Porting Houses: The Land of Taijiang
The land where the National Museum of Taiwan History (NMTH) now stands was once a watery area known as the Taijiang Inner Sea. For more than two hundred years, this area bore witness to the flooding of the Zengwen River, to changing migration patterns, and the region's emergence as a land teeming with life.
This exhibition traces the living tracks of the communities that settled upon the downstream banks of the Zengwen River, in an effort to learn how our ancestors at Taijiang developed a unique style of living. They resided both alongside and against the water as a way of adapting to changes in the natural environment. In this exhibit, we pay particular attention to what are known in Holo as ‘tik-long-tsoo’—the portable bamboo houses that the people of Taijiang developed in order to solve housing problems during the flood season. These houses were designed without foundations and thus could be easily relocated. Given such fickle hydrology, Taijiang's village temples became vital centers of people's religious beliefs and gave birth to the practice of river worship. In 1939, embankments built along the Zengwen River put an end to the flooding. However, the beliefs remained and ultimately became the way in which Taijiang people expressed their gratitude to the natural (and supernatural) powers for allowing them to finally take root upon this land.
The early people of Taijiang were mostly immigrants from north of the Zengwen River, and their communities were typically based around the family unit. These families often lived on the water and rooted themselves in the land upon their arrival in the region. Changes in their lives therefore echoed the transitions of Taijiang's scenery.
Fluctuations in the Land of Taijiang
The communities that developed downstream along the Zengwen River were clustered upon riverflats, called 'guang-ah-po’ or ‘ciang-ah-po’ by early Holo-speaking immigrants. During the Japanese period, the government referred to this area as Wuding Li, Xingfend Jun, Tainan Ting. Nowadays, it administratively belongs to Annan District and is called the ‘Taijiang-shi-liou-liao’ or, more simply, 'Taijiang.’ This area is bordered by the Zengwen and Yanshui rivers, and thus it was on the front line of flooding for hundreds of years. Though the term ‘Taijiang-shi-liou-liao’ is often used by the modern people of Tainan, the name can actually be dated back to as early as 1895, recorded in the documents of the Japanese Governor-General’s Office of Taiwan.
When the Blind Snake Moves, We Move
A widely-told tale about flooding in the Taijiang is that of ‘The Snake.’ This was a name given to the river by people in the early part of the Qing dynasty. The Zengwen River was referred to as ‘The Blind Snake' which often sought to mate with the female Yanshui River. When they met one another, their meeting would cause the two rivers to flood and migrate.
This tale reflects people's anxieties regarding the irregular floods that afflicted the area prior to the embankment of the Zengwen River; the tale also reveals how various communities suffered as a result of floods and shifting rivers at different points in time. Of particular note, when the flooding became serious, those who resided near the river were in danger of losing their entire village.
A series of field research projects has categorized the floods of Taijiang into two types: normal floods and wipe-out floods. During normal floods, people would prepare for a new beginning as soon as the flood ended. Villages such as Gong-qin-liao and Shi-er-dian would seek the sacred advice of temple deities to avoid the next flood. The advice received by the people of Gong-qin-liao included instructions to plant banyan trees, to place evil-expelling objects—such as the Sword Lion (jian-shi) or the Seven Star Sword (qi-xing-jian)—at the river's edge to ‘calm’ the water, or to worship the river and the God of Heaven (this tradition is still practiced today). At Shi-er-dian, villagers were instructed to plant trees.
A wipe-out flood, however, destroyed villages. For example, 1928 bore witness to a flood so serious that, while some chose to rebuild their homes, the entire Xi-nan-liao community decided to relocate their village and form what we know now as Xin-ji-zhuang. Another wipe-out flood in 1911 destroyed Ke-ke-gang village. After the village had sunk to the bottom of the Zengwen River, survivors rebuilt their community at Xi-pu-laio and Gong-wen-zai, and jointly established the Centipede Parade (zhentou) as part of Xigang's religious festivities, to revive their original community's traditional beliefs.
Who is Chiu He-shang?
For a long time, the history of Taijiang's immigration and cultivation was passed on orally and not written down. In 2017, the NMTH received four rare documents regarding land cultivation at Zhong-zhou-liao in Taijiang from 87-year-old Chiu De-xing. Two of the four documents were from 1888 and 1904; the former was a licence of the Chong-wen School; the latter was a copy of a land registration form. Both bore the name ‘Chiu He-shang,’ raising the question: Who was Chiu He-shang?
To put it simply, the Chiu family of Zhong-zhou-liao were migrants from Xuejia who lived during the reign of Qing Emperor Daoguang. These documents provide a vivid example of the lives of Taijiang people following their migration from north of the Zengwen River. Exploring how the Chiu family branched out and made their living on the land, we learn about the Taijiang's changing environment as well as the politics of Taiwan.
Rooting the Land
The land of Taijiang was once a tidal flat that became submerged at each high tide. As the region was basically a salt marsh that could not be used for agriculture, how did the people here earn their living?
One way a family could use the land was to establish a fish farm or a sea fishing business. Once they had stabilized their economic situation, it was natural for these villagers to try their hand at professional fish and fry farming. Furthermore, early settlers also learned to cultivate the land according to different soil properties. They planted sweet potatoes, jute and sugarcane in the fields, and melons in the fertile soils that washed in each time the Zengwen River flooded. After the Chianan Irrigation System and embankments of the Zengwen River were completed, the salt marshes gradually became fertile lands, and were finally developed into the land upon which we stand today.