Languages Around Tainan Documented by the Dutch

Written by Dyami Millarson

I went on a cultural trip to Taiwan in 2017 and desired to explore the local Dutch history there by way of visiting the settlement sites and architectural remnants which suggested there was once a thriving Dutch-speaking community there, it definitely gave me an indescribable intimate experience with history when visiting those places of historical interest, it made me feel connected to that historical area where the Dutch had gone extinct and this eerie feeling was amplified by the fact that the locals, who heard I am Dutch, took photos of me out of curiosity and thus treated me in a fashion that communicated that I was the last of the Dutch, I was a living museum piece there and this unusual, initially shocking and disorienting experience has left a deep and lasting psychological impact on me as profound sympathy for the Dutch victims there was aroused in my heart whilst I recognised their anonymous skeletal remains thrown in a tomb for mass burial to be those of my sisters and brothers in a far-away land, it made me feel they must have been so lonely and sad here being forgotten by the Dutch and consequently not being frequently visited as a historical pilgrimage site for the Dutch to pay their respects to the Dutch war victims of the past and it made me think paying respects was only proper as a way to remember these unfortunate overseas Dutch and give them a few minutes of silence as a way to focus our full attention on them and let it sink in how lonely and sad it must have been to die here and be forgotten by the majority of Dutch speakers who did not learn about the Dutch local history here and so didn’t come back as pilgrims in successive centuries for these ancestors to honour them with a respectful silence of a few minutes for the human lives that were lost here on the island, I felt an inexplicable spiritual connection to the souls of the disappeared Taiwanese Dutch, we were linked by culture and language across the centuries, I could almost hear their Dutch voices in my head talking casually as they went about their daily lives and laughing at Dutch jokes and experiencing the sunny weather on the island as I did centuries later, they were all gone and this struck me as a disaster while their disappearance made me so sad as if I had lost my dear family members in a sudden accident, it was as if everything had happened just yesterday, it didn’t seem long ago and while extinction suddenly felt so real when I had been put in the role of being the last of the Dutch, I became acutely aware that the speakers of Dutch are but a small and vulnerable linguistic and cultural minority on this planet and this reminded me that the existential crisis that the Dutch language is facing in the Netherlands is no mere figment of the imagination, but we can decide its fate as a small language on planet Earth and thus decide whether or not it will become a dwindling minority language. The same goes for the Frisian languages, and while I was there in Tainan, I mused that there might have been Frisians living among the Dutch there, I realised it could make for a good story to imagine the Frisian perspective on life in Dutch Taiwan. The shared contemporary perspective of the Dutch and Frisians living in Taiwan would have been that they were in Taiwan helping the locals, they recorded the local languages for religious purposes and they offered them modern education out of compassion for the people living there. They unquestionably saw themselves as performing good deeds alongside their trade activities and this is felt in the later Dutch reports on the loss of Dutch lives in Taiwan and everything that transpired there leading up to the disappearance of the Taiwanese Dutch, they lamented it as an unfortunate twist of events that shouldn’t be forgotten and so they did their best to record the Taiwanese Dutch side of the story in books that have been handed down to us, yet are rarely read by the modern Dutch and therefore there is no awareness of the Taiwanese Dutch community and what exactly happened to this community.

The Dutch, who inhabited the island of Formosa in the 1600s as Taiwan was known by Europeans back then and established Fort Zeelandia there which I visited in 2017 and where I paid my solemn respects to the Dutch children, women and men who had been killed, raped or enslaved there, were the first to document the Formosan or Taiwanese local languages. Their monumental efforts have been made available in bookform in bygone centuries and these same books are now available on Google Books, where they have been buried among millions of other books, but I managed to find them as I entered “formosa taal” into the search engine of Google Books. I managed to find an old Dutch catalogue on Eastern languages which suggested there were 3 Dutch books on the local languages around Tainan:

These are the three Dutch books on the languages around Tainan:

https://books.google.com/books/about/Woord_boek_der_Favorlangsche_taal_waarin.html?id=A41eAAAAcAAJ

https://books.google.nl/books?id=NFJUAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA437&dq=taal+formosa&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwimgpGr9oPtAhUrNOwKHaH0Bh44ChDoATABegQICBAC#v=onepage&q=taal%20formosa&f=false

These monumental books are inaccessible to people who do not know Dutch, and so it may be an incentive to learn Dutch.

I say Taiwanese or Formosan languages because it was discovered that the Dutch recorded different local languages from around Tainan, they kmew these languages as “Favorlangsch”.

[This page is under construction. More information will be added later.]

4 comments

  1. Why were those Dutch killed, raped and enslaved in Taiwan? Is there any historical background here? Was it in any war?🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔🤔

    Liked by 2 people

    • War and loss of human life is alluded to in my piece. Since war is incredibly nasty and even talking about it makes me profoundly uncomfortable, I prefer to skip over the unsavory details and focus on the human victims instead. I can imagine their last thoughts and dying shrieks; I can understand the intense shock, dread and pain they experienced moments before passing away. The victims are often dehumanised in history books, which is equivalent to killing the victims a second time. I hope to present a view that is respectful to individual human lives, as each human life is a complex consciousness. In addition, I believe that a compassionate view of history may be vital for contemporary language preservation efforts.

      This is the historical background:

      The campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Dutch was led by Koxinga, a Chinese general loyal to the Ming Dynasty. He fled to Taiwan as the Qing had been succesful in capturing the mainland, and the Kuomintang would follow this historical precendent centuries later when the Communists had succesfully captured the mainland. Koxinga founded his own dynasty on the island after his ethnic cleansing of the Dutch. According to the historical sources, Dutch women were taken as sex slaves by Koxinga and his men, the Dutch have repeatedly tried to free them but to no avail. When I was in Taiwan in 2017 to explore local cuisine and Dutch history, I saw a temple dedicated to Koxinga. Koxinga’s dynasty was defeated by the Qing Dynasty only a little more than twenty years after the founding of Koxinga’s dynasty and so Taiwan became incorporated into the mainland, which led to a sinicisation of the local population over the course of centuries and this in turn led to the loss of the languages that the Dutch had recorded.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I didn’t know that the Dutch women were raped or killed by Koxinga until now. I thought they killed locals by that time; according to my knowledge, only 6 people survived in one of the tribes. I think most Taiwanese may not know this part of history either, since our historic chronicles have been controlled and doctored by Kuomintang over the past decades. Though we have different political parties now, some people believe that Kuomintang has become one of the rooted groups here.
    It is very nice to see your post here, I hope that you can visit our island again with more details of Dutch backgrounds, so we can know more about our own place.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s