The Vile Secret of Black Ghost Cave Part II: The Truth

Editor’s Note: I received this email a couple of weeks after publishing The Vile Secret of Black Ghost Cave on I’ve run it here exactly as I received it, save for a light copy edit.

Dear Salvatore,

Regarding Matt Gibson's travelogue on the Black Ghost Cave on Xiao Liouchiou ("Lamay", or "Golden Lion Island" during Dutch times), the actual story of the cave is much more interesting than the "official story" about the black slaves posted on the plaque outside the cave.

The incident at what would become Black Ghost Cave had its roots in the hostility between the Dutch colonists in southern Taiwan and the Lamayans (the aboriginal tribe that inhabited Xiou Liouchiou) in the early years of Dutch rule. The Lamayans were a fierce people who earned the Dutch's enmity after massacring the shipwrecked crews of the ships The Golden Lion in 1621 and Beverwijck in 1631.

The Dutch enforced a policy of depopulating areas it considered troublesome, and launched a punitive raid against the Lamayans, successfully depopulating the island of its 1,100 inhabitants in May 1636. In the raid, Dutch forces aided by aboriginal braves from the Lamayans' enemies the Saccam, Soulang, and Pangsoya tribes of southern Taiwan, cornered a large group of Lamayans (mostly women and children) in a cave that had acted as a traditional refuge for the islanders. Intent on solving the "Lamayan problem" once and for all, the invaders dumped hot oil and pumped smoke and gas into the cavern until the screams of the Lamayans could no longer be heard. 327 Lamayans died in the cave, most of them women and children.

The massacre convinced the remaining Lamayans to surrender, and the island was thus depopulated. The surviving male Lamayans were sent to the Dutch colonial capital of Batavia (Jakarta) as slaves, while the females were sent to Taiwan to become servants and wives of Dutch officers.
I believe the "black slave" and "Chinese daughter" stories surrounding Black Ghost Cave were circulated later by the Chinese government to downplay any reference to the existence of aborigines on the island (a fact that is inconvenient to the thesis that Taiwan was always "Chinese").

Indeed, many reminders of Dutch colonial rule and the primacy of aboriginal culture in pre-Qing Taiwan have been lost or erased over time, to the point where the only references to this particular act come from contemporary Dutch sources (check out William Campbell's anthology of Dutch correspondence "Formosa Under the Dutch" ISBN: 957-638-083-9). It should be added that there is no documentation of an African slave rebellion on the Dutch record, although the Dutch did at times refer to aborigines as "blacks".

During my own trip to the cave, I went off the beaten path a bit inside the main cavern and, in a corner, I found burn marks from candles and small shards of earthen pottery and white porcelain. These shards were later taken to the Academia Sinica in Taipei and verified to be around 400 years old (about the time of the massacre). Finding the shards brought the events of that day 369 years ago to life for me, and reminded me of the importance of looking for the real story that often hides behind the official one.

Jason Wright