Although Ketagalan people have a lengthy history, the name we use for them was invented less than one hundred years ago. Around the 17th Century, for administrative convenience, the Qing dynasty divided the Taiwan's indigenous people roughly according to their degree of sinification, into the categories "mature barbarians" (shou fan) and "raw barbarians" (sheng fan). After the Sino-Japanese War of 1894, Taiwan was ceded to Japan. The Japanese categorized the indigenous people according to the range of their settlements, into the divisions takasago-zoku and heiho-zoku (later translated into Chinese as "Pingpu"). The former lived in mountainous areas, and the latter lived mainly on the plains.
In the 19th century, anthropologist Ino Yoshinori came to Taiwan to do research. He discovered that Taiwan's indigenous people actually included many different tribes with distinct cultures. He classified the Pingpu aborigines more precisely into ten divisions. Of these, "Ketagalan" referred to those Pingpu living in northern Taiwan.
The Ketagalan tribe was virtually unmentioned in written historical documents. Therefore, understanding their origins and development is no mean feat. Simply in regard to the locale at which they first landed on Taiwan, the academic world has yet to come to a decisive conclusion.
According to legends of the tribe, ages and ages ago, the ancestors of the Ketagalan lived in a land called "Sanasai." Fleeing from monsters, the whole tribe abandoned their homeland and floated out to sea. After who-knows-how-long, they finally sighted land, and they happily settled down. That land was today's Taiwan.
Ino Yoshinori compared the legends of every settlement related to the origins of ancestors, as well as customs and geographical conditions. Then he boldly deduced that the ancestors of the Ketagalan, an Austronesian group, very likely set their feet on Taiwan the first time at Shen-ao Harbor (also called "Aodi") near Sandiao Cape, and then they migrated toward the west and the south.
Last year, Lee Jen-kui, a researcher at the Academia Sinica's Institite of History and Philology, discovered that in earlier times the area where languages were most diverse was near the mouth of Tamsui River. According to the theories of linguist and anthropologist Edward Sapir, the area where languages are most diverse is most likely the original settlement of a given people. It would follow that the Ketagalan originally started from the mouth of the Tamsui River, migrated inland toward northern Taiwan and then spread out east and south.
With the advent of the continuous excavation of archaeological sites, non-verbal messages long frozen under the surface of the earth have now opened up another window to comprehending the Ketagalan.
In the archaeological history of Taiwan, the most abundant discovery about these "pioneers of Taipei" has probably come from the Shihsanhang ruins. The Taiwanese Echo Magazine once published an entire issue reporting about this dig in great detail.
The old name of this site from 1500 to 800 years ago was probably Galabie Village. The Ketagalan living here knew how to forge iron and manufacture exquisite ceramics. Judging from the excavated coins, such as those from the Kaiyuan reign of the Tang dynasty as well as from the Song dynasty, they already had social intercourse with the Han Chinese on the mainland.
Their architecture consisted of houses raised on stilts, a form still widely employed by native peoples of the South Pacific islands. They gained their sustenance by digging mollusks from the beach, fishing and hunting. They also used a haphazard method of cultivation and grew dry rice.
An even more noteworthy feature of their culture is that they typically buried the dead sideways with knees bent, and the burial site was not far from their homes, meaning that even when Ketagalans passed away, they were not forsaken by their relatives or society. They still received attention and remained in their loved ones' memory. This is somewhat similar to what we know from oral history of the funerary customs of other indigenous people.
In the ruins they also found a mass grave, with a total of 200 remains, some of which had been mutilated. This might have been a result of war with an outside tribe, a natural disaster, or an epidemic.
In addition, a plentiful supply of accompanying funerary accoutrements were unearthed, such as agate, ceramics, gold ornaments, coins of the Tang and Song dynasties, and animal bones. It is speculated that the Ketagalan might have had a notion of private wealth and believed that the deceased had spirits.
Nevertheless, it is still quite difficult to ascertain exactly how big the population was in earlier times, how many settlements there were, or how their cultural characteristics were assimilated into the mainstream culture.