ABSTRACT

The first photograph that I encountered, when flipping through a recent Chinese book on the Ami people of Taiwan, shows not only the native inhabitants but also the Japanese anthropologist Torii Ryuzo (1870-1953) (Figure 7.1). Among the earliest images of Taiwan aborigines, this 1896 photograph was both ethnographic and historic, taken just one year after the island was ceded to Japan as the result of the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895). It shows the twenty-six-year-old Torii, dressed in Western attire – matching jacket and vest with buttoned-up white shirt, tied silk scarf, trousers, and miner shoes, sitting on the ground with his head down, completely absorbed in writing his field notes. Surrounding the anthropologist at work are three Ami men, who appear in their native costume: large disk earrings, turbans, loose upper garments, and skirt-like lower garments that expose their abdomens, legs, and bare feet. They seem to be local helpers or informants, as the man standing on the left is holding Torii’s hat. None of them is paying attention to the camera. All eyes are on the Japanese anthropologist, or more precisely, on what he is writing or drawing. Neither are the faces recognizable, except, of course, Torii in the middle. The caption recounts the story behind this photograph as ‘taken by Torii Ryuzo who leaves precious images of the Taiwan aborigines during his expedition to Xiuguluan Stream with Ami tribesmen by his side’ (Tian 2001: 13). It is indisputable that this photograph is a material witness to, and legacy of, Torii’s unprecedented research into Taiwan’s indigenous population. Yet, what intrigues me is not his exceptional feat but the irony of the picture. The Ami men, the supposed subjects of the investigation, remain nameless and unidentifiable. On the contrary, Torii was and still is the focus, the leading man in this ethnographic tale. If a photograph can reveal more than mere depiction of its subjects, I cannot help but wonder what stories Torii’s visual record may tell, especially about the aboriginal “other” and the anthropologist “self”.