Mona Rudao and Seediq Bale

Mona Rudao, flanked by his kinsmen

Truth, as is often the way, is much more interesting than fiction in the case of Mona Rudao. One of only 18 Taiwanese aborigines to graduate from secondary school during almost the entire span of the Japanese colonial period, the chief of the Nantou-based Mahebo clan of Seediqs spoke fluent Japanese.

In 1910, at almost 30, he was dispatched with influential representatives from other clans, to Tokyo to demonstrate the glowing rewards that Kominka assimilationist strategies were reaping. The trip is briefly alluded to in Wei Te-sheng’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Part 1: Flag of the Sun).

Mona Rudao’s sister Terwas married a Japanese man named Kondo Gisaburo, the Japanese police officer for the Mahebo district. When Gisaburo was reassigned to Hualien, his aboriginal spouse apparently followed.

There are several versions of how this ill-fated union ended, none of them happy. Gisaburo variously topped himself, fell to his death off a mountainside, or simply abandoned his native spouse

This latter is by far the most accepted version or events. Over at Ozsoapbox’s review of the movie, for example, a well-informed commenter reiterates the claim.This person, who uses the handle hansioux clearly knows a thing or two about the events surrounding Wushe. However, in this case I suspect there could be more to the story than meets the eye.

The post-Wushe reversal of the colonial administration’s policy of encouraging marriages between the scions of influential chiefs and local officials is well-documented 1 and it seems clear that Mona Rudao was far from happy at how things turned out in his sister’s case. But the claim that Terwas was abandoned, bringing shame on the family is harder to verify.

Via Michael Turton, Dr.Paul Barclay has done us a fantastic service by providing perhaps the definitive contemporaneous account of events leading up to Wushe – the reminisces of Gisaburo’s elder brother Kondo Katsusaburo, who was also married into a Seediq family 2, which were serialized in the Japanese-language Taiwan Daily News (Nichinichi Shinpō), the leading paper of the day.

Granted, the fact that the paper was allowed to serialize Katsusaburo’s account should immediately arouse suspicion, as there was a damage-limitation clampdown on what “independent” press existed in the wake of Wushe 3 but Katsusaburo seems to get a surprising amount of leeway to criticise. Perhaps this is because the previous administration had already been discredited, with Governor Governor-General Eizo Ishizuka forced to resign over the incident. 4

Whatever the case, Katsusaburo denies both the tale that his little bro did a runner on Terwas and the accompanying claim that Gisaburo himself had a hand in the uprising. These contradictory accusations appear even more suss when it is revealed that they came after Gisaburo made a scathing complaint to Taipei about official corruption. Some years earlier his brother had purchased a plot of land and was now the victim of a nepotistic swindle by a local subprefect. Katsusaburo implies that the stories about his younger brother were part of a smear campaign.

Furthermore, if Katsusaburo’s account is to be believed, when he returned to Wushe as part of an official fact-finding mission, a month after the uprising broke out, he was still on good enough terms with Mona Rudao for the latter to have left a message for him.

The Mahebo chief listed the grievances that had led to the rebellion and principal among these were the arming of rival clans at the expense of Mahebo and excessive corvée. The former grievance was brought to a grim conclusion during the “second Wushe incident,” where the defenceless Mahebo survivors of the Japanese repercussion were herded into concentration camps and exterminated by hired bounty hunters from rival clans. 5

As for the movies, I seem to be in an overwhelming minority – though interestingly not among my Taiwanese friends – in thinking Part 2: The Bridge of Rainbow was rather crap. Maybe it was because I enjoyed part one so much, but the endless Baywatch-esque slo-mo battle sequences, the complete cheat of a bridge scene at the end and the continually rubbish CGI all contributed to my disappointment.

Most of all, though, I felt that, for a movie of this length, Seediq Bale was woefully short on character development; so much so that, apart from the principal characters, one had a tough time keeping track of who was who, with the braves and chiefs of the various clans fleetingly drawn in with no cohesion or ostensible contribution to the proceedings.

The character of the youth Pawan 6 was perhaps the most compelling but it is telling that, in his review, Ozsoapbox was not even a hundred percent sure of his name.

This is no disrespect to the aforementioned blogger, more an indictment of the director’s inability to nail these characters into your head. Yes, I know it’s just a name but how many movies do you come out of where you have difficulty remembering what anyone was called bar the protagonist? I think for most people it would have been Mona Rudao, Temu Walis and  Pawan, at a stretch the two nipponized Hanaokas (Jiro and Ichiro).7

Finally, and somewhat randomly, the British take on the whole thing is interesting as it’s not available outside the select repositories of learning to which my trusted correspondent, the ethnologist Dr. Clark Wispicolt has access. The Doc points out that, because of its confidential nature, this consular correspondence often provides a frank take on events:

“The revolt was quickly suppressed, and the rebel warriors largely exterminated, but not before considerable losses and hardships had been suffered by the military and police. Other savages, hostile to those of Musha [Wushe], were pressed into service in rounding up the rebels, and suffered heavy losses during the operations. It is probable that a variety of discontents came to a head in this rising, but the chief grievances of the savages appear to have been in connexion with forced labour and underpayment of wages.”8

Notes

  1. Ching, L. Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwan and the Politics of Identity Formation, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2001. pp.164-5.
  2. Katsusaburo was first married to a woman who, having moved with him to the plains and become “cooked,” was forbidden to return to her village. His second wife was from the Hogo clan.
  3. Liao, Ping-hui & Wang, David Der-wei, eds., Taiwan Under Japanese Colonial Rule, 1895-1945, Columbia University Press, New York, 2006. p.10.
  4. Several sources, including Denny Roy and Robert Thomas Tierney erroneously state that it was “Kamiyama Mannoshin” (surely Mitsunoshin?) who had to fall on his sword. Cf. Roy,D. Taiwan a Political History, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 2003. p.51 and Tierney, R.T. The Tropics of Savagery: The Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2010. p.42.
  5. The use of monetary incentives to set rival clans against the Mahebo is shown only as occurring in battle in the movie.
  6. I suspect he might have been based on Piho Waris, one of the only survivors of the aftermath, who seems to have been one of the main agitators.  Cf. Ching’s surmisal  (p.142) of the official inquest, which branded Piro Waris and his cousin Piro Sappo “both inherently violent and with loose morals.”

    The claim that they objected to the corvée for construction of a school meshes with the murder of the Japanese teacher in the movie by the band of adolescents led by Pawan. I must say I was disappointed by the way the film attributed the killing of the women to these guileless, homicidal youth, reassuringly absolving the “true men” of responsibility.

    Another historical strand woven into the movie that I think is based on Waris’ experience is the burning of the houses that – we hear in the film – killed Teemu Walis’ (?) father. According to Katsusaburo, Piho Waris’ father died in a fire set by the Japanese. His relative, the nipponized Hanaoka Ichiro, saw his uncle perish in the same conflagration. A member of the Hogo clan, Waris seems to have had more of an axe to grind with the Japanese than Mona Rudao.

    In terms of the history, the depiction of the nipponized aborigines’ tragedy was deeply emotive. It will always be difficult to say with any degree of certainty how things went down but the Japanese style sepukku alongside the “traditional” hanging was extremely poignant and is widely corroborated.  (Ching, p.138.)

    Of course this has been dismissed as Japanese romanticised propaganda. Some sources have the pair taking charge of the rebellion after Mona Rudao’s retreat/death. Whatever the case, the moral conundrum they faced must have been terrible and it is this kind of internal wrangle that lends itself to great storytelling.

  7. Vivian Hsu was a case in point. What exactly did she do? Apart from poncing around in a kimono and managing not to get bambooed in a shed by murderous adolescents. I barely remember her speaking, yet as a major star in Taiwan and Japan, she obviously got high billing.

    As an aside, for those who scoffed at her un-PC comments  in shooting the film, she is, like my wife – her cousin – half Atayal. No, that doesn’t exempt her from being ignorant but it does mean she probably understands a little more than her hair-trigger detractors knew or would admit when attacking her.

  8. Jarman, R.L.,ed., Taiwan Political and Economic Reports, 1861-1960, Volume 7:1924-1941, Archive Editions, Slough. p.189
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