At the southern point of Taiwan, not far from the hedonic bustle of Kenting’s main strip, small waves rush and retreat reassuringly across the white sand of the village’s beach.
At its eastern end sits a small temple, easily looked over as another one of the millions of shrines that dot the Taiwanese landscape, urban and rural alike, its columns and eaves painted and tiled in the typical reds and yellows, its “stone” lions cast from the same mold as thousands of other concrete guardians.
A plaque inside this three-bay construction dates it to 1999, the latest in a series of structures that have been there for almost a century.
The right bay belongs to Tudi Gong (福德正神),* the local earth deity. The central altar, giving its name to the shrine as a whole, is for the Lords of Ten Thousand Responses (萬應公), one of many euphemisms used to describe hungry ghosts. The souls of the childless, forgotten, and anonymous dead are venerated there. Lacking the necessary families of their own to propitiate their spirits, they become kin to all lest in their ignored, hungry state they act out against the community. Hungers sated, their ghostly powers are directed instead towards the good of their adopted homes.
The final altar, on the left side of that little temple, is dedicated to one lonely, hungry ghost in particular, the Princess of Eight Treasures (八寶公主). Calligraphy above a framed image of the princess reads “Holland’s Princess (荷蘭女公主).”
Yes, this deity is Dutch.
She is very, very far from her natal home.
Or, to look at it another way, she’s right where she belongs with her new family, long forgotten ghost that she must be in Holland, were she ever a princess there to begin with.
This altar, to a deity whose hagiography claims her an identity as a member of foreign royalty, later made a tutelary deity in her own right, tells a story of Taiwan’s colonial past through the lens of centuries of popular history.**
The barest frame is as follows, one upon which varying details are hung given the source: A Dutch princess was bound for Taiwan. Shipwrecked in the bay at Kenting during a typhoon, she and the crew of her ship were slaughtered by aborigines. She had with her eight treasures from Holland and she became a subject of veneration.
There are many pieces to this story, not all of which agree with each other, but are simultaneously maintained in collective knowledge about the Princess and about Taiwanese history.
For example, Taiwan was a Dutch colony from 1624-1662. Many sources trace the princess’ shipwreck to this period, writing and speaking about her “three hundred some” years of neglect and solitude. Meanwhile, according to handwriting along the left side of the image above her altar, 荷蘭公主一八七二年來台於墾丁大灣避難 “Holland’s princess came to Taiwan in 1872 to Kenting’s great bay in escape from disaster.”
Though the famous Mudan Incident, in which aborigines killed shipwrecked Ryukyan (Okinawan) sailors near Kenting happened in 1871, and records exist of British ships wrecking nearby before and afterwards (see the listing of Taiwan-related entries in the Peking Gazette in the bibliography of Formosa Under the Dutch), there seems to have been no historically documented shipwreck there in 1872 for the calligrapher to record on her image hanging at the temple.
Yet so it is written.
And so it is also related that her name was Marguerite (瑪格麗特). Also, some say that the tribe whose members killed her had a prohibition of killing women, but one lone warrior was selfish and wanted her treasures. Or was mocked for being cowardly and not having taken part in the raid on her ship and killed her in a rage. Others say that her fiancé, William, died in Taiwan before she could find him and she was on her way home to Holland in mourning. One version records some sailors first surviving the wreck and aborigine attack and then surviving, vampire-like, by sucking blood from cows with straws, until caught months later and finally killed. Some say that her bones weren’t found until the 1930s, and her spirit communicated through a medium using English. Others say that she demanded a boat to speed her spirit back to Holland, only to return to her temple some time later, expressing that Holland is too far and her new home, Taiwan, will suffice.
At least many agree that among the eight treasures was a pair of klompen, which we all know are Dutch. Her altar features a new, shiny pair, perhaps to help her feel more at home in this former Dutch colony.
What are we to make of this religious blend of clashing cultures and history?
*I heartily recommend Allesandro Dell’Orto’s book, Place and Spirit in Taiwan, when it comes to thinking about Tudi Gong. It’s not your standard dry, sterile academic work, rather, it’s personal and contemplative while also showing rigorous research and analysis.
** My sources here are, by necessity, textual and recorded, however, not directly oral history. I am not an anthropologist, nor have I the conducted fieldwork and interviews on the ground in Kenting that would be necessary for a detailed study of this shrine to the Dutch princess. Below I list most of the links (almost entirely in Chinese) from which I synthesized the information in the above text. All possible misrepresentations are due to my own errors and I will gladly correct them if prompted.
Some source materials for above post
- Wikipedia Taiwan on The Princess of Eight Treasures
- Lords of Ten Thousand Responses and here
- Historical Dutch excavated at Kenting (dated 1985)
- Taiwan’s past reconstructed to find true roots (Article from 2006. Linked mostly for the second to last paragraph. This article is, like much of what makes it into the China Post, not good to say the least.)
- 八寶公主傳說 (07/30/2007, detailed blog post)
- Three blog entries by the 一心寺 temple involved in a large undertaking of the Buddhist rite of feeding hungry souls for the Princess’ sake in 2008.
- Entry 1, Entry 2, Entry 3
- 八寶公主百年怨念 化身魔神索10命 (Blog claiming to reproduce articles written in national newspapers in 2008, but I haven’t checked these citations myself.)
- Newspaper story from 2008
- Blog entry related to the 《戲說台灣》TV series (07-31-2009)
- “News” broadcast via 中天 on 07/19/2014 (cable TV news in Taiwan is of varying quality, take this with a large grain of salt)
- 《墾丁八寶公主廟》荷蘭公主 故事永流傳 (02-19-2015 news story)
Others of interest
- Formosa Under the Dutch by William Campbell
- Lost Colony: The Untold Story of China’s First Great Victory over the West by Tonio Andrade