Over the weekend I visited the Bunun community of Kalibuan (Wangxiang, 望鄉部落) with a group of students from Providence University and National Chengchi University. The first stop on the way was a small museum in Xinyi Township of Nantou County. The museum contains a range of materials related to Bunun culture.
The picture above shows a reconstruction of a traditional slate house in the museum. There are also some items related to hunting and farming and a reproduction of a Bunun calendar. The Bunun were the only group of Austronesian people in Taiwan to develop a writing system. The calendar contains information about phases of the moon, hunting, farming activities and significant events like births or marriages. The knowledge about making the calendars was only held by a few families.
On the first day in the village of Wangxiang we learnt about the farming activities. The main crops grown in the village are village are plums and grapes. Grapes are mainly grown by people from outside the community. The land is classified as baoliudi (保留地) which can only be sold to indigenous people. However, illegal deals are used by outsiders to gain control of the land.
Neqo Soqluman, pictured on the left above, is one of my colleagues at Providence University. On the right is Dina Ibu, an elder in the community. They are part of a group that established the Tongku Saveq School to teach people about the traditional knowledge and culture of the Bunun. They have set aside some land in the village for traditional farming and seed saving. They enthusiastically introduced some of the many seeds they have planted on the land. Most of the seeds were varieties of beans.
On Sunday morning I woke up to see this view of Taiwan’s highest peak. Most people in Taiwan call it Jade Mountain (玉山), but the Bunun people call it Tongku Saveq. The Bunun people were moved to this area by the Japanese in 1938. One of the conditions for moving to the new village was that they would be able to see the peak of Tongku Saveq. The Chinese name of the village, Wangxiang (望鄉), means “the place with a view.”
The second day, Tiang, a hunter from the community led us along the hunting trail. A large group wandering along in the day time is unlikely to meet many animals. Tiang showed us some plants in the forest and also talked about some of the plant-animal interactions. His knowledge of the forest was quite extraordinary. He also told many stories about his experiences while hunting.
Another special thing about visiting Kalibuan was the singing. The Bunun are famous for their eight part harmony singing. While we didn’t get to hear this we heard a number of songs that sounded truly wonderful. It was a great weekend getting to know more about Bunun culture.