Bunun people live on both sides of the Central Mountain Range at an altitude of 500 to 1,500 meters. Their living environment is one of the highest among indigenous peoples in Taiwan. Patriarchy is followed by the society. They expand territory as they migrate through history and become widely spread. The Bunun believe in spirits (hanitu); they believe that personal competence, disease and misfortune are related to hanitu. ‘Ear-Shooting Ritual’ (malahodaigian) is the most typical ritual; ‘Millet Harvest Prayer Song’ (pasibutbut) is known worldwide.
The current Bunun population is 56,906 (until March 2016). They mainly live in Renai Township, Xinyi Township of Nantou County, Zhuosi Townshp and Wanrong Township of Hualien County, Yanping Township and Haiduan Township of Taitung County, and Taoyuan District and Namaxia District of Kaohsiung City.
The territory of Bunun spreads across and straddles over the Central Mount Range. They call themselves by ‘bunun’, which became largely used since the Japanese Occupation Period. There are three myth origins: the excrement origin, the stone origin and the calabash origin. The calabash origin and excrement origin are the most popular. A legend says in ancient times, one day a calabash dropped from the sky. It exploded and a couple walked out of the calabash. Their descendants became Bunun of today. Another story goes in ancient times, there were two caves. Naihai insects rolled their excrements into balls and dropped them into these two caves. One man emerged from one cave and a woman emerged from the other. They grew up, got married and gave birth to many children. These children became the ancestors of today’s Bunun from different villages. According to one Bunun migration story, Bunun people originally lived on Mount Jade (or Mount Morrison) and the peaks to the north of Mount Jade. Gradually, they moved down to Lamungan and western plains to adapt themselves to the environment. In the seventeenth century, as Han Chinese expanded their territory with force, Bunun people again were forced to retreat to Lamungan and moved across the mountains of Central Taiwan to the east of the island. From there they subsequently migrated to Hualien, Taitung, and the mountain areas of Kaohsiung.
The territory of Bunun is vast. Bunun people value their migration history. Before the seventeenth century, the Bunun originally lived in the mountains of Central Taiwan and on southwestern plains (the upperstream, lowerstream and riverside of Zhuoshui River). Later, they came to Lamungan and moved to the mountains of Nantou. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, they moved across the Central Mount Range in Nantou County to Hualien County in the east. Later, they reached the intersecting mountains between Taitung County and Kaohsiung City. During the Japanese Occupation Period, the Japanese government privatized the territory of Bunun and governed them like soldiers. This caused great discontent among the people. Incidents of resistance were not rare. Major resistance actions include Dafeng Incident (1914), Danda Incident (1916) and Daguanshan Incident (1932). These incidents pushed the Japanese government to implement the policy of ‘Collective Movement’, which resulted in that the people were forced to relocate to their present villages.
Tension was there between the Bunun and the Japanese government. It did not improve until the time of the Nationalist Government. There was no forced migration project after the Japanese Occupation Period. However, because of previous collective relocation policy, Bunun people now live with other ethnic groups. This has great impact upon the development of different Bunun groups in different regions.
In the twentieth century, ethnologists divided the Bunun into six subgroups according to language variation and customs:
Live in the basin of the upper Zhuoshui River; neighboring Seediq people in the north; main villages include Wanfeng, Fazhi, Zhongzheng, Wangxiang and Jiumei in Renai Township, Nantou County.
Originally came from the basin of Takiibakha River in Xinyi Township, Nantou County; main villages include Zhongzheng in Renai Township and Tannan Township in Xinyi Township.
The oldest Bunun village; currently live in the basin of Luanda River, of the tributary of Zhuoshui River in Nantou County, and Taiping River or the upper Xiuguluan River in Hualien County; straddling across the west and east of the Central Mount Range; main villages are in Xinyi Township in Nantou County, Zhuosi Township in Hualien County and Haiduan Township in Taitung County.
Live in the basin of Danda River, upper Zhuoshui River in Xinyi Township; main villages include Dili Village in Xinyi Township, Mayuan Village in Wanrong Township and Zhuoqi Township, Hualien County; some villagers have also moved to the coastal plains of East Taiwan, such as Nanxi Village in Changbin Township and Qimei Village in Ruisui Township.
Originally came from the basin of Junda River and Chenyoulan River in Xinyi Township, Nantou County; later migrated to Taiping River and Lakulaku River in Hualien County, Xinwulu River in Taitung County, Laonong River and Nanzixian River in Kaohsiung City; the Isbubkun is the largest subgroup, occupying more than half of the Bunun population; their main villages are in Xinyi Township of Nantou County, Haiduan Township of Taitung County and Namaxia District and Taoyuan District of Taitung County.
Tapukul was divided into two in the eighteenth century: the Isbabanal and the Tapukul; the Isbabanal merged with the Isbubkun until their language disappeared and they became assimilated into the larger group; the Tapukul moved from Tatajia to the west bank of Namaxia River and settled to the opposite side of Namaxia, situating themselves between Tsou and Kanakanavu; this group interacted closely with Tsou village and was heavily influenced by Tsou; since their number was small, eventually they became assimilated into Tsou.
1. Industry and Cuisine
The traditional Bunun way of production is slash-and-burn agriculture. Important crops are millet, corn and sweet potato. Now, the habit of cuisine is changed and people take rice and sweet potato as staple food, complemented by wild vegetable and mushroom. Among non-staple foods, pigeon peas are the most important. Pigeon pea soup is very common for Bunun people.
Bunun costumes are made of hide, hemp and imported cotton. Clothes for men include leather hat, leather over-sleeve, Chinese-style sleeveless shirt, Chinese-collar leather long shirt, leather underwear, chest ornament bag and legging. Clothes for women are made of hemp; there are long shirt with narrow sleeves, long skirt, with stitched rims, apron, knee-length pants and leggings. Blue and black are two preferred colors.
The foundation of male long jacket is white ramie; black, pink, light green, yellow, red and dark blue threads are woven with the ramie cloth. Zig-zag stitched patterns include oblong, stripe, horizontal lines and triangles. The hundred-pace snake on the back of the shirt has broad diamond patterns; they are the most salient feature in Bunun costumes.
The Bunun song, ‘Prayer for An Abundant Millet Harvest’ (pasibutbut), is internationally famous for its ‘eight-part harmony’. In 1952, Japanese musicologist Kurosawa Takatomo sent the sample of Pasibutbut to UNESCO. At that time, world-famous musicians were very impressed by the complicated harmony produced by an ancient village. Most musicologists believed the origin of music developed from a single note; two notes made harmony. But this belief could not stand any longer. A new chapter on the origin of music has been written.
Every year between November and December, Bunun people hold Millet Sowing Ritual to pray for an abundant harvest. Before the Ritual ends, the family gathers in front of the house and men with virtues will be selected to form a group and sing ‘Prayer for An Abundant Millet Harvest’. Bunun people believe the better the harmony they sing, the more pleasant Gods feel and the more abundant their harvest will be. Therefore, everyone sings with a faithful and sincere heart. At the beginning of the song, there is only a four-scale harmony. As notes go higher to a certain level, slowly an eight-scale harmony will be made. That is why it is called the ‘eight-part harmony’. This is is a very unique harmony in the world.
Traditionally, Bunun houses are made of stone slates, wood, thatch, rattan bark and the bark of a Chinese cypress. How to use these materials differs from region to region. The most characteristic buildings are built with stone slates and cypress bark. The foundation of a Bunun house is square. Only a few windows are installed in a house. Their house is low and closed so that animals and enemies can be prevented from discovering and entering the house. Now, traditional stone houses have been replaced by houses made of concrete and steel.
The stove in the house is very important for Bunun people. The stove is installed on the right corner, the right side or the left side of the house. Usually, the stove on the right side is for preparing meals for the family, and the stove on the left side is for ritual use. Bunun people believe the fire in the right stove is very important and must not be put out. Otherwise, accidents might befall upon men at hunting. Even when the house needs to be extended to accommodate a growing population, the stove on the right side cannot be moved either.
The most sacred space in the house is the millet granary. It is the most important part of the house. It is the symbol of a family. Outsiders are not allowed to enter; otherwise, it will cause the destruction of the family. Besides, the millet granary is also a place for rituals. A new-born son or a new daughter-in-law must go through rituals conducted in the granary and stay there for a while. Only after that can they be considered a member of the family.
1. Kinship Organization
The idea of a Bunun society starts from a family. Several families that follow patriarchal lines make up a clan. Clans form alliances and share hunting ground as well as honor and shame.
2. Family and Marriage
The Bunun society follows patriarchal system, virilocal residence in marriage and succession from the male line. A family is made up of two and more generations, so it is the form of an extended family of normally thirty to forty people. A marriage is usually decided by the elders. Now, the number of intermarriage is growing. The original marriage system was very strict. In recent years, however, under influences from new faiths, cultures and social practices of dominating foreign cultures, these traditional values have started to disintegrate.
3. Village Organization
In the past, Bunun families were scattered in places. Afterwards, they followed the Collective Relocation Policy enforced by the Japanese government. People no longer saw the village defense system upheld by elders of the family (madadaingaz), the priest (mapuadahu), the shaman (is’a’aminan) and the war leader (lavian) as a unit. Lavian was responsible for external affairs and was served by individuals with impressive achievements in warfare. Complete military and geographic knowledge, courage and familiarity with defense mechanism were much needed skills, so that he could also lead inter-village political and military actions such as negotiation, alliance and headhunting expedition. Mapuadahu was the priest of the village. He had to have a very full knowledge in agriculture, climate, rituals and ceremonies, so he could take care of internal affairs such as managing annual festivals and life-related customs and settling inter-people, inter-family and inter-clan disputes. When Bunun families were scattered about, the same person could be charged with different tasks and identities.
Traditional Bunun belief finds itself in spirit (hanitu). Hanitu refers to the spirit inhabited in every natural being like animals, plants and souls. Every natural being has its own inner power. Human beings have two hanitus on both shoulders. The spirit on the left shoulder is evil and makes people violent, greedy and angry, whereas the spirit on the right shoulder is kind and leads people to kind and friendly actions. Bunun people also believe in dihanin, which means heaven or the God of Heaven. Dihanin is the source of everything; it is the God of human spirits. Besides, the Bunun believe in the divination power of dreams. Dreams can predict fortunes and the magic power of the dreamer. Dreams also can also assist communication with the spirits.
Bunun annual rituals are closely related with millet planting. The dates of rituals differ from village to village. During the Japanese Occupation Period, Bunun people were forced to grow rice. With the change of cash crops, discrimination, and introduction of foreign religions that forbade rituals, the practice of Bunun annual rituals was seriously compromised to the point of stopping. Nowadays, the most well-known Bunun ritual is the Ear-Shooting Ritual. Township offices sponsor the Ritual to attract tourists. Most Bunun people are Christians or Catholics. Certain church activities have replaced traditional rituals and have continued passing on Bunun culture in a different way.
Ear-Shooting Ritual (malahodaigian)
Ear-shooting Ritual or Ear-hitting Ritual usually takes place in April, May or on the day of the waning of the moon. This Ritual has the significance of inheritance, education, competition, cooperation and legal education. The purpose of the Ritual is to pray for good game and abundant harvest. It is the most important ritual of the year.
A few days before the Ritual, Bunun men will go hunting and women will brew wine and make preparation. On the day of the Ritual, it starts at three or four in the early morning. The priest summons men and children, but women are not allowed. The Ritual starts with the firing of guns and the ear-shooting ritual for the family (men only). After the shooting, the men of the house will enter the Fire Ritual Ground (patusan) to perform the fire ritual (mapatus). The fire ritual is divided into the following stages: 1. ‘Light the fire (by those with integrity); 2. Offer the Guns (to pray to Gods for the power of body, soul, and hunting at the hunting ground); 3. Offer Ritual Meat (to pray to Gods for good game). Since the fortunes of the family can be divined in the ritual, people are usually extra careful in the process, lest they should bring damage to the luck of the family. Before the end, people will sing the ritual songs. At last, they will offer the bones of game (including the skull of enemies) to pray that the power of animals may continue to come to the people and the souls of the enemies may be consoled.
Commonly at festivals, Bunun people will sing the ‘Victory Song’ (malastapang) to get to know each other and socialize. Malastapang is a song of achievements and a symbol of a person’s social status. It is an opportunity for Bunun men to publicly show their power, an outlet for this reserved and introverted people. In the past, only those who have participated in battles and headhunting expeditions are entitled to malastapang. Now, with the change of time, instead of reciting past achievements, people boast about game and title in malastapang. When in malastapang, a male leader leads the rest of the men. He starts reciting his personal achievements in hunting and headhunting; every time he spells out an achievement, others repeat after him to second the truth of his achievement. After everyone has done his part, the malastapang will end with rounds of cheer. If someone lies about or makes up his achievements, he will on the spot be humiliated, beaten up and driven away from the scene. Such shame will haunt him for the rest of his life.