Universiteit Leiden

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Indigenous population of Taiwan donates books to university

A cultural delegation from Taiwan has presented 175 books and journals to Leiden University. The gift is meant as thanks for all the research carried out by the university on the subject of the indigenous peoples of Formosa, as Taiwan was called in the past.

In charge

Part of the collection presented by the Taiwanese delegation
Part of the collection presented by the Taiwanese delegation

Exactly 350 years ago the Dutch East India Company (VOC) left the island of Formosa, which the company controlled from 1624 to 1662. For the past twenty years, Leiden University researchers Professor Leonard Blussé and Dr Nathalie Everts have been studying this so-called Dutch Period in the VOC archives in The Hague. The records document the history of the indigenous population in great detail, while the inhabitants themselves have recorded next to nothing of their past. By publishing a large amount of source material about the indigenous population during this period, Leiden University researchers gave the history of this people back to its descendants, who still live there today. The delegation is coming to the Netherlands to express its thanks for this research, and to personally catch a glimpse of their roots in the VOC archives.

Cursive script

Prof.dr. Leonard Blussé
Prof.dr. Leonard Blussé

The research carried out by Blussé and Everts shows, among other things, how much of an influence the Dutch had on the original population of Taiwan. ‘Formosa was the only place where the Protestant mission became a great success,’ Blussé explains. ‘The ministers set up schools where the population learned to write in their own language. In land transfer contracts, even in those dated two hundred years after the departure of the VOC, there are often two versions of the text noted down in two columns. The Chinese characters on the right, and the original language on the left, neatly written in Dutch cursive script.’

Indigenous population

The delegation is led by Professor Sun Ta-Chuan, Minister of the Council of Indigenous Peoples and Professor of Philosophy at the Soochow University in Taiwan. The 55 men and women accompanying him are local governors of the indigenous population of Taiwan. In past centuries the original population of Formosa has retreated to the mountains and to the East coast of the island. Of the 23 million inhabitants of Taiwan, around 400,000 belong to indigenous tribes. That is slightly less than 2 per cent.

A great addition

The gift consists of 175 modern anthropological, historical and cultural-historical books and journals in English and Chinese about the original population of Taiwan. ‘A wonderful gift,’ says Alice de Jong, the subject librarian for Sinology at the Library of Leiden University. ‘It is a great addition to the collection that the East Asian Library already possesses. We have not been collecting these types of materials very actively, and this donation immediately renders our collection complete.’

The works are already available for perusal at the East Asian Library.

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