the greatest feats of human creativity.

Austronesians were a colonizing people. Indeed, the Austronesian language family was the most geographically widespread of any language family prior to the European colonization (Blundell 1995). In terms of technology, the navigational wisdom necessary to colonize the smallest islands in the Pacific Ocean is one of the great advances in human history. Most of the islands encountered during colonization were already inhabited by foraging populations, including most of Indonesia and New Guinea, as well as some islands in western Melanesia. In these places, Austronesian cultures settled the coastal areas and must have come into conflict with other well-established cultures. Austronesians ventured into the interior regions in some cases (especially in Island Southeast Asia), or conversely moved on to other less populated environments (as is the case in New Guinea). The Austronesians were, in fact, the ¡¥indigenous¡¦ peoples of Polynesia and Micronesia. In these places they encountered uninhabited islands which they were able to settle as a result of their portable agricultural technologies.

        What factors inspired these people to venture out to sea? Some possible motivations are associated with the prestige of finding a new land, cultural fission, or even accidental discovery on fishing trips. It is now generally accepted that the Austronesian colonization of the Pacific was, if not purposeful, then certainly intelligible to the original discoverers. That is, once an island was found, return trips were easily accomplished by drawing on navigational skills (Lewis 1994). An intimate knowledge of currents, stars, wind patterns, and other makers of land such as birds and bio-efflorescence, as well as sailing techniques made these journeys possible (Oliver 1989b).  

Political dynamics of exchange systems

        Similarly, research on the political dynamics of Austronesian exchange systems has been a productive field of study for cultural and social anthropologists in the region, such as Malinowski (1922) and Weinner (1980) on the Trobriands. Of course, the most widely known study of exchange in the Austronesian region is Malinowski¡¦s study of the Trobriand kula ring. Mauss¡¦s (1950) study of ¡¥the gift¡¦ is also based in part on Malinowski¡¦s work. And, Weinner¡¦s research on sagali elaborates women¡¦s place in Trobriand exchange.

        More recently, Nicholas Thomas (1995) analyzed Austronesian exchange systems according to a set of criteria that focus on the convertibility of exchange items. One form, epitomized in the Marquesas, involves the exchange of ¡§like-for-like,¡¨ emphasizing the quantity of goods as in the case of competitive exchange of food. The other form involves the exchange of different types of valuables among more hierarchically oriented groups, often across a wider region. The latter form has generally demonstrated compatibility in foreign trade encounters and eventual colonial relationships, while the former when presented with the colonial context has generally fallen away in the destruction of the indigenous exchange system because it is not developed for foreign trade.

The greater the range of possible conversions, the greater the scope for political actors to mobilize resources of different kinds and obtain strategic advantages over other competing groups, and the more scope, in particular, for the development of complex regionally-differentiated exchange systems in which some groups have central and others peripheral statuses (Thomas 1995:272).

In other words, the ability to absorb and put to use new trading relations and exotic goods by being able to translate their value into an indigenous system, as Thomas finds in Fiji, enables the existing authorities to keep a political edge in trade relations with outsiders. It is this same ability to translate values that characterizes Austronesian religious and belief systems.  

Religious diversity and syncretism

        The religions of Austronesia prior to outside influence are summarized by Reid (1995) as marked by a dualism in which both male and female elements were essential. Indeed, Hoskins¡¦ (1998) discussion of ¡¥gender dualism¡¦ in Sumba finds these same elements present in the indigenous belief system of the Kodi, not only with reference to people, but to objects as well. Hoskins¡¦ (1993:224) earlier writing about the Kodi of Sumba also notes the importance of ancestors as related to land claims through oratory at feasts. Usually the female roles were associated with the spiritual realm. The material world was understood as a place of spiritual forces that must be manipulated in daily interactions. Anthony Reid notes:

Ritual and shamanistic activity was usually designed for immediate practical ends. Spiritual forces had to be manipulated to cure illness, ensure fertility, increase power, safeguard the living particularly at dangerous life crises, and ensure that the dead were assisted through the most traumatic of all transitions into a contented afterlife. Feasting and animal sacrifice was made to ensure the spirits were on side for every personal crisis ... [1995:323]

Austronesian religions were usually organized around appeasing the ancestors.  It is therefore, no surprise that when other ¡¥world religions¡¦ came into the area, they were understood and practiced with this bent toward ancestor worship.

The teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam, Catholicism and Christianity all had great influence on Austronesian Southeast Asian political and religious thought. Alongside these ¡¥outside¡¦ influences, the wide variety of ¡¥indigenous¡¦ beliefs about supernatural and natural beings were combined with the ¡¥world religions¡¦ exemplifying ¡¥religious syncretism,¡¦ or the bringing together of different religious ideologies to form a new belief system. Austronesians are said to be fond of combining belief systems, indeed as early as 2000BP in the ¡¥Javanization¡¦ of the Hindu Bharata which followed the ¡¥Sanskritization¡¦ of ¡¥Jawa¡¦ culture (Supomo 1995).

        The earliest evidence of Hinduism in Southeast Asia comes from Sanskrit inscriptions on seven stone pillars found in East Kalimantan near the Makassar Straits in Indonesia, dating to around 400AD (Supomo 1995:292). Supomo develops the idea that Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions were welcomed by the Javanese elite, eventually resulting in the adoption of Sanskrit as a written language for this early ¡¥literati.¡¦ It was brahman priests from India who brought the knowledge of Sanskrit, but the political dynamics developed internally, merely drawing on the spiritual aspects of the ¡¥exotic¡¦ tradition (Bentley 1986).  Literacy in Sanskrit spread throughout Indonesia among Austronesian elites between the fourth and eighth centuries AD as one result of the extension of kingdoms throughout the region. Brahmans and Buddhist monks were invited by local rulers to teach. They were given land and other accommodations, and generally encouraged to keep relations with the ruling elite. Chinese accounts from the seventh century indicate that Walaing in central Java and Sriwijaya in southern Sumatra were by that time famous centers for Buddhist learning, and popular stops along Chinese pilgrimages to India (Supomo 1995:301).

        Generally speaking, the Hindu and Buddhist traditions that entered from India remained aristocratic eccentricities for the first few centuries.  However,

Without the infusion of the Indian conception of royalty, it is extremely doubtful whether local polities with the relatively small-scale systems of political integration and ranking which were the common features of prehistoric Austronesian societies, could have developed into ¡¥true states with specialised bureaucracies and the powers to maintain allegiance by force¡¦ (Supomo 1995: 298).


By the ninth century AD, there are Old Javanese inscriptions in Java, indicating that the general level of literacy had increased significantly by that time.

        Somewhere around the beginning of the eleventh century, the Mahabharata was translated into Javanese, under the patronage of King Dharmawangsa Teguh (Supomo 1995:306). The story was not only translated into the vernacular, but also given the cultural context of the times. The translator was drawing on common knowledge to tell the same basic story, and in effect ¡§Javanizing¡¨ the story.

        During the fifteenth century, the Muslim religion was forcibly introduced across Island Southeast Asia bringing about rapid changes in Austronesian identity, especially regarding the special cultural value of pigs, and mortuary practices (Reid 1995). Again, different sorts of ¡¥syncretism¡¦ eventually developed wherein newly converted Austronesian Muslims found ways to satisfy the ancestors while still outwardly observing the tenets of Islamic theology. From the thirteenth century until European colonization beginning in the seventeenth century, Islamic sultans ruled in Malaya and Indonesia, the most wealthy and powerful controlled trade hubs of Malacca, Aceh, Johor, Banten, Makassar, and other estuarian river valleys (Cohen 1993:186). Even after the British took control of Malaysia in 1794, Islamic sultans continued their rule, although under British control. The Dutch also ruled Indonesia through local sultans and regents from the traditional aristocracy, more interested in economics than religion. Interestingly, modern Indonesia remains the world¡¦s largest Muslim population, and the anti-colonial revolution in Indonesia was carried out as a jihad, or holy war, under the tenants of Islam (Janet Hoskins, personal communication).

        Although the Muslim religion is not ¡¥native¡¦ to Malaysia, it is certainly pre-colonial, and has since been the focus of a nationalist movement in the 1970s, called ¡¥dakwa¡¦ (prosletyzing). Diverse Islamic revivalist groups began to develop as a social force among university educated Malay women, and united to rally against the decadent lifestyle of the secular Malay elite. The dakwa movement called for a return to the moral and spiritual values of Islam, in which the ¡¥umma¡¦ (Malay race) was to be ¡¥recovered¡¦ by revitalizing, or re-inventing, Islamic traditions borrowed from Arabic societies, including veiling for women, prayer rituals, and diet restrictions (Ong 1995:159-187). Islam in Malaysia, once a foreign religion, has come to represent the native nationality of Malay people, and mark their distinctiveness vis-à-vis the minority Chinese and Indian populations.

       In Taiwan, Chinese migrations began in the seventeenth century, and the western port cities of Kaohsiung and Tainan were established. Some of the local Austronesian cultures were pushed away from the prime land, while others were ¡¥sinicized¡¦ (made Chinese) and incorporated in the creation of what would become Taiwanese culture. The Portugese, Spanish, and British all temporarily occupied parts of Taiwan, but the Chinese hero Koxinga defeated the last of the Portugese in the 1640s. From the eighteenth century until Japan¡¦s occupation in 1895, Taiwan remained a Chinese settlement on the western half of the island, and an Austronesian homeland in the central mountains and valleys of the eastern coast. The Austronesian cultures of Taiwan all continued to hold traditional beliefs, except for those living on the western plains, who were ¡¥sinicized¡¦ into the traditional Taiwanese belief system that is a complicated and flexible blend of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. The Chinese on Taiwan also held ancestors in high esteem, and for the Austronesians, the transition involved changes more in terminology than practice.

        Japanese colonialism on Taiwan was aimed at bringing the island into the burgeoning Japanese economic system, which already included Korea and parts of Northeast China (Manchuria). Yet, other than language instruction and the rhetoric of a Japanese led Asian co-prosperity sphere, no attention was given to converting Taiwan¡¦s people to Japanese religion, itself a mixture of Buddhism and Shinto (indigenous) beliefs.

In the Philippines and throughout Oceania, however, European colonialism meant conversion to Christianity. From the seventeenth century, European missionaries arrived with the colonial governments. The Spanish occupied and took over the Philippines beginning with the founding of Manila in 1571. Unlike the British in Malaysia, the Spanish ruled the Philippines through the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church, and conversion of the Austronesian population was done by force. The Spanish developed the ¡¥encomienda¡¦ system¡Xbased on the Austronesian ¡¥barangay¡¦ (kinship group) system¡Xa local arrangement for administration through a Spanish priest, replacing the Austronesian datu (shaman/leader), collecting tribute for the colonial administration. In this way, the belief system of Catholicism was placed on top of the traditional Austronesian belief systems.

The main ¡¥world religion¡¦ introduced into Oceania was Christianity (Protestantism and Catholicism), and this only began in the eighteenth century, in some places not until the twentieth century. Then again, the Austronesians themselves did not reach the most remote islands of New Zealand and Hawaii until the tenth century. Throughout Oceania, Christianity was presented alongside other Western cultural values such as commercialization, capitalism, individualism, liberalism, and humanitarianism.  The Fijian notion of ¡¥sukulu¡¦ (Lau of Malaita, film) encompasses all of these values together, expressing what seemed to be the thrust of Christianity as introduced by the mission in that area.  Similar responses to early traders and missionary influence throughout Oceania, and especially in Melanesia, are called cargo cults.  

Status and Autonomy for Women

Women in the Austronesian world have a comparatively higher status than in other regions (Reid 1988). As early as the fifteenth century, the markets of island Southeast Asia were dominated by women (Brenner 1995). Virginity was not valued, and in some cases considered dangerous. Specialists were sometimes required to deflower girls before their marriages to protect their husbands from the power of a woman¡¦s blood (Reid 1988:152). Also attesting to women¡¦s power, Southeast Asian men underwent painful surgeries on their penises, inserting various metal balls, pins, and wheels, explained to give the woman more pleasure in sexual intercourse (Reid 1988:148-150). Divorce was also relatively more common in Southeast Asian (50% of married couples) than elsewhere, especially Europe of the same period. Women could initiate divorce as well as men, and there was ¡¥no shame¡¦ to remarry. Children were divided between the divorced couple, with the sons usually going with the father and daughters with mother (Reid 1988:152-158).

Islamic patriarchal values were translated locally into recognizing female authority along with male authority. One particular Malaysian group with roots in the ¡¥dakwa¡¦ movement (discussed above) called ¡§Sisters of Islam¡¨ based their social movement on the goal to articulate women¡¦s rights in Islam, based on interpreting the Koran in its historical and cultural context. In other words, to reach the ¡¥heart of the Koran¡¦, not the literal interpretation of the texts. ¡§It is not Islam that oppresses women, but human beings with all their weaknesses who have failed to understand Allah¡¦s intentions¡¨ (Ong 1995:185). The two genders both had and continue to have realms of authority: masculinity in spiritual and political life among the elite, femininity in social and economic life of the household and marketplace.

More recently a wealth of research on the relatively high status and autonomy for women in Austronesian societies has flourished, some of which is collected in the volumes edited by Aihwa Ong and Michael Peletz (1995), Krishna Sen and Maila Stivens (1998), and Laurie Sears (1996). Notable contributions by Suzanne Brenner (1995) and Aihwa Ong (1995) explore the contemporary understandings of the Muslim notions of akal (reason) and nafsu (passion) in Java and Malaysia respectively, especially as they are inscribed on men¡¦s and women¡¦s bodies. Akal is the Arabic/Muslim concept of ¡§rationality/spiritual potency/restraint¡¨, while nafsu is the concept for ¡§passion/emotionality/desire.¡¨ According to official Islamic ideology, men are more akal and women are more nafsu by nature. In Java, however, men are also considered to be by nature more nafsu and have a harder time controlling their desires, especially dealing with money (gambling) and sex (prostitution), while women demonstrate more restraint (akal) in dealing with money and sex. Men are said to have a ¡§lust for money¡¨ and tend to think in terms of self-interest, while women tend to show a ¡§family, or kinship interest¡¨ that enables them to set aside personal desires for the benefit of the social group.

In Java, even though women can and do control their own desires, they are still considered dangerous as they can ¡§awaken¡¨ desires and passions (nafsu) in men. ¡§Whereas men¡¦s extramarital sexual activity is associated with uncontrolled desire and the dispersion of family resources, female sexuality remains conceptually bound to economic accumulation and to the production of status for the family¡¨ through work in the market (Brenner 1995:45).

Even though women in Austronesian Southeast Asia have been traditionally excluded from political leadership roles, there are a few contemporary examples of women leaders: Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia (the daughter of Sukarno), and Imelda Marcos and Corazon Aquino in the Philippines. Although Imelda Marcos did not officially rule the Philippines, her contribution to the making of Ferdinand Marcos¡¦ political career through her family networking, or ¡§kinship politics¡¨ was essential (Roces 1998). Yet, Roces analysis of the Philippines also suggests that for women to be powerful, they must also be beautiful, and that requires ¡§a thin body size, a full bosom and hips, and a body decked with fashionable clothes, adorned with a perfectly made-up face and hair-do, expensive clothing, perfume, jewelry, high heeled shoes, manicured nails and coordinated accessories¡¨ (1998:308). Her analysis suggests Corazon Aquino lacked these powerful images of beauty, and therefore also lacked the attendant political power of Imelda Marcos.  

Social Obligation and Debt Bondage

        From at least the fifteenth century in Austronesian Southeast Asia, control of manpower was the main index of political power. Labor was scarce, not land. Human transactions were usually expressed in monetary terms, and the state, where it did exist, did not provide for legal or financial security. Here Anthony Reid finds ¡§a system of bonding based largely on debt, where loyalties were strong and intimate, yet at the same time transferable and even salable¡¨ (1988:129). There were several ways to end up as a debt-bondsman: (1) inheritance of the bondage of one¡¦s parents, (2) sale into bondage by parents, husband, or oneself, (3) caputre in war, (4) judicial punishment or inability to pay a fine, and (5) failure to meet prior debts (Reid 1988:131). Reid summarizes the Southeast Asian experience of ¡¥debt bondage¡¦ as follows:

In the absence of free wage labor, bondage was the primary source of labor mobility. ¡K It would be wrong to characterize the social and economic system of Southeast Asia as either feudalism or slavery ¡K the Southeast Asian system was both more personal and more monetary. Loyalty was more important than law, and everybody had a master. Money was necessary to buy men¡¦s loyalty through debt, not to buy their labor on a temporary wage basis. [1988:136]


These ¡¥slaves¡¦ could earn their freedom, and buy their way out of ¡¥slavery,¡¦ so in this sense it is not the same as the North American experience of African slaves. Another notable difference is the absence of race as a marker of slaves, although that Muslims could not take fellow Muslims as slaves shows an additional religious dimension.  

European colonialism

Global trade routes across mainland Southeast Asia at first connected Rome through India to China, then ocean voyages through the Straits of Malacca made the port city a central hub in 400AD linking to both China and India, trading gold, spices, silk, ceramics and cloth (Cohen 1993). During what Anthony Reid (1988) calls the ¡¥age of commerce¡¦ (1400AD to 1800AD), Southeast Asia was exporting spices and tin to Europe, West Asia, and India, acting as a middle-man between India and China, and exporting wood, gold, and cotton to India, China, and Japan. This resulted in a net trade surplus with India and trade deficit with China (Frank 1998:92-104). The local pattern of social organization was based on the debt-bondsman model discussed above, and there was no such thing as wage labor. Masters owned the labor of their servants, and directly drew the profits on exchange.

The Austronesians of the Malay/Indonesian archipelago have a long and continuous history of trade connections with India and China extending to at least 400AD. It was not until the late fifteenth century, however, that Island Southeast Asia¡¦s well-established and flourishing trade network attracted the attention of the colonial European countries of Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, France, and Britain. And, it was in Southeast Asia that European trade companies first entered the Austronesian region. Even though the Portugese tried to take the port city of Malacca in 1511 and control trade with the eastern Indonesian islands of the Moluccas (known as the ¡¥spice islands¡¦), the first strictly ¡¥colonial¡¦ rule in Southeast Asia was probably in the Philippines by the Spanish, starting in 1571 with the founding of Manila.

The Philippines was incorporated into the capitalist economic system through Spanish colonialism, beginning in 1521. Unlike the situation of Malaysian and Indonesian Islamic sultanates, the Philippines had no central political authority, and only a relatively small population of Muslims. The Philippines was also the place of Magellan¡¦s death, killed for trying to convert the natives to Catholicism (Janet Hoskins, personal communication). Spain ruled the Philippines through the Catholic Church, imposing a mandatory conversion and integration into the new Philippines colonial society (named after King Phillip). Over the 350 year experience of Spanish colonialism, very few Spanish women migrated to the Philippines, which contributed to Spanish men marrying Austronesian women, creating the metizo (mixed race) social/ethnic category of Filipino culture. This dynamic of European father, Filipina mother still resonates in social and political life in the Philippines today. It also recalls Roces¡¦ (1998) discussion of ¡§kinship politics¡¨ where women work ¡¥behind the scenes¡¦ navigating Austronesian ancestral-based prestige spheres, itself reminiscent of what James Fox (1995) finds as a general Austronesian concern with ¡¥multiple origins¡¦ of ancestry.

Shortly after the Spanish claimed the Philippines, in 1610, the Dutch VOC (East India Company) established a monopoly on the spice trade in the Moluccas, trying to establish direct trade connections with China. By this time, Islam had already spread across maritime trade routes reaching most of the Indonesian archipelago, and as far eastward as the islands of Sulu and Mindanao in the Philippines. Islamic sultans ruled the island societies of Sumatra and Java. In 1619, the Dutch took over present day Jakarta, at that time the port city of Batavia, and ruled indirectly through the Javanese sultanate of Mataram. They instituted mandatory labor, manipulating the Austronesian master-servant (debt bondsman) organization, on coffee, tobacco and rubber plantations. All profits were sent back to The Netherlands while famines recurred in Java and Sumatra.

For a brief five year period from 1811-1816 during the Napoleonic Wars, the British East India Company expanded its reach from peninsular Malaya, and occupied all of the Dutch colonies. Then, in 1825, the Netherlands took back its former colonies of Java and Sumatra, and Austronesian resistance, led by the Prince Diponegoro, led to the Java War, a five-year holy war (jihad) against the Dutch, who eventually prevailed. After the turn of the twentieth century, the Dutch gave into Austronesian demands for education and access to civil service and government leadership. The next generation of Dutch educated Austronesians, including the first Indonesian president Sukarno, called for an end to colonialism. Yet, it would take the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II to finally get rid of the Dutch for good.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the British East India Company took over all of the Dutch colonies, the port cities of the Malay/Indonesian archipelago, and applied the same style of ¡¥indirect¡¦ rule through local Austronesian Muslim sultanates. Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles founded Singapore, a former pirate¡¦s hideout, in 1819 and by 1840 it became the central hub of British trade in Asia, linking to the Federated Malay States and the British protectorates of Sarawak and Brunei in northern coastal Borneo. Chinese merchants and traders living in peninsular Malaya migrate to the city of Singapore and become a majority population (65%) by 1869 contrasted with minority Malay (20%), Indian (5%) and British (5%). Under British indirect colonial rule, from its inception until World War II, Singapore experienced steady economic and population growth. Following Japanese occupation (1942-1945), and national independence in 1948, however, Malaysia and Singapore were plagued by racial tension and violence between Chinese and Malays. This tension led to the eventual creation of the separate modern nations of Malaysia and Singapore to be discussed below.

        Taiwan was the only Austronesian Southeast Asian island to be not only occupied but under complete colonial control by Japan. For fifty years, from 1895 to 1945, Taiwan was part of Japan. The Japanese instituted mandatory education for all colonial subjects, and brought the whole island, Chinese and Austronesians alike, under complete Japanese military control from the capitol established in present day Taipei. Taiwanese (both Chinese and Austronesian) men were forced into military service for Japan and fought for Japan¡¦s imperialist efforts throughout island Southeast Asia, especially in the Philippines. According to Japan¡¦s imperial plan, Taiwan was to provide both a base for further expansion into Southeast Asia, and a labor service to the military industrial complex.

The Japanese did an impressive job of transforming Taiwan¡¦s infrastructure with roads and railways, and brought the whole island under regimented central control for the first time, notwithstanding the Chinese presence that was mainly restricted to the western plains. Japanese did not consider the interests of Taiwanese (Chinese or Austronesian), did not enter marriages with them, and did not try to adapt local ways of organization, but rather imposed the already existing Japanese military social and political organization. Then, at the end of World War II, all Japanese citizens living in Taiwan ¡¥went home¡¦, leaving a political vacuum that was shortly thereafter, and again violently, filled by the KMT (Chinese Nationalist Party) retreating from CCP (Chinese Communist Party) defeat in Mainland China in 1949.

European colonization of Oceania happened much later than in island Southeast Asia. It was not until the early nineteenth century that more extensive trade routes were established throughout the Pacific Ocean. European missionary efforts met with difficulties in Melanesia, but had more initial success in the eastern parts of Oceania where they found converting the elite of hierarchical chiefdoms to produce conversion of the whole population. All of the nations of Western Europe made efforts at colonizing various islands of Oceania; the most successful were the French and the British. The United States also entered Oceania at the turn of the twentieth century and established colonial control over parts of Samoa and eventually annexed Hawaii.  

Postcolonial independence and nationhood after the Asian co-prosperity sphere

        From the turn of the twentieth century to the years leading up to World War II, Japanese imperial expansion under the ideology of an Asian co-prosperity sphere, spread like the plague throughout Asia; beginning with Korea, Manchuria and Taiwan in the 1890s, and extending to the whole of Southeast Asia by 1942. The defeat of Japan in World War II by the Allied Forces, and paramount among them, the United States, marked the ostensible end of colonialism, as it had existed in Southeast Asia for the previous 350 years, and the beginning of an era of postcolonial national independence in the newly developing global political climate of the Cold War. The American colonial rule of the Philippines, however, had been ongoing since the end of the Spanish-American war, when former Spanish colonies were ¡¥given¡¦ to the United States under the Treaty of Paris in 1899.

In 1880, approximately 300 years after initial Spanish colonization, Jose Rizal started the Filipino nationalist movement, asking Spain to give full voting rights and civil liberties to Filipinos. He was killed and has since become a national hero. More insurrections followed until Spain ¡¥decided¡¦ to leave the Philippines, and granted control of the islands to the United States. Filipino nationalist movements continued, and a three-year war of resistance to American colonial rule followed from 1899 to 1902. The Nacionalista Political Party was founded in 1907 and continued rallying for independence. The American colonial rule of the Philippines from 1900 to 1946 was undertaken with the goal to teach the ¡¥ways of democracy¡¦ through modernization. When the Japanese attacked United States military bases on the Philippines in 1941, urging Filipino nationalists to side with them as a partner in the Asian co-prosperity sphere, Filipino nationalists fought with the Americans against the Japanese.

Following World War II, in 1946, the United States granted national independence to the Philippines, yet the American military continued to occupy military bases there until 1991. During the Cold War years, the Philippines was an ostensible democracy, yet still operated according to Austronesian kinship politics. From 1972 to 1986, Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos ruled the Philippines as dictators. Then, Corazon Aquino, the first female president of a Southeast Asian nation, ruled as president from 1986 to 1992. In 2001, another woman, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the daughter of former president Macapagal, became president of the Philippines. The contemporary Philippines, in 2002, is a nation of predominantly Catholic Filipinos who speak an Austronesian language, Tagalog. The Philippines is perhaps the most westernized nation of Southeast Asia, owing to its long history of Spanish and American colonialism. Yet, it remains a relatively poor nation, even after technological modernization.

Conversely, the modern nations of Malaysia and Singapore are among the wealthiest in Asia. Singapore¡¦s per capita income actually surpassed that of the United States in the 1990s. As in the Philippines and Indonesia, however, nationalist sentiments developed against the colonial government, here the British. Also similarly, the Japanese occupation during World War II and their subsequent defeat and retreat brought about the end of colonialism and ushered in the age of nationhood. Malaysia and Singapore, however, were and continue to be racially divided among three groups: Malay (Austronesian), Chinese, and Indian.

In 1948, Great Britain established the Federation of Malaya with a majority Malay population (78%, 12% Chinese and 7% Indian), then in 1957 granted independence to both the nation of Singapore and the nation of Malaysia. Singapore¡¦s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew (Li Guanyao) called for unification, and it was granted for two years (1963-1965), but dissolved because of Lee¡¦s alleged efforts to rule all of Malaysia from Singapore (Janet Hoskins, lecture, 2/12/2002).

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Singapore, located on the central hub of the old Southeast Asian trade routes, developed one of the world¡¦s fastest growing economies, trading freely with communist, socialist, and capitalist nations during the Cold War years, linking ¡¥East¡¦ and ¡¥West.¡¦ Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ruled as a patriarchal father guiding his children to economic prosperity at all costs. At first an English language policy guided education in western science and technology. Then, in the 1980s, in response to a ¡¥reproductive crisis¡¦ that came about from university educated Chinese women delaying marriage and having fewer offspring than the minority Malay and Indian women, Prime Minister Lee instituted a policy of Confucian values and Mandarin Chinese language instruction to ward off the dangers of western (American) cultural values of individualism and liberalism (Heng and Devan 1995:203-204). So, to be from Singapore in the 1980s meant to be ¡¥Chinese¡¦ in Lee Kuan Yew¡¦s vision, one that selected aspects of ¡¥Chineseness¡¦ such as filial piety applied to the service of the state.

Meanwhile in Malaysia in the 1970s, the dakwa movement connected Islamic values and re-interpretations of the Koran and veiling for Malay women with Malaysian nationalism. Racial conflict erupted into violence between Malays and Chinese over quotas set to allow more Malays into universities, governmental service, and entrepreneurial development. As in Singapre, the Malaysian economy prospered, but the wealth remained overwhelmingly in the hands of the Chinese (80%, according to Janet Hoskins, lecture, 2/12/2002), even though Malays (Austronesian Muslims) ostensibly control the government. Racial tension continues in Malaysia and tends to be defined on religious lines with Muslim as the marked category.

Modern Indonesia is the fourth largest nation in the world with a population of 190 million, comprised of 300 ethnic groups speaking 583 different languages and dialects (Janet Hoskins, personal communication). It also is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. The roots of Indonesian nationalism extend to the Dutch decision to allow education for its colonial subjects at the turn of the twentieth century. The first generation of Indonesians to get a Dutch education started anti-colonial movements that General Sukarno brought together in 1927 to form the Indonesian National Party, whose goal was to unite subjects of Dutch colonialism (which had spread to include the islands of Bali, Sumba, Flores, and Timor by 1913) against their oppressors. Sukarno¡¦s goal was to unify the Indonesian people living on more than 13,000 islands through a common language, Indonesian, which is a version of Malay language.

The Dutch were defeated by the Japanese in 1942, and forced to retreat to the Netherlands. Following the Japanese defeat in World War II and their retreat in 1945, General Sukarno led a five-year war with the Dutch who tried to re-take Indonesia, and named himself as the first president of Indonesia. Sukarno established his nationalist government, a kind of secular socialism, or ¡¥guided democracy¡¦, and put into practice his Indonesian language plan.

In 1966, after a massacre of ¡¥leftists¡¦ and Chinese merchants supposedly led by the Communist party, General Suharto rose to power and established a military government called the New Order, emphasizing centralized development and industrial expansion. From 1966 through 1998, under Suharto, Indonesia experienced rapid economic growth but limited civil freedom. Suharto then invaded the former Portugese colony of Timor in 1975 where the Indonesian military killed thousands of people in order to take the island under Indonesian control.

In the 1990s, various nationalist separatist movements throughout the Indonesian archipelago developed, first in Timor, then Aceh and West Irian. Meanwhile, in 1998, General Sukarno¡¦s daughter, Megawati Sukarnoputri, led a successful opposition movement against Suharto, and forced him to resign. Then, in Indonesia¡¦s first free election, Sukarnoputri became president of Indonesia in 2001. Yet, violence and separatists movements continue into the present (2002) in Timor, Aceh, West Irian, the Moluccas, and Kalimantan (Borneo). In many cases, Islam is associated with anti-Indonesian nationalism, and separatist movements are framed in terms of holy wars.

Discussion:  Globalization, Islamic resurgence, and ethnic relations

        The competing trends of globalization and localism are everywhere pitted against each other, and this is no less true of Southeast Asia. The various separatist movements in Indonesia, the Islamic resurgence movements in Malaysia, the contemporary struggles in the Philippines islands of Sulu and Mindanao, are all manifestations of anti-western, anti-globalization sentiments, while they are sometimes nationalist (as in Malaysia) and sometimes anti-nationalist (as in Indonesia and the Philippines). The ¡¥opposite¡¦ tendency, that towards globalization, which means service to an American and Western European dominated economic system and the cultural values of individualism and liberalism that it entails, aims to neutralize cultural diversity. The example of Singapore¡¦s Prime Minister Lee¡¦s switch in policy from English language instruction on western science to Mandarin Chinese instruction on Confucian values shows the kind of schizophrenia necessary to successfully navigate what Bernard Barber calls the tension between ¡§McWorld and Jihad¡¨ (Frank 1998:358). The same is true of Indonesia¡¦s recent struggles with its national borders defined along religious lines, and of Malaysia¡¦s new Islamic nationalist, and anti-western, movements. Even though the region of island Southeast Asia has a common history of Austronesian cultural roots, the contemporary manifestations of national cultures are at once as diverse as any two nations in the world, and also face the same particular concerns about globalization.



        Austronesian language-speaking peoples abide in Island Southeast Asia and Oceania generally, including Taiwan, yet a comparative Austronesian perspective is generally lacking in studies of Taiwanese culture. In focusing my regional studies on Austronesian cultures of Southeast Asia, I hope to lend a fresh perspective to my continuing research on Taiwanese culture and the contemporary expression of Austronesian culture in Taiwan.

        My initial approach to this regional study aims to follow the precedent set by the Institute of Ethnology of the Academia Sinica on Taiwan.[2] The regional areas deemed most important in ethnological studies of Taiwan, according to the Institute of Ethnology, include southern China, Island Southeast Asia, and Austronesian populations of Oceania. Eventually, I hope to extend my regional studies to all of these areas. Since my previous (Anderson 2002) and present research concerns the Austronesian populations of Taiwan, I have chosen to explore Taiwan as a border case in the region of Austronesian Southeast Asia. The first part of this outline begins with an overview of anthropological research done on Taiwan. Then a look at the prehistory of Taiwan situates the contemporary island society in an Austronesian region according to its cultural prehistory. The next section discusses the historical colonization of Taiwan, including initial Chinese and Dutch settlement in the 1600s, the 50 years (1985-1945) of Japanese colonial administration of Taiwan, and the more recent (1947 to present) Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government of Taiwan. The final section discusses the contemporary situation of Austronesian Taiwan.  


Anthropological research on Taiwan

        Historically, Taiwan has held a marginal position in American anthropology generally. It is usually left out of discussions of Oceania (for example, Howe 1996) or else given only passing reference as the most likely location for the origins of Austronesian speaking peoples (for example, Oliver 1989b:19).  For the most part, Taiwan is similarly excluded from regional studies of Island Southeast Asia (for example, Reid 1988) even though there are many points of connection.[3] When Taiwan has been written about at all by Western anthropologists, it has been within a discourse on China, as a ¡§frontier region¡¨ of the Chinese Empire, or even as ¡§Traditional China¡¨ itself. Generally speaking, Taiwan has generated little evidence of interest among American anthropologists as a specific subject of focus (but see Ahern & Gates 1987 and Harrell & Huang 1994 for exceptions). This situation might be best explained in that American researchers who have done fieldwork in Taiwan over the last fifty years were primarily interested in ¡§Traditional China¡¨ (as Murray & Hong 1994 suggest) rather than Taiwan per se. Orientalist Western interest in Chinese culture after Mao¡¦s Communist Revolution found its vestige of Chinese cultural continuity in Taiwan. Consequently, there are very few ethnographies written by Americans regarding the Austronesian speaking peoples of Taiwan,[4] and a majority of the ethnography done on Taiwan by Americans has purported to be representing Chinese culture (for example, Wolf & Witke 1975; Wolf 1968, Cohen 1989, Cohen 1974).

        The most significant anthropological work on Austronesian Taiwan has been done by Japanese and Chinese anthropologists. The Japanese were the first to conduct ethnographic fieldwork on Taiwan, beginning at the time of their colonial control of the island in 1895. These Japanese ethnographers, including Nenozo Utsurikawa, Nobuto Miyamoto, and Toichi Mabuchi, were concerned primarily with the Austronesian populations in Taiwan (Kano and Segawa 1956), but also with the so-called ¡§Taiwan Chinese¡¨ (Special Commission for Inquiry on the Olden Customs of Taiwan, n.d.). Drawing on their early work makes possible statements about culture change among Austronesian populations on Taiwan. Chinese ethnographic work on Taiwan, beginning in the late 1940¡¦s and continuing to the present, similarly focused on the Austronesian populations. Chen Chi-lu (1989) lists the numerous publications on all facets of Austronesian culture in Taiwan to date, and the work of anthropologists at National Taiwan University and the Institute of Ethnology continues to focus on Austronesian ethnography in Taiwan. This body of work is most valuable in studies of the modern history of Taiwan¡¦s Austronesian culture.

        American ethnographic work in Taiwan, however, has focused on ¡§Taiwanese¡¨ populations with little or no reference to the Austronesian heritage of Taiwan. Although some more recent efforts at an anthropology of Taiwanese society[5] in and of itself show that this trend to treat Taiwan as an example of Chinese traditional culture is falling by the wayside, varying degrees of focus on ¡§Chinese culture¡¨ in Taiwan enter these writings as well. For instance, the work of Chinese ethnographers as translated into English (such as, Chen et al 1994) describes ethnicity in Taiwan in terms of a ¡§Chinese cultural context¡¨ (p. 16). The recent book Austronesian Taiwan, edited by David Blundell (2001, in press), that also includes my own contribution on Amis cultural performance (Anderson 2001, in press), is a first step in bringing together international scholars (including Peter Bellwood, David Faure, Bien Chiang, Erika Kaneko, and others) to write about the prehistorical, historical, linguistic, and cultural Austronesian heritage of Taiwan.

        Yet there is still no consideration of the contemporary Austronesian language-speaking peoples of Taiwan in Western ethnography. The closest approximation to Western ethnography on Taiwan¡¦s Austronesian cultures is Shepherd¡¦s (1993, 1995) historical studies of the early colonization of Taiwan. Shepherd (1993) explores the historical situation along Taiwan¡¦s western plains during the 17th and 18th centuries, beginning with Dutch missionary records and concluding with Qing records. His aim is to show the strategic place of Taiwan during this period in terms of regional political history. Shepherd (1995) constructs an historical ethnography regarding one of the now extinct (or ¡¥sinicized¡¦) Austronesian language-speaking groups on Taiwan, called the Siraya, from Dutch sources dating to the 17th century.

        Basically, contemporary Taiwanese have both Austronesian and Chinese (and sometimes Japanese) ancestry, yet have been written about by American anthropologists as if they represent some sort of pure Chinese culture. Part of my goal in researching Taiwan is to focus on the Austronesian roots of Taiwanese society, and to assess the contemporary importance of Austronesian cultures in Taiwan, especially in terms of Taiwanese nationalism.

The prehistory of Taiwan

        Understanding the prehistory of Taiwan activates a wide regional area through migration, trade, and colonization. The archaeology of Island Southeast Asia suggests that a distinct Austronesian material culture without local antecedents emerged between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago, first in Taiwan and subsequently in the Philippines, eastern Indonesia, and the islands of Melanesia. The ¡§Lapita cultural complex¡¨ occurs throughout Oceania at around 3,000 years ago (Spriggs 1995). Evidence of this early Austronesian culture include red-slipped pottery, domesticated pigs and dogs, shell ornaments, and polished stone adzes (Bellwood 1995). Before the development of Austronesian languages and agricultural technology on Taiwan (around 7,000BP), the island was inhabited by foraging peoples who found all the sustenance they needed in the bountiful forests of Taiwan.

        The question of when the first Austronesian populations entered Taiwan is as yet unanswered. Peter Bellwood (1995), however, presents strong evidence of the rise of Austronesian agriculture and animal domestication economies in the Yangtze River basin, followed by a rapid migration to the island of Taiwan. During this time, around 7,000 years ago, Taiwan was already peopled by foragers. In fact, there is archaeological evidence of human habitation in Taiwan from around 40,000BP. These people were, of course, not Austronesian. Between 7,000BP and 4,000BP there is the first evidence of pottery associated with Austronesian cultures on Taiwan. From 5,000BP onwards, there is a florescence of regional variation in the material culture found in archaeological studies of Taiwan (Liu 1997). The following discussion of Taiwan¡¦s colonial history takes as its starting point Taiwan in the age of advanced Austronesian colonization.  

Taiwan¡¦s (colonial) history:  1600s to present

        1.  Dutch and early Chinese Dynastic settlement in Taiwan (1600-1895)

        Beginning in the 17th century, Dutch, Spanish, and Chinese colonists landed on Taiwan, variously coming into conflict with the Austronesian speaking population in the western plains. During the Song dynasty (1127-1279AD), however, trade connections between China and Island Southeast Asia mysteriously bypassed Taiwan (Reid 1995). For instance, there is no evidence of Song porcelain in Taiwan, although it is found in great abundance in the Philippines. Before the 17th Century, China interacted with Taiwan only as a ¡§frontier region¡¨ (Shepherd 1993).  Infrequent journeys to Taiwan aimed to bring back some of the forest products of the ¡¥wild¡¦ island, but the trappers did not intend on actually migrating to Taiwan until the 17th Century.

        Ming naval forces landed briefly on Taiwan in Taoyuan on an expedition aimed at eradicating Japanese piracy and smuggling in 1603 (Shepherd 1993:47). It was not until 1624, however, that the first foreign colony on Taiwan was established by the Dutch East India Company in the southwestern port city of Tainan. The Dutch met with fierce intertribal warfare involving headhunting. Austronesian cultures of Taiwan¡¦s southwest coastal area, including the Siraya who Shepherd (1995) documented, were involved in taking heads of rival communities for maintaining hunting territory, much in the same way as peoples of coastal New Guinea and Indonesia at the time of contact. Making the most of existing disputes over territory, the Dutch easily managed to align themselves with some of the most powerful tribes, forging out a place for themselves in the southwestern area of Taiwan (Shepherd 1993).

        Meanwhile, migrations from Southern China, especially Fujian, began in earnest with aims of settling in the fertile plains of western Taiwan. Minority ethnic groups from Southern China, including the Hakka, established communities on Taiwan in this early period of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Dutch actively recruited Chinese laborers to work on rice and sugarcane farms. Dutch settlement, while influential, was short-lived on Taiwan. Alas, Dutch goals of establishing a trade connection with China were never fulfilled. In 1661 the Ming loyalist called ¡§Koxinga¡¨ (Cheng Ch¡¦eng-kung), retreated from the Qing Dynasty onto Taiwan along with his troops, and quickly expelled the Dutch from the island. Koxinga¡¦s heirs remained in rule until 1683, at which time the Qing finally gained official rule of Taiwan (Shepherd 1993).

        Increased prosperity throughout China came with Qing rule, soon leading to a population explosion from 150 million in 1650 to 270 million in 1776 (Shepherd 1993). Chinese, especially on the outer provinces, began to emigrate from the old centers in China to the various newly acquired ¡§frontier regions,¡¨ of which Taiwan was one. As Chinese migration increased, ethnic Chinese communities developed on Taiwan in the west, displacing as well as intermingling with Austronesian peoples along the western coast. Chinese and Japanese pirates had been frequenting all of the coasts of Taiwan, trading iron and salt for deerskins and antlers with Austronesians and Chinese alike during the 17th and 18th centuries. However, contact with the Austronesian populations in the highest mountains of central Taiwan, and along the eastern coast remained low.

        Towards the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, the Qing state¡¦s concern was to keep competition between Chinese immigrant farmers and Taiwan¡¦s Austronesian peoples from disrupting its control of ¡§a strategic periphery¡¨ (Shepherd 1993:20). Taiwan could serve the Chinese Empire as a well-situated port for trade into Southeast Asia. However, possibly the most lucrative reason for keeping control of Taiwan from the Qing¡¦s perspective was the vast natural resources on the island, so far unexploited: abundant forests, game animals, and potential agricultural land that the Austronesian peoples of Taiwan had not yet even begun to cultivate. 

        The Qing Dynasty gradually lost power during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th Century at the moment when it was developing a system of land tenure in Taiwan wherein Chinese farmers were allowed to only ¡¥rent¡¦ land from the Austronesian peoples of Taiwan who actually ¡¥owned¡¦ the land. During this time of upheaval and disorder, intense rivalries developed among different ethnic Chinese immigrants in Taiwan. Access to land resources was a complicated problem, and eventually lead to the break up of Chinese Dynastic control, as the Qing Dynasty¡¦s concerns turned to the invasion from Japan.

        2.  Japanese colonial control of Taiwan (1895-1945)

        Japan colonized Taiwan in 1895, winning the island as one of the provisions in the Japanese victory against China. The Japanese military quickly established control over the whole island, including the eastern coast, and even the highest mountain regions.  Japan set up its government in what is now the city of Taipei. Japanese rule brought an end to the intense disorder of the previous century, but also added another layer of political, social, and cultural complexity. It was the Japanese who first constructed a road along the east coast of Taiwan, a largely unexplored region of the island inhabited by the speakers of Atayal, Amis, Puyuma, and Rukai languages.[6] Japanese rule lasted until their defeat in World War II in 1945. At the end of World War II, Taiwan was to be ¡¥returned¡¦ to its previous government as part of wartime concessions. While it was clear that Japan no longer had control over Taiwan, no particular nation was named as the political authority on Taiwan, and the Qing Dynasty no longer existed in China.  

        In 1945, shortly after Japan surrendered, fighting broke out between Chinese Communist (CCP) and Chinese Nationalist (KMT) troops in China regarding the reoccupation of Manchuria. The conflict quickly became a full-scale civil war. By that time, the KMT forces were severely weakened by two decades of nearly continuous warfare, the leadership was troubled by internal disunity, and the Chinese economy was experiencing unprecedented inflation. In 1948 the military superiority of the Communists was ensured, and in the summer of 1949, KMT resistance finally collapsed, and the KMT government, led by General Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi), fully retreated to Taiwan.

        3.  The Kuomintang (KMT):  Chinese Nationalists on Taiwan (1947-present)

        Chiang Kai-shek¡¦s defeated Chinese Nationalist government began its occupation of Taiwan in 1945. On February 28, 1947, an event now known as the Taiwan Uprising (or Si er er ba, death-2-2-8) made clear the hostilities evident between the new Chinese Nationalist (KMT) government and the ¡¥native¡¦ Taiwanese peoples. The Nationalist government terrorized the Taiwanese, arresting and killing between 1,000 and 100,000 people, including all of the Taiwanese ¡¥elite¡¦ (Lai, Myers, & Wou 1991, 155-163). Two months later Taiwan was proclaimed a province of China, under the authority of the Kuomintang, and put under martial law. On December 8, 1949, following occupation of most of the Chinese mainland by Communist armies, the Nationalist government of China, led by General Chiang Kai-shek, officially established its headquarters in Taipei.

        Chiang brought with him some of the cultural artifacts of ancient China, ¡¥saving¡¦ them from destruction by the new communist government of China (PRC) led by Mao Zedong. Even today these artifacts can be seen at the National Palace Museum in Taipei. While China was destroying all evidence of its great cultural traditions and embracing the new communist doctrine, Taiwan became the last vestige of ancient Chinese cultural artifacts and documents, but remained in social, political and economic turmoil for the next two decades.

The urbanization of Taiwan and native movements (1970-present)

        An economic transformation from the 1970¡¦s through the present has shifted Taiwan¡¦s national economy from agricultural to industrial. Factories were set up in cities employing women and students in sweat-shop-like conditions. Cheap labor attracted business-minded foreign interests. The Western image of Taiwan as a large production factory developed during this period. International economic connections were forged throughout the world.

Trade with China continued, and new partners in the West, such as the United States, were added to the repertoire. After World War II and throughout the Cold War years, the United States supported Chiang Kai-shek¡¦s nationalist government against the Mainland Chinese communist government with military and industrial aid. American military bases were set up on Taiwan, and there has been a continuous American military presence on the island into the present.

It was during this time that the question of ethnicity in Taiwan again rose to prominence. Identity politics on Taiwan have recently been fueled not only in reference to Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, and Austronesian cultural identifications, but also finer grained divisions within these groups. For instance, the Hakka (kejia) ethnic group is considered Taiwanese, but also non-Han Chinese. The majority population on Taiwan is Han Chinese, and refers to themselves as Hokien, or Taiwanese. The descendants of the KMT Chinese who fled to Taiwan after 1949 are called ¡¥foreign-born people¡¦ (waisheng ren), signaling their outsider status in the wider society, and they are not considered nor do they consider themselves to be Taiwanese. In fact, many of these ¡¥waisheng ren¡¦ after they have retired, choose to migrate to the United States; they have never considered the island of Taiwan as their home country, and when they have ¡¥returned¡¦ to visit their homelands in Mainland China, they often find nothing resembling their imagined home. Juhua Wu has written on this issue in her master¡¦s thesis in visual anthropology at USC, titled ¡§Worlds Apart¡¨. The contemporary Austronesian peoples of Taiwan, that is, those who continue to speak Austronesian languages, identify themselves based on their particular village of ancestry, and as a result of Japanese ethnography, have come to identify with ethnolinguistic categories (such as Amis, Atayal, Puyuma, Bunun, etc.), and at other times activate a united indigenous identity as yuanzhumin. Taiwan is one of the most interesting places for the study of identity politics, with various ¡¥nativist¡¦ movements competing at any given time, in terms of Taiwanese identity, yuanzhumin idendity, Hakka identity, and of course the recent efforts to construct a national Taiwan identity.

        The past four hundred years has seen considerably rapid cultural change in Taiwan, through periods of the most intense disorder. To understand contemporary Taiwan, along with understanding contemporary Chinese culture, one must look to the neighboring nations of Southeast Asia such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, the Austronesian cultures of Oceania, as well as to the international relations with Japan and the United States. Only then is it possible to understand contemporary Taiwan in terms of the world economic system.

Discussion: Taiwan¡¦s place in Austronesian studies

        Austronesian studies is a rapidly growing area of scholarly interest, demonstrated in the recent establishment of the ¡§Comparative Austronesian Project¡¨ at The Australian National University. Moreover, Taiwan¡¦s place in Austronesian studies is unique, as Peter Bellwood (1995) notes:

During the linguistic stage before the break-up of PAn [Proto-Austronesian language] it would appear that some colonists with an agricultural economy moved across the Formosa Strait from the Chinese mainland to Taiwan.  Here developed the Initial Austronesian language(s), and after a few centuries some speakers of one of these languages made the first moves into Luzon and the Philippines. [p. 99]

        Because Taiwan is the most probable ¡¥homeland¡¦ of the Austronesians before their advances into the islands of Southeast Asia and Oceania, the archaeology of Taiwan is gaining international attention (Liu 1997; Bellwood 1995). This unique position of Taiwan in Austronesian studies has also ironically corresponded with its general absence in discussions of contemporary Austronesian cultures. As mentioned above, most Western ethnography done on Taiwan claims to be studying Chinese culture, or at best ¡§Taiwanese¡¨ culture, but without any reference to the Austronesian roots of Taiwanese society.

        There are currently ten Austronesian languages spoken on Taiwan. During the years between 500AD and the first Dutch settlement (mid-1600s), Taiwan was generally isolated from the rest of Island Southeast Asia (Bellwood 1995:107). The current information suggests that the Austronesian populations on Taiwan were basically isolated without any connections to external trade routes from 3500BP (1500BC) to 1600AD, a period of over 2,000 years. Before this period, Austronesian migrations out of Taiwan, first directly into the Philippines around 5000BP, and much later into Micronesia (perhaps 3500BP) in ocean-going vessels must have left Taiwan from the southern parts of the eastern coast. Three of the four main subgroups of the Austronesian language family are found on Taiwan. Tryon¡¦s (1995) linguistic reconstruction of Austronesian languages indicates that the Amis language of Taiwan has the closest resemblance to the fourth subgroup, variously called ¡§Extra-Formosan¡¨ or ¡§Malayo-Polynesian,¡¨ which also supports the suggestion that Austronesians left the southeastern coast of Taiwan, voyaging south and east.

        Present day Taiwan is a modern post-industrial and multi-ethnic society and has a minority (2%) Austronesian population. Yet, the geographical extent of Taiwan¡¦s Austronesians covers nearly half the island, and Austronesian cultural values, habits, and customs still permeate the daily life of Taiwanese. At the same time, Taiwanese cultural values expressed in popular religion of Buddhism and Taoism have influenced the Austronesian cultures as well. Moreover, life in modern metropolitan Taipei is in a sense dominated by consumerism and entrepreneurism, and this sensibility is rapidly expanding into rural areas.

        Yet Austronesian roots of contemporary Taiwanese society are discernable in everyday behavior, such as the habit of chewing betel nut, an Austronesian cultural practice that was taken up by the Han Chinese migrants in Taiwan, but is not part of Chinese culture on the mainland. My current research on Taiwan and on the southern Chinese island of Hainan (PRC) investigates this particular contemporary expression of Austronesian culture. I hope to contribute to further understanding of indigenousness and cultural heritage on Taiwan and Hainan and to apply that understanding in the regional context of Austronesian Southeast Asia.



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[1] My regional studies focus primarily on the indigenous populations of Island Southeast Asia.  I am initially defining this region with reference to the Austronesian language family diaspora. An Austronesian geographical region encompasses the traditional regional areas of Indonesia, Melanesia, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Island Southeast Asia, as well as the island of Madagascar (see Map 1).  This area includes an estimated 270 million people (Bellwood, Fox, & Tryon 1995).  The present paper, however, confines itself to Austronesian Southeast Asia with reference to neighboring regions as they come in contact through trade, such as India and China, and also through colonial relationships, such as Netherlands, Britain, France, Spain, Japan, and the United States. My discussion of Taiwan¡¦s place in Austronesian Southeast Asia is based on previous fieldwork among the Amis language-speaking communities situated along the eastern coast of Taiwan.  ¡§Amis¡¨ is the name of an Austronesian language.  It literally means ¡§north,¡¨ and was used in reference to the ¡§Pangtsah¡¨ (self-described) people by their southern neighbors.  Japanese ethnographers used the term Ameizoku and Chinese ethnographers have used the term Amei-tsu in reference to these people, giving the English translation ¡§Ami¡¨. Here I use the term ¡§Amis¡¨ for both the language and the people.

[2] Fellows of Academia Sinica conduct research on a full time basis in their respected fields of study.  The Institute of Ethnology houses researchers in the fields of anthropology and archaeology.

[3] One exception is Yamaji¡¦s (1990) edited volume, which is notably a collection of work by Japanese scholars.

[4] There is, however, an extensive body of ethnographic research done by Japanese and Chinese scholars on the Austronesians of Taiwan. See Passin (1947) for an overview of Japanese research on Austronesian peoples of Taiwan, and the Bulletin of the Institute of Ethnology, Academia Sinica 40 (1975) for an overview of Chinese research on Austronesian speaking peoples of Taiwan. The only English language ethnographic sources available to me at the time of writing are Ferrell (1969, 1971) and Schroder (1967), as well as Shepherd¡¦s (1986, 1993, 1995) writings from an historical perspective.

[5] See Ahern & Gates (1981); Harrell & Huang (1994); Kung (1994); and Chen, Chuang, & Huang (1994).

[6] The government of Taiwan currently recognizes nine ¡§tribes¡¨ of Austronesian peoples on Taiwan.  However, these ¡§tribes¡¨ are actually Austronesian language speaking groups, and are not currently or historically political units.  Historically, the highest level of indigenous political unity on Taiwan was at the village, or community level (Shepherd 1993).  


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