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Taiwan’s original inhabitants are frequently known as Formosan Aborigines, a name derived from the island’s old name, Formosa. Theorists believe that they have lived there for at least 8,000 years. During the last ice age, the sea separating the Asian mainland and nearby islands like Taiwan became very shallow and relatively easy to cross by small boats or perhaps even by walking across.
 
Over time, there came to be 16 recognized tribes (and 12 not recognized), the most prominent being the Paiwan, the Rukai, and the Atayal.  They share linguistic commonalities not only with each other but also with the Philippines, Borneo, the outer Indonesian islands, Madagascar to the west and Hawaii and other Polynesian islands to the east. Their sea journey began some 4,000 years ago as local island hopping and progressed to giant outriggers able to explore the vast Pacific, with the  last discovery being New Zealand around the 12th Century; one of the greatest diasporas the world has ever known, the Austronesian Expansion all began in Taiwan and the present day Formosan Aboriginal tribes are thought to be the Austronesians that stayed behind. 

Ethnic Han from the Chinese mainland have colonized the island since the 17th Century, progressively displacing the indigenous population from the more desirable coast towards the more inaccessible highlands. That remoteness helped preserve culture, as well as a fierce reputation for headhunting. The Japanese took Formosa as a trophy of war from the Chinese in 1895 and held it as a colony until 1945. Most old postcards date to this pre-War period. They not only convey visual information about the culture and lifeway of the people depicted, on another level, they are vehicles of socio-political propaganda. Postcard images can reinforce the not so subtle message that these savages need to be tamed and assimilated “for their own good…” and thereby justify an occupation by foreign overlords.