Skip to main content block

About the Bunun

    * * *

      The Bunun live on the two sides of the Central Mountain Range at an elevation between 1000 and 2000 meters. They are the typical mountain tribes with a current population of approximately 49,000 (data of December 20060. The society is patriarchal with a predominant system of large extended families. In some cases, a household may also include non-blood co-residents. Therefore, the traditional family houses are comparatively larger than other tribes. The annual ritual follows the calendar of millet sowing, weeding, and harvest. Especially, the "Prayer for Millet Harvest" song sung after the wedding ritual is one of the best chorus arrangements for the Basibutbut (eight-part chorus) performance.

      Manahtainga Festival (ear-shooting ceremony) is a significant rite of passage for the men in the tribes. The Bununs spread across the mountain areas of 1000 to 2000 meters above the sea level and expand into Kaohsiung County's Sanmin Township and Taitung County's Haiduan Twonship, but the earliest settlements were located in Nantou County's Renai and Sinyi Township as the majority of the population settles in the vicinity of Nantou County. Through several waves of migration, the society of Bununs expanded to the east as far as Hualien and to the south as far as the mountain areas of Kaohsiung and Taitung Counties.

    * Unique Culture *
    *Bunun's Basibutbut-Eight-part Chorus
      The Bununs practice a form of swidden agriculture; therefore, the communities scattered in a dispora style. The annual rituals for farming of crops (especially for the millets) are strictly enforced with complex ceremonies. Bunun's Basibutbut is a ceremony song sung by the Isibukun and the Takebanuad tribes in the traditional Bunun society before the Minpinan (sowing ritual) held in February every year. Due to the complexity of the music and the strictly enforced taboos, Basibutbut gave the outsiders a mysterious trait for different conjectures. The communities of the Bununs scattered over a wide expanse of space and along the creek shores. Therefore, they often sing to call upon a gathering of friends. Under the echo of the waterfalls, the Bununs developed amazing polyphonies and chorus techniques. This unique chorus style has become a treasure of the world's ethno-musicology. There was no dance in the traditional culture of the Bununs, only jumping and hopping movements used to demonstrate achievements in the battles.
    *Tooth-pulling for the Bununs
      The Bununs see tooth-pulling a rite of passage to adulthood. It is called Baindusan in the Bunun language and held as a declaration ceremony for adulthood. The Bununs hold the Baindusan at age 13 to 16 to pull the front teeth, which is special view of aesthetics in the Bunun culture.
    *Bunun's Sitting Burial
      Traditionally, the Bununs think that, once the spirit leaves the body permanently, the body is considered dead. The Bununs see death in two categories- the good and evil death. The Bununs practice a form of "sitting burial" and bury the dead inside of the house. Therefore, when a family has a deceased person, a grave approximately four feet in the cubic form is dug with minor adjustment to the dead persons size. The funeral is often held during the day and the deceased is buried facing the west (the direction of sunset). Clothing and utensils used by the deceased is also buried inside of the grave, which is covered by a stone slab. Generally, a family mourns for five days; during these five days, the family eat without alcohol and meat and refrain from cleaning the house and the bodies. The restrictions are lifted after the ritual day. Persons died from accident are considered to have had evil death. In such case, the person(s) who found the body buries the body onsite and ceremonies are held.
    * Legends of the Rituals *
    *The Manahtainga Festival (ear-shooting ceremony)
    Ear-shooting  The Manahtainga Festival (ear-shooting ceremony) is held during farming break to exhibit the men's status in the tribe and pray for abundance. The Bununs are active and aggressive hunters in the mountains.

    Therefore, the Manahtainga Festival becomes one of the major annual ceremonies for the Bununs. A deer year is hung on a branch of the ceremony altar. All boys must take a shot at the ear and the adults shoot in place for the younger boys. This activity means to pay tributes to the hunting heroes and teach the children the art of shooting. Jhuosi Township of Huanlien County holds the annual Manahtainga on April 30th. Manahtainga is celebrated by all tributes of Bunun, but the time of the ceremony differ according to the elevation of their residences. However, most of the tribes hold their Manahtainga after the weeding ritual during the break in the farming season. The time of the festival is mostly decided by the priest and usually in April.

    The adult men in the tribes prepare to go to their hunting grounds on the first quarter of the moon. They carry out a body-cleaning ritual and observe the restrictions before leaving, and the women in the tribe begin to prepare the millet brews for the return of their men. The hunters return home in the afternoon of the day before the festival, fire a shoot to the sky, and begin to sing in unity or in rounds to alert the people in the tribe. As they arrive, their family offers them the best millet brews as a token of appreciation to the hunters. The valley is filled with the joy of harvest, which soon proliferates to the whole village. After the gun ritual is completed, the crowd gathers at the spot where the jaws of the beast are placed for the Mapakvis. Only the priest and the winning hunters can participate in this ritual; all others must wait outside. After the ceremony, the tribe gathers at the ear-shooting ground, and a ceremony helper sets up the targets, which are composed of two deer ears on the upper row, two roe deer ears on the middle row, and one goat and wild boar each on the lower row. The elders announce the beginning ear-shooting and shoot the ears first before the boys take their turns. After the boys are finished, the adult men begin their rounds of shooting. The arrows must travel 50 meters to reach the target and the viewers laugh at the missed shots. In the Manahtainga Festival, women are banned from coming near or touching the hunting gears; they can only watch by the side. After ear-shooting, the Mapasitnul ritual is held and a head-count is carried out because division of the meat must be precise. Any leftover or insufficiency is deemed as ill luck. After the meat is divided in the Mapasitnul ritual, the singing, dancing, and Malastapang (achievement demonstration banquet) are held. After the feast of the hunted meat, a ritual acted upon by spraying millet brews to the bonfire and the bones of the beast is carried to expel the bad omens, which also completes the whole festival.
    *Baby Ritual
      The Baby Ritual is a prayer ritual to give blessings to the babies, which is held upon full moon on July, August, and September; therefore, the days are also called the Baby Days. The Baby Ritual is held in the family. On the day of the ritual, families that have new born babies arrived in the past year are fully dressed up for the event. The parents pray to the heaven for blessings to their baby and then place a necklace on the baby. Therefore, in the Bunun language, Mintuhtuh (Baby Ritual) also means "hanging a necklace". After the necklace ritual, the father of the baby take some millet brew with his fingers and spray it on the baby while chanting prayers for safe growth and to expel illness away. The mother chews on the roots of "gan" and smear some of the juice on the forehead of the baby as a ritual to ward off the evil spirits. Families who carry out the baby ritual invite everyone in the tribe to a banquet on the same day, so when several families hold the ritual at the same time, people in the tribe get to house-hopping from one family to another to socialize as well as share the joy. The Baby Ritual represents the parents' love for their babies and expresses the blessings from the ancestry spirits. It is a ceremony where parents present their babies to the members of the tribe. The Baby Ritual is not a regular event because it is held only when babies are born, so it is rare chance to see the ceremonies for the outsiders.
    *Minipinang- Millet Sowing Festival
      The festival is held around November and December every year before sowing of millet. It is a praying ceremony for harvest. This festival may be held within in a larger community, which is often composed of several tribes; in such case, the priest presides over the ceremonies. It may also be held within a family; in such case, the head of the household administers the ceremonies. The date of the festival is determined by dream divination. When the administer has a good dream, sowing starts on the very next day, and when the administer has a bad dream, the activities are postponed indefinitely until a good dream comes. On the day of the ritual, the administer plows a small piece of land and conducts an exorcism with leaves of slivergrass before sowing the seeds. During the ceremony, the administer waves a ceremonial object made from bones of boars and chants prayers for harvest. Following the prayers, the administer enters his home, sprays millet brews on the hoe, gathers the family to eat tarots, and sings the Pasiputput (Song of Millet Harvest) song to draw an ending to the ritual. Pasiputput is a very important ceremonial song in the Millet Sowing Festival because the Bununs think that the performance has certain connections to the harvest of millet. Therefore, the festival ends with singing of the song, meaning that all taboos of sowing end upon this point.
    * Crafts *
        The Bununs use animal skin, flex thread, and knitting yarns to tailor their costumes. Animal skins and flex threads are the most common materials in traditions and knitting yarns were introduced into the culture from the outside world. There are two types of costumes for the Bunun men: one is white based with beautiful patterns knitted on the back, which is hip-length and sleeveless worn with a undergarment and a wrapped around thong. This is often worn during rituals. Another style is black and blue based long-sleeve garment worn with a black short skirt. Costumes for women are made in the Han ethnic style and mostly in blue and black, including the skirt. Colorful patterns are woven across the chest. The Bununs has a complex system of fashion accessories, including head pieces, ear-rings, neck pieces, and bracelets, and most of them are made from shells and glass beads.