Wednesday, March 21, 2012

My Bunun name is Niung, Bunun tribe in Gufeng Village, Hualien County, Taiwan


I travelled to a very small village on Eastern cost of Taiwan in Hualien County in order  to learn more about Bunun (農) indigenous people. I have to say that this place really seems like a paradise, a small enclave in a messy world that, if you once enter, will never be willing to leave. At least that's exactly what happened to me and I stayed here much longer than I had previously planned.

I lived in Hualien councillor's house - Mr. Lu. It seems that he is one of those people who care.
He doesn't have a regular working hours since he treats his work like his own mission. Many times, he leaves late at night right after receiving a phone call. That's because he thinks that his duty is to help people who had voted for him.

Mr. Lu (standing) during the celebration
The village is really small, squeezed between two mountain ranges, where everybody knows each other. Most of inhabitants are relatives and that makes this place even smaller... you know who's the best cook or hunter - something which is difficult to experience in bigger cities. Talking about animals, it's the only place I've been to, where most  dogs have only three legs. That's because mountains are full of traps and  dogs are used for hunting.
There are rice fields in the front and mountains on the back of the village

This pet dog used to have all four legs when I first saw him a month ago.
Another super friendly three legged dog, called "Pangpang"- fatso

Bunun people believe that  snakes are their friends and warn them against danger in the woods. These mountains can be dangerous since it's not a tourist area, there are NO paths whatsoever. So what you should do when facing a snake is to simply  turn back. Another thing is, Bunun believe that snakes hunt in twos. So if you have already seen one, there's a high probability that you'd face another one soon.
Mountains at night
Crab picking
Besides hunting issue and poor dogs, the rest of pets is doing pretty well.

pet piggy

Few words about  Bunun


"if you come to a Bunun village, close your eyes and only listen, but listen carefully..."

Bunun  live on higher altitude than any other tribe in Taiwan between 100 and 200 meter above sea level. They are famous for hunting skills. In old times you could see animal jawbones under the eaves and human skulls in front of village chief's house. These were proofs of great hunting skills and bravery.

Village's chief were in charge till his old years and eventually a new one would be chosen accordingly to his hunting abilities and experience. A chief was in charge of warfare and political affairs.

Bunun are believed to get into fights over hunting territories quite often. These battles were a chance to show tribe's bravery and skills.

Bunun used to build working hats far away from their home stay village to save time while hunting...

Both men and women used to tattoo their bodies and pull out their front teeth or incisors but this habit has long been forgotten.
They are believed to count time by knotting to mark each day.

There are six groups among Bunun tribe:
Taketodo, Takebaka, Takevatan, Takbanuath, Isibukun, Takopulan.

They mainly live in the river alleys between mountain ranges.

Many indigenous people in Taiwan are Protestants (Thanks to Dutch arrival in XVII century. People in the northern part of island are mostly Catholics because that was Spanish influences area)
Their Churches are  simple and one won't find any paintings or sculptures of Jesus inside....
Christmas tree

The Pastor of Gufeng Church is the most warm and kind woman I've ever met... The Mass is mostly about singing... but what kind of singing!  Bunun are marvellous singers. They are simply born to sing. Their voices are incredible. Amen

Zhofeng Primary Scholl children, music lesson

And so, I gave up trying and only enjoyed listening. But let's get to the point: Christianity and Protestantism differ a lot. Or... maybe the Bunun way of believing. The villagers meet in different family's house to pray and chant almost every evening. There's time to share  your problems or concerns. Isn't this the point of harmonious and efficient community?
Their religion or rather belief is visible in every aspect of daily life.
The village structure seems to reflect the old hierarchy, where everybody was working for the common good...

Here is the Bunun prayer, children say at school's canteen before every meal.

The school is really small. There are  two up to six children in the class so the learning environment is very comfortable. Each classroom has a computer with the Internet connection and an interactive board, moreover e-books are also used. A lot of effort is put to preserve the Bunun language and culture, unfortunately,  it seems that the youngest generation won't be able to speak Bunun fluently. All classes are held in Chinese and there are separate Bunun language classes.
School's exhibition

The view from the school's first floor

The school has well maintained library and the cultural hall where you can find handicrafts and Bunun language handbooks.

English lesson

P.E. lesson
Two meters long paper beetle

hand - made jewelry
Children take part in many competitions involving indigenous culture knowledge or skills e.g. painting or singing. This school's students are last year's champions in national singing competition.

Below: Singing is the way of spending free time

A special activity  is held at school every year. Students from capital's secondary schools come to  know the aboriginal culture better. This year's students came from Jian Guo Secondary Male School.  Here's the video of them acting.... Pretty awesome;)

My favourite song (partially in Bunun)

Bunun people live higher than any other tribe in Taiwan, mostly in  mountainous central part of the island. Population counts approximately forty thousands. 
According to their legend long long time ago there were two Suns and the temperature was unbearable. People's life was really tough. One day Bunun couple  went to work on the field. They left their newly born son near by. As there were two Suns it was very very hot and so, after finishing work they noticed that their son has completely dried up. Grieving father took his bow and shot down one of the Suns, which became the Moon.

Hualien county is the main stone provider on entire island. All "Yuanzhumin" use stones to build their houses.
stone roof

the old school's building, Gufeng, Hualien County

Bunun practice archery and have certain archery ritual called Dear-Ear Ritual. It it held after successful hunting and, literally, involves shooting to the deer ear as the most challenging practice.

Another worldwide famous ritual is called Pasibutbut- a prayer-song for abundant millet harvest. It was discovered by a Japanese ethnologist in 1952 and is recognised by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as eight-part harmonic singing.
Sounds are meant to imitate the nature: bee buzzing, water flowing, the wind...
Only healthy adult males can participate. It is forbidden to practise it before the actual performance. There's only one shot to please the spirits, the more beautiful and harmonious the sound the more abundant the crops should be...

Above: Hunter's speech

Bunun are known among other tribes for their excellent hunting skills. This man quartered a pig quickly and skillfully.
Zhuofeng Primary School, Hualien county

trap making lesson
corn drying

Traditionally Bunun people do not drink alcohol and only ferment it for special occasions.

Women dress in black but blue colour is also very significant. Men wear white garment.

Hualien, Bunun culture poster
...and its model

The Gufeng village is situated  near YuShan National Park and its environment is simply astonishing.

The view from the building I used to live was different everyday but always same breath-taking.

one of few roads to the nearby mountain peak....

There are several attractions available in the area: hot springs, waterfalls and biking trails.... Roads are well maintained and the view - worth exercising....

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