The Bunun People of Taiwan

The Bunun are a group of people indigenous to Taiwan. Their tribe is well-known for vocal traditions and song. I spent time in Taiwan, teaching English and travelling. Any moment I had the opportunity to escape city life and head to the hills, I took it. Indigenous culture, art and music stirs a curiosity within me. During my time in Taiwan, I learned about these cultures and traditions.

The Bunun tribe are the fourth largest aboriginal tribe in Taiwan. They are well known for their eight-part polyphonic singing, and speak Bunun. According to the Bunun people, humans came into existence from a gourd which fell from heaven and split. This created the first man and the first woman. The Bunun were well known for being warriors and hunters — living in Taiwan’s Central Mountain Range. Due to the arrival of Christian missionaries in the 20th century and Japanese rule between 1895–1945, the Bunun people were resettled in lowland villages. This created a shift from their family social structure in the mountains, to more individualised living. Hunting was banned and rice agriculture introduced. By the 1940’s, many aborigines were converted to Christianity. Then, in 1945, when the Chinese Nationalist Kuomintang entered Taiwan, cultural languages were banned. People were forced to speak Mandarin Chinese. Sadly, the Bunun culture eroded due to these pressures.

I spent some time exploring the region of Hualien and learning about art and music from indigenous people in this area. I spent an evening talking with a woman from the Amis tribe. She poured her heart out, expressing her pain and anguish about her culture. She expressed the challenges of living in modern-day Taiwan as an aboriginal woman, the lack of jobs and opportunities. But most distressing was her feeling of deep sadness over the history of her people.

It was an eye-opener to learn about indigenous culture across Taiwan. I am deeply inspired by the art and music of many of these people. Traditionally, there is a deep connection to the earth, nature and wildlife — which emanates from their craft. But I am also burdened by many of their stories. We are all sharing this planet — one that does not have infinite resources. Indigenous cultures and communities who believe in respecting the planet can teach us all so much. Many of these people work in harmony with the natural world, as opposed to against it. In an era of climate change, mass poverty, homelessness and vast world conflict, surely we can learn some valuable lessons from these communities. Isn’t it about time humans learned to treat each other with compassion?

Writing about feelings