The History of Our Natural History

“Discovering Taiwan” at the National Taiwan Museum
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2018 / February

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Bruce Humes


In November 2017, the National Taiwan Museum launched a new permanent exhibition: “Discovering Taiwan—Revisiting the Age of Natural History and Naturalists of Taiwan.” This marks the first time that exhibits from diverse fields of study, ranging from the Formosan landlocked salmon to Mona Rudao’s anklets, have appeared together. Featuring a rich selection of items personally collected by 19th- and 20th-century naturalists, the show highlights the variegated and precious collections amassed by the NTM over the past century, allowing visitors to see with their own eyes the world’s discovery of species and artifacts native to Taiwan.


If the late director Chi Po-lin’s documentary Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above offered an expansive, bird’s-eye view, then the NTM’s “Discovering Taiwan” illustrates in a concrete manner—on a smaller scale—the diversity of local species and culture via assorted specimens and handcrafted items.

Decoding the natural sciences

Thanks to improved navigation techniques and the drive for territorial expansion during the 19th century, people of many nations set foot in alien lands for exploration and discovery. In the midst of this wave, Taiwan attracted its share of overseas experts and scholars.

Motivated by their curiosity about the native flora and fauna, sailors, doctors, explorers, diplomats and others came to Taiwan by boat. They traversed Taiwan on foot, exploring every nook and cranny, employing a variety of methods to record in minute detail their findings along the way. Regardless of their professions, this group were collectively referred to as “naturalists” or “natural historians,” and the specimens they gathered became precious museum items.

Taiwan’s first museum—the Taiwan Viceroy’s Office Museum—was founded in 1908 during the Japanese colonial era. Naturalists discovered that they now had a stage for public display of their contributions.

The museum moved to its present location, not far from the Taipei Railway Station, in 1915, and acquired its present name, the National Taiwan Museum, in 1999. While it occupies a small area, the NTM has a long history and spans knowledge in the fields of anthropology, zoology, geoscience and botany. Exploiting the advantages offered by its rich and diverse collection, the museum aims to attract the public to visit again and again. It is in this spirit that the cross-disciplinary permanent exhibition “Discovering Taiwan” was born.

Responsible for overall integration of the project is Li Tzu-ning, Associate Researcher of the NTM’s Research Department. He seeks to transcend the orthodox narrative technique that natural science scholars employ to convey knowledge, in favor of a humanistic approach. “For natural science researchers, a specimen is an object that represents a species.” For Li, however, an item in the museum’s collection is not merely a specimen; it is also a historical artifact laden with its own context in a given time and location. It is time to break with tradition: rather than speaking of what a specimen represents in terms of a species, we should tell the story of its history and culture to enable the public to perceive the item’s rich backstory from a totally fresh perspective.

Meticulous collectors

Li Tzu-ning says “Discovering Taiwan” is intended to illustrate how these naturalists gathered knowledge in an orderly fashion, and given their discovery of many new species, to astonish the world with this small island’s diversity.

The large creature located at the front of the exhibition hall serves as a fitting opening: a Formosan sambar deer, one of the earliest Taiwanese mammals known to Western science. One was collected in 1862 by the British naturalist Robert Swinhoe (1836-1877), who was the British consul in Formosa. In the same year, he published “On the Mammals of the Island of Formosa” in the Proceedings of the Zoolo­gical Society of London, marking the first time mammals in Taiwan, such as the Formosan clouded leopard and Formosan macaque, were systematically described.

Following in Swinhoe’s pioneering footsteps, other naturalists thereafter made outstanding contributions in their individual specialist fields.   

Yonetaro Ki­ku­chi (1869-1921), who specialized in the collection and taxidermy of animal specimens, won acclaim for capturing the world’s first complete specimen of a male Mi­kado pheasant. Many species endemic to Taiwan were discovered by him, such as the Taiwan vole (Microtus kikuchii) and the Taiwan mountain pitviper (Trimeresurus gracilis). Many of the NTM’s extant mounted animal specimens, including a pair of male and female Mikado pheasants displayed in the exhibition, were prepared by his skilled hands.

Zoologist Chen Jian-shan (1898-1988), who took over as the museum’s director in 1945, and his student ­Liang Run-­sheng (1914-2002), used their expertise in ichthyology to make many contributions to the museum’s fish collection. Many are rare species or subspecies, such as the Formosan landlocked salmon (Oncorhynchus masou formosanus) and the Formosan ayu (Plecoglossus altivelis altivelis). Now extinct, the Formosan ayu can only be seen via the specimens collected by Chen.

A pioneer of anthropological fieldwork, Ushi­no­suke Mori (1827-1926) trekked throughout the mountains of Taiwan and visited numerous tribal communities. In addition to collecting Aboriginal artifacts, he used a camera in his fieldwork during an era when photography was very costly. He took pictures of many indigenous people, capturing images of religious activities, different social classes, attire, handicrafts and totems, in which visitors to the exhibition can catch a glimpse of Aboriginal figures and lifestyles from a century ago.

Experts and the public mingle

The exhibits in “Discovering Taiwan” are not rigidly arranged on the walls, nor are they enclosed inside barriers designed to keep the spectator at a distance. Some items on display in the exhibition are on stands, some are erected on the ground, and others are displayed vividly suspended in mid-air. A large swathe of the exhibition space is devoted to a patchwork-like display of specimens such as Mikado pheasants, Formosan black bear and pangolin, which seem as if they were calling out to one another in conversation. The lifelike specimens are so close to the visitor that they appear on the verge of jumping out from their glass cases to greet you.

Aside from going deep into the wilds to gather specimens, many naturalists also converted their observations into the written word, and those writings enable us today to see our forebears’ footprints. Sometimes those records, preserved through time, provide powerful evidence of an item’s original value. For example, during a 2015 inventory of the museum’s collection, a pair of shell-bead anklets purchased from Atayal tribespeople for two Japanese yen in 1929 was compared against the owner’s inventory of purchased items, recorded in Japanese ka­ta­kana. It was discovered that the anklets had belonged to Mona Ru­dao (1880-1930), the See­diq tribal chief immortalized in the film See­diq Bale (2011). This is the first time that these accessories, which symbolized the noble status held by the brave warrior, have been displayed with the attribution of having belonged to Mona Rudao.

Some of these naturalists could not only write, they were gifted artists too. Ta­kiya Ka­wa­kami (1871-1915) drew and painted by hand the flora he collected, and his flowering plant illustrations still seem like works of art. The drawings made by anthropologist Chen Chi-lu (1923-2014) feature vivid depictions of Aboriginal artifacts. Various totems of the Paiwan people, carved on their wooden combs, were meticulously recreated by him on paper.

The written records and publications of these naturalists are presented in the exhibition alongside their specimens, enabling us to appreciate the professional spirit behind their pursuit of knowledge. Generally speaking, exhibits in the NTM are introduced by long text-based narratives, but in “Discovering Taiwan” these have been replaced by easy-to-grasp images, making the exhibition more accessible. Whether they are specialist researchers, young children or senior citizens, each visitor can draw their own enjoyment from the displays.

Glimpsing the future from the past

Only when the past is understood can we look into the future. Perhaps the best footnote elucidating this is Atayal textile artist Yuma Taru’s New Texture of Ancestor’s Rainbow Bridge, displayed on a wall at the back of the exhibition. She has taken various Atayal patterns and shaped them into individual triangles. Her successful recreations of traditional patterned textiles are wrapped around triangular blocks of acrylic, while patterns still in the process of revival are printed onto the blocks, which are pieced together in a collage to symbolize the Rainbow Bridge that deceased tribe members must cross to be reunited with the spirits of the ancestors.

In this exhibition, the public can explore the fate of the now-extinct Formosan clouded leopard. This precious exhibit not only retains its genetic code for future generations, it also serves to remind us that a once living species has vanished, due to damage wrought by humans upon it and its habitat.

Among the NTM’s 110,000-strong collection, only 300-plus pieces were selected for “Discovering Taiwan.” As the exhibition proceeds, from time to time the museum will replenish the items on view. In addition to allowing the exhibits to “rest,” it is also hoped this will entice the public to visit again. At first glance this is an exhibition that requires a profound foundation of knowledge. But the NTM actually intends to convey the curiosity those who came before us felt about the natural world, and their efforts to explore it.

“Discovering Taiwan” not only displays the historic concepts upon which the NTM is founded; it also embodies the wholehearted zeal of the naturalists. Let’s follow in the footsteps of our predecessors, rekindle our curiosity in the living world around us, and come to the museum for a journey of discovery of Taiwan!         

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台博館發現台灣展

文‧陳群芳 圖‧林旻萱

2017年11月國立台灣博物館全新常設展──「發現台灣」正式開幕,首度集結各學門的典藏,如台灣雲豹、櫻花鉤吻鮭、莫那魯道的踝飾等。以博物學家為經、豐富的藏品為緯,帶出台博館豐厚的百年歷史與無數珍貴的收藏。透過重返博物學風起雲湧的年代,回溯奠定台博館基礎的珍貴發現,讓眾人看見台灣各物種被世界發現的點點滴滴。

 


如果已故導演齊柏林的作品《看見台灣》是從高空的視角巨觀這塊土地,那台灣博物館(以下簡稱「台博館」)的「發現台灣」展,則以博物學家上山下海深入台灣每個角落,親手採集的各式標本與風土文物,具體而微地展現台灣物種的多元樣貌。

博物學解密

19世紀,拜航海技術進步,以及對外拓展版圖的需求,世界各國踏上未知土地去發現與探索,台灣也在這一波的浪潮下吸引了各國的專家學者前來。

水手、商人、醫師、軍官、探險家、外交官等乘著船隻來到台灣,這些來自不同職業、不同國籍的人們,懷抱著對自然萬物的好奇心,以雙腳踏遍台灣這塊土地,四處去探勘、發現,並將沿途點滴以各種方式記錄下來。這群人,在原有的身分之外,他們被統稱為博物學家,而他們所採集的物品,則成為博物館內珍貴的收藏。

1908年日據時期,成立了台灣第一座博物館──台灣總督府博物館,博物學家的發現,有了公開展示的舞台。

時空回到現代,在經歷各種時空背景後,當年的台灣總督府博物館,現稱「台灣博物館」,位在國內外旅客往來頻繁的台北車站商圈。台博館以讓台灣人了解自己、國際旅客認識台灣為定位。雖然占地不大,但歷史悠久,知識領域橫跨了人類學、動物學、地學、植物學。發揮藏品豐富而多樣的優勢,期望創造讓民眾一來再來的渴望為目標,台博館首度跨學門的常設展──「發現台灣」展於焉誕生。

為將各學門的珍藏與悠久歷史展現在眾人眼前,彼此必須互相融合且又不失主體性。不若過去各學門獨自策展的方式,跨學門的整合比館方想的要複雜許多,從最初規劃一年半完成,最後花了三年多才正式亮相。

接下整合挑戰的總企畫,是台博館研究組副研究員李子寧。他跳脫自然學者慣常以傳達物種知識的敘事手法,加入人文的角度。李子寧表示,「對自然科學的研究人員來說,標本就是代表某物種的一個物件。」但對他而言,博物館內的藏品不只是標本,更是乘載過去時空背景的歷史文物。必須請館內各學門的研究人員跳脫傳統思維,不以物件看待、不講標本所代表的物種知識,而是將標本當成獨特的歷史產物,講述其歷史與文化的故事,讓大眾能在展覽中以全新視角看到物件的豐厚脈絡。

親手採集,看見台灣

李子寧表示,「發現台灣」展希望呈現博物學家是如何有秩序地蒐集知識,因為這群人,用新的知識與眼光來詮釋台灣。隨著許多新物種的發現,讓台灣與世界連結,更讓世界驚豔於這座小島的多元。

展廳前方用一隻偌大的台灣水鹿作為開場,這種最早被世界認識的台灣哺乳類動物,在1862年由英國博物學家斯文豪採集發現。同年,斯文豪在倫敦動物學會會報裡發表的台灣哺乳類報告,記載了台灣雲豹、台灣獼猴、台灣黑熊等,是台灣哺乳類動物第一次被有系統的介紹。

從發現台灣水鹿的博物學先驅斯文豪為起點,博物學家們在自己的領域內,各有專精。

擅長動物採集與剝製標本製作的菊池米太郎,1906年受託來台採集帝雉,因為捕捉到世界上第一隻完整的雄帝雉標本而聲名大噪。許多台灣特有種也都是菊池米太郎所發現,例如菊池氏田鼠、台灣森鼠、菊池氏龜殼花等,如今台博館內許多動物的剝製標本,包含此次展覽中亮相的一對雌雄帝雉標本就是出自他的巧手。

1945年就任館長的陳兼善,與他的學生梁潤生,則發揮魚類學家的專長。兩人在任職期間,採集了264種共376件的魚類標本,為博物館的魚類典藏貢獻良多。其中不乏珍貴魚種,如櫻花鉤吻鮭、香魚等,現今已滅絕的台灣原生香魚,後人更只能從陳兼善採集的標本,瞧見牠的身影。

田野調查的先驅森丑之助,他踏遍台灣山區,深入部落,進行無數次的田野調查。除了蒐集原住民的器物,如排灣族祖傳陶壺、排灣族木盾、泰雅族男子無袖長衣。更在當時攝影昂貴的狀況下,進行田野調查時以相機拍攝許多原住民的照片,舉凡頭目家屋、雅美族造船等,範圍涵蓋服飾、宗教、社會階層、工藝、圖騰等。森丑之助為現代的原住民文化研究,留下許多珍貴的資料,也讓民眾能在展覽會場一窺百年前原住民的身影與生活樣貌。

專家、民眾一同來熱鬧

李子寧表示,讓展品以美術館的方式呈現,已是現代趨勢,但多用於時效短的特展。常設展的展覽時間長,展品維護不易,又要將展品以藝術品的形式呈現,也讓館方傷透腦筋。

在台博館與設計團隊無數次的討論下,發現台灣展裡的標本,不是死板板地排列在牆上,也沒有圍起止步線讓觀者與展品保持距離。會場裡展品有的放在看台、有的直立於地面,還有的懸吊空中,生動地陳列。一大片的空間裡帝雉、台灣黑熊、梅花鹿、穿山甲等標本彼此錯落展示,彷彿正互相呼應對話,栩栩如生的標本,似乎要從玻璃櫃跳出來與人打招呼般貼近。

標本除了是物種的代表,有時也顯現出採集者的習慣,例如擅長貝類採集的堀川安市,會在貝殼上標示採集地點。灰白色的貝殼上,以橘紅色字跡寫著「高雄產」、「基隆產」等字樣,讓看似生硬的博物學,頓時生動而活潑起來,也增添了趣味。

過去來到台灣的許多博物學家,除了深入採集,更將其見聞轉換成文字,後人才得以從這些文字中看見前人的足跡。這些記載有時在時空移轉下,成為還原物件價值的有力證據。如台博館在2015年清查藏品,一件1929年當時以日幣2元收購自泰雅族部落的貝珠踝飾,在比對當時購買清冊上擁有者的日文片假名時,赫然發現竟是莫那魯道。這件象徵部落地位崇高勇士的飾品,此次便是它作為莫那魯道遺物的首次展出。

博物學除了標本採集,更需要文字與影像來詮釋物種的特色與細節,即便是攝影普及的現代,標本圖繪仍是博物學無可取代的重要傳統。用繪畫來呈現物件的特殊形態,如剖面圖,或是補足標本的殘缺來還原物件完整樣貌。在博物學的學院裡,至今仍雇有專門從事生物繪圖的繪者。

有些具有藝術天分的博物學家,不只能寫還能畫。川上瀧彌便親手繪製他採集的植物標本,他著名的作品《花》,至今看來仍像是藝術品。而陳奇祿的原住民圖繪,則是生動描繪原住民器物,排灣族各式木梳上的圖騰,全被他細心刻劃在紙上。

這些博物學家採集時的文字紀錄、出版品等,也隨著標本一同在展覽裡呈現,深切感受博物學家追求知識的職人精神。以往為介紹展品會製作長篇的文字敘述來說明,在發現台灣展裡則被轉譯成明瞭易懂的影像,降低了觀展的門檻。不論是研究專門領域的學者、年幼的孩童,或是長輩,都能在展間獲得各自觀展的樂趣。

從過去望見未來

前人胼手胝足、上山下海採集了各式各樣的標本,這些珍貴的資料讓眾人得以了解台灣這塊寶島。藝術家尤瑪‧達陸則從博物館典藏的原住民傳統服飾中,找回失傳的泰雅族編織工藝,二十多年來,不斷地研究古老織品上的圖紋與工藝,終於將部分傳統服飾重現。

了解過去才能展望未來,會場最後方的牆上,尤瑪‧達陸創作的作品〈古虹新姿〉成了最佳註解。尤瑪‧達陸將各式泰雅族圖紋做成一片片的三角形,材質包含成功重現的圖紋織品,而尚在復興中的圖紋則用壓克力呈現,拼貼出象徵與祖靈相聚的彩虹橋。

已經滅絕的台灣雲豹,民眾也能在此次展覽中探其芳蹤。珍貴的藏品,不只為後世保留基因的密碼,更是提醒眾人,一個曾經真實存在的物種,卻在環境與人為的破壞下,從此消聲匿跡。

在台博館11萬件藏品中,「發現台灣」展精挑了三百多件展出。隨著展示時間的不同,館方會不定期更換展品,除了讓展品休息,也希望民眾一來再來。乍看是需要深厚知識基礎的展覽,但台博館更想帶給眾人的是,感受前人對探索世界的努力與好奇。就像森丑之助曾在著作裡寫的:「我拋棄了正常人的生活,只為了自己的志趣,全心全力做這件事。」

發現台灣展裡,不只展示奠基台博館的歷史脈絡,更蘊含了博物學家們全心投入的熱忱。讓我們循著前人的腳步,重新燃起對事物的好奇心,到台博館來一趟發現台灣之旅吧!        

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