Formosan indigenous peoples and the Spanish (1626–1642)

Green, Simon (2022) Formosan indigenous peoples and the Spanish (1626–1642). Post-Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In their description of an unsuccessful and short-lived attempt to settle Formosa (1626–1642), Spanish documents contain what may appear to be an unimportant story. It is
extraordinary, however, that documents describing indigenous life in northern Formosa in the early-to-mid-1600s exist at all, even if those descriptions focus on a Spanish colony from a Spanish perspective. These groups of indigenous people, sometimes only mentioned in passing, witnessed one of the first concerted efforts to colonise Taiwan, the first of many waves that would come to transform the island and its indigenous inhabitants. Furthermore, this thesis will show how these people exposed the weaknesses of a Spanish empire that was stretched to its limits, and in this way successfully resisted that early wave of colonisation.

This thesis aims to refocus investigations into Spanish Formosa away from the Spanish to look at the people who were in the majority on the island during this time. It is the first time the whole of the Spanish colony has been studied from the point of view of its indigenous inhabitants. Using a theme-based discourse analysis and cultural history, this thesis shows that, despite the unpromising apparent lack of sources, there is a great deal that we can know about indigenous people through Spanish documents.

This is a history of Formosa in a Spanish-empire context that is dominated by the Philippines. Bearing this in mind, this thesis takes a fresh, inclusive approach to source
documents, considering Formosa to be part of the same discursive area as its neighbours to the south. In this way, the array of sources considered relevant is significantly increased, opening up a range of analytical possibilities.

This thesis argues for different emphases regarding Taiwan’s Spanish colonial history and indigenous history. It shows that, although the Dutch are often given sole credit for ousting the Spanish from Formosa in their attention-grabbing final battle, Taiwan’s indigenous people played a not insignificant part in the failure of the Spanish settlement. This thesis also makes the case for the complexity of the colonial situation in northern Taiwan. Tempting as it is to see the Spanish and the indigenous people as simple diametric opposites, as the coloniser and the colonised only, this thesis shows how the two groups interacted both negatively and positively, not just with each other but with the wider milieu of people in northern Taiwan at the time, reflecting the area’s status as a Pacific island entrepôt linking Japan, the Philippines and the mainland. This ‘history from below’ shows how these people interacted on everyday terms, as human beings, beyond the battles of major powers, at this crucial moment in Formosan and Spanish-empire history.

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