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As I was mining the archives in Taiwan, I always kept my eyes open for canine sightings. The difficult and wondrous thing about dogs is how ubiquitous they are, yet unindexed. I found them chronicled in books that are not specifically about dogs, but on closely related topics — such as Taiwanese indigenous resistance to Japanese colonialism. What we now know of the Formosan Mountain Dog is closely aligned with the history of Taiwanese aborigines, or yuanzhumin 原住民.

Dogs were seldom depicted as isolated subjects of early photodocumentation. But the photographs where they are integrated into domestic, social, and military scenes are incredibly rich with anthrozoological detail to me. Here are a few of my favorites from GEN Zhiyou 根誌優, ed., Collection of Historical Photographs of Taiwan’s People’s Resistance Against Japanese Occupation 1874-1933 [Taiwan kangri shi tuji 台灣抗日史圖輯] (Taipei: Taiwan yuanzhumin chuban youxian gongsi 台灣原住民出版有限公司, 2010).

Vol. I, p. 305 (Year 1905): “日軍11月9日以步砲聯合作戰攻入北葉社,懲罰其頭目庇護抗日義軍,圖為1905年在頭目宅前合影的北葉社排灣族。” On November 9th, the Japanese military launched a coordinated infantry-artillery attack on the Beiye Society as punitive measures against a chieftain who was harboring Japanese resistance fighters. Pictured are members of the Beiye Society, assembled in front of the chieftain’s home.

A moment of relative peace, given the violence that would ensue, as described in the caption. Even the dog, a drop-eared specimen, looks docile in contrast to the prick-eared hunters that are usually depicted in aboriginal company — and which would clearly be favored in the Formosan Mountain Dog breed standard, a century later.

Vol. II, p. 195 (Year 1916-7): “在警察掌握部落行政,法律與教育的日據時代,部落駐警宛如太上皇,可是一旦原住民忍無可忍起義,平日宛如貴族的日警與眷屬往往要魂斷異邦。” During the Japanese colonial period, the [Japanese] police who assumed administrative, legal, and educational control were basically overlords of their stations, but they’d quickly push the aborigines to the limits of tolerance and cause them to revolt. Typically, the aristocratic Japanese police and their families would have to make efforts to dissolve cultural differences.

I absolutely love the forced togetherness and awkward poses of this shot, especially the contrast between the Japanese ladies seated carefully atop furniture, the aboriginal women squatted even lower than the standing Japanese boy, and of course, the dog splayed on the ground, front and center.

Vol II, p. 39 (Year 1913): “南投,臺中軍警討伐隊完成大甲,北港兩溪流域之屠殺掃蕩任務後,下山路過草屯,當地日警與眷屬列隊歡迎之鏡頭。” Japanese Expeditionary Force from Taichung marching through Nantou after mopping up a massacre at the Dajia and Beigang Rivers. As they descended from the mountains and passed through Caotun, the police administrators and their families lined up to welcome the troops.

And who stands in the middle of the pathway, in defiance of all this pomp and circumstance? A pair of naughty piebald tugou. I just hope they had the sense to move ahead, instead of getting kicked out of the way.

Vol I, p. 402 (Year 1906): “「外太魯閣蕃」當中的博落灣(今部落灣)社人”

This shot, depicting “Savages of Outer Taroko,” is one of my favorites, because it is so layered, perfectly composed, and evocatively personified. The background scenery situates this in majestic nature — the steep, lushly forested cliffs make Taroko Gorge one of Taiwan’s signature tourist sites even now. Meanwhile, the building presents stark geometry, its sharp lines indicative of its rigid construction. The men are probably the most immediately eye-catching characters, scattered across the foreground in various poses of defiance. One guy even seems to be waving his sword? This was the year of a major incident in Hualian, and the aborigines were in no mood to be “pacified.” From the intensity of their direct stares, I definitely get the sense that the cameraman is intruding.

Yet, what is most fascinating to me is the canine detail, carefully set between two of the human characters in the foreground and quietly lurking somewhere in mid-ground, on the front porch of the building.

V1-p402 closeup

The flexed muscles and antagonistic stance of the man on the right is subtly offset by the casual posture of the dog lying in front of the door (I can’t quite make out what the other dog is doing). Now, hanging back and not approaching the camera may very well be the dog’s manner of expressing his disapproval. What I think is interesting is how perfectly those dogs fit into the gap between the foregrounded figures, as if this was a deliberate compositional choice. Or the whole thing could have been a happy accident, shot quickly just moments before the cameraman was charged and chased off the site. I have no idea. But this picture stirs my imagination in so many ways, I wish I had a large, sharp print to frame and hang and stare at every day.

Vol II, p. 83 (Year 1914): “力里社頭目在宅前處理剛獵獲的山豬,排灣族和所有台灣原住民一樣都愛狩獵,收押其槍枝,必然引發極大的風暴。” The chief of the Lili Society carves up a freshly caught mountain hog in front of his house. The Paiwan tribe, like the rest of the Taiwanese aborigines, love to hunt. Forced disarmament [by Japanese decree] inevitably caused a commotion.

You get a good sense of the size of the boar compared to the dog. The dogs were hunting partners and part of the tribe, and so naturally expected a share of the meat (the look on the face of the dog watching the butchering is so familiar). But it was the gun that brought down the animal, not the dog.

There’s more where these came from, but I’ll present them some other time. This is the fun part of research, after all — flipping through hundreds of pages of words and images, scanning for the traces of that which was deemed not important enough to index, but means the world to me. Sorry about the crooked frames and page glares. I had my choice of low resolution scans or higher resolution cell phone pictures, so this is what worked best for me at the time. Click on any of the pictures for a closeup.