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Kondō the Barbarian and Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples

Introduction by Paul D. Barclay, Lafayette College

Taiwan was annexed as a condition of the Treaty of Shimonoseki signed by the Qing and Japanese imperial governments on April 17, 1895. From the 1895 annexation through 1902, Han (Chinese) Taiwanese rebels fought sustained guerrilla campaigns against the new Japanese government in the western half of the island. Eastern Taiwan, including the island’s majestic Central Mountain Range, had largely eluded the control of the Qing dynasty. This part of Taiwan was inhabited by speakers of Austronesian languages; they are known today as Taiwan’s Indigenous Peoples. In the time before the colonial state could deploy airpower as an instrument of conquest, the steep terrain of Taiwan’s mountainous interior inhibited the expansion of the empire.

As a guide and interpreter, a Japanese trading-post operator named Kondō Katsusaburō assisted the forces of the Taiwan Government-General to place mountain guns in strategic locations to advance Japan’s occupation of lands inhabited by Truku, Toda, Tgdaya, and many other groups of Taiwan Indigenous Peoples.

As a settler-colonist who operated with and without government support, Kondō was well positioned to describe the cooperation, coercion, and opportunism that characterized Japanese interpersonal relations with Taiwan Indigenous Peoples on the outer borders of Japan’s empire. Kondō’s recollections bear witness to long-simmering tensions between Taiwan Indigenous Peoples and agents of the Japanese state, which often resulted in clashes between the police and armed Indigenous fighters. By 1915, the Taiwan Government-General established the foundations of government in the highland interior, but its mastery of Indigenous territories remained hotly contested into the 1930s.

This translated document appeared in the Taiwan nichnichi shinpō (Taiwan Daily News) while Japanese police forces were still interrogating, imprisoning, and punishing the people accused of fomenting the Musha Rebellion. On October 27, 1930, Taiwan Indigenous fighters led by Mona Rudao attacked Japanese policemen, their families, and other settlers at a Sports Day festival in Musha, Taiwan--134 Japanese settlers were killed that day. The author of this passage, Kondō “the Barbarian” Katsusaburō, was personally acquainted with the rebel leader Mona Rudao. Kondō's memoir stretched back to the early days of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan; it proposed an explanation for Mona's uprising against the colonial government. The Taiwan Daily News serialized Kondō's memoir in twenty-nine installments that appeared between December 20, 1930, and February 15, 1931.

Source Information:

Watanabe Sei, “Musha sōjō no shinsō o aku hitotsu no kagi! ‘Seiban Kondō’ shi no hansei o monogataru (go) [The Saga of Kondō “the Barbarian” Katsusaburō: A Key to Understanding the Musha Rebellion: part 5],” Taiwan nichinichi shinpō (January 13, 1931), 5.

Translated in: Paul D. Barclay, Kondo the Barbarian: A Japanese Adventurer and Taiwan’s Bloodiest Indigenous Uprising (Manchester: Camphor Press, 2023), 85-88.


Kondō is Adopted by Baso Bōran

Kondō [Katsusaburō]’s employee at the trading post, Nagakura Kichiji, was fortunately married to a woman from Truku (see map). Kondō asked Nagakura for help, thinking it would be less dangerous if she were his guide. On August 20, 1897, all preparations were set, and Kondō left Puli. Kondō, another employee named Itō Shūkichi, Nagakura Kichiji and his wife Tappa Kuras constituted a group of four. They had to leave secretly, so they chose the backroads because they could not go through Musha. Furthermore, Kondō could not even tell his wife Iwan Robao, because she was from Musha.

Map Source: Paul D. Barclay, Kondo the Barbarian: A Japanese Adventurer and Taiwan’s Bloodiest Indigenous Uprising (Manchester: Camphor Press, 2023), 14.

The next morning, a severe storm commenced. They lost their way among unknown mountains. Their provisions and trade gifts were soaked, and they had to throw them away. It rained three days in a row, so they became tired and hungry. On the morning of the twenty-third, they finally reached the path that led from Xakut to Truku. This was near Sanjiaofeng. They were unable to walk any longer but had to crawl. Leaving his two employees on the path, Kondō screwed up his courage and prodded Tappa Kuras to [accompany him]. They descended Sanjiaofeng for about a kilometer toward Truku. Suddenly, something quite unexpected appeared. Kondō saw about thirty men on a small hill poised to attack and behead him. They were awaiting the signal of the chief who stood behind them. When he saw them, he looked for his guide, Tappa Kuras; but she was no longer behind him. What a horrible moment! Kondō composed himself and planted his legs firmly. He raised his hand to beckon them. Fortunately, there was a man there who used to come to the trading post who knew Kondō well.

“Aren’t you Mr. Kondō? That was close!” Kondō was relieved to hear these kind words. It was a Truku headman named Baso Bōran, who would have a thirty-year relationship with Kondō, one that had just begun. “What did you come here for?”

“I figured you have had difficulty trading because of your dispute with Musha, that is why I came to reconnoiter land to build a new exchange post.”

“Is that so? You are welcome here.”

Kondō has always said that one need not carry weapons to enter Indigenous country. True to his own advice, Kondō has since always traveled among his Indigenous associates unarmed. Kondō says that going among them half-cocked can even lead to suspicion. The Indigenous Peoples have something akin to the “Japanese spirit.” If one proceeds in the proper manner, without ulterior motives, and the situation is well understood, then an unarmed person would certainly not be in harm’s way among them.

Kondō became a guest at the home of Baso Bōran. He woke up each morning and toiled [with his hosts]. He drew water, cut firewood, tilled land, and did other chores to gain their trust. At night he taught them how to make straw sandals, to produce moxa, and to use the moxa to cure and treat ailments. At length, he secured the trust of the headman, who came to regard him as loyal. Therefore, when the Xakut tribe, which was powerful at the time, sent seven men over to threaten Truku to hand over the Japanese man among them, Baso Bōran answered that they could not turn over the Japanese, even if this meant they would have to fight. [Baso] treated the seven [Xakut] emissaries quite badly and sent them packing. Thanks to this incident, Truku and Xakut were now enemies.

Kondō was moved by the headman’s sentiments and asked to be his son. Thereafter, Kondō and Baso vowed to be as father and son. This relationship, not without the elements of a romance, came to play an important role in Kondō’s life. Countless times the headman supported and helped Kondō. Even now, Baso Bōran still loves and cherishes Kondō as a son. He has reportedly expressed the following hope:

“I want to see Kondō again. I am old now and do not know when I will die. By all means, please come to see me one last time!”

Kondō was concealing his true purpose, though pursuing it all along. That is, he still wanted to find the heads of Captain Fukahori’s company, and explore a route from Truku country to Hualien. He waited for the annual headhunting expedition and its attendant festivities, which occur around October. In order to accomplish his aims, Kondō would have to go headhunting himself and participate in various martial exploits.

[translator’s note: Captain Fukahori Yasuichirō and his thirteen Japanese subordinates disappeared in the vicinity of Mount Hehuan in February, 1897. It was later determined that they died in battle with Indigenous attackers, based on the recovery of scattered remains and artifacts].

“With feet like those, you cannot come with us,” they said to Kondō. What they meant was that Kondō had to temper his feet so that he could run upon rocks and mountainsides. It was part of his training to burn his feet daily with a bellows to toughen them up — he did this for almost a half-month.

(Translated by Paul D. Barclay)


  1. Based on this passage, what role does commerce play in the Japanese conquest of Taiwan’s highlands?

  2. Who is Baso Bōran? What might have motivated him to make an alliance with Kondō? What risks did such an alliance pose for Baso? For all Truku people?

  3. Does this passage provide evidence of mutually beneficial cultural exchange between colonizers and colonized in early twentieth-century Taiwan?

  4. What evidence from this passage can be used to ascertain Kondō’s relative wealth and status among Japanese imperialists and colonizers in early twentieth-century Taiwan?

[Further Readings]

Barclay, Paul D. Outcasts of Empire: Japan’s Rule on Taiwan’s “Savage Border,” 1874–1945. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2018. (open access)

Ziomek, Kirsten L. Lost Histories: Recovering the Lives of Japan’s Colonial Peoples. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Asia Center, 2019.

Sterk, Daryl. Indigenous Cultural Translation: A Thick Description of Seediq Bale. New York, NY: Routledge, 2020.

Berry, Michael ed., The Musha Incident: A Reader on the Indigenous Uprising in Colonial Taiwan. New York: Columbia University Press, 2022.

Simon, Scott. Truly Human: Indigeneity and Indigenous Resurgence on Formosa. University of Toronto Press, 2023.

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