An Introduction to the Bunun

(1) Origins of the Bunun

     "Bunun" means "people". The Bunun, a headhunting people, were tough, unified, and hostile to outsiders. They were known during the Qing Dynasty as the "Red Head Tribe".

     With two large-scale displacements in their history, the Bunun are the most nomadic of Taiwan's aborigines. During the 18th century, the Bunun residing in Nantou County relocated. One group went east to Chuohsi and Wanung Hsiangs in Hualien and then again on to Haituan and Yenping Hsiangs in Taitung. The other group followed the Central Mountain Range south to Sanmin and Tauyuan Hsiangs in Kaohsiung and to the mountainous region of Haituan Hsiang in Taitung.
(2) Tribe Distribution

     The Bunun, with a population of about 40,000 members, can be found south of Puli and east of the Central Mountain Range. Living in tribal societies at elevations above 1000 meters, the Bunun are a typical highland people. The majority of the Bunun currently live in Nantou, Hualien, Taitung, and Kaohsiung Counties. The largest concentration of Bunun today is in Hsinyi Hsiang, Nantou County. The second largest is in Chuohsi Hsiang of Hualien County. Other groups are located in Taoyuan Hsiang, Kaohsiung County and Haituan Hsiang of Taitung County.

     Bunun society is patriarchal and communal. Capable people are recommended for selection as leaders. The Bunun are currently comprised of five major communes, all located in Nantou, including the Chuo, Chun, Ka, Dan, and Man. In addition to these, historical records show another commune, called the Lan that has already been assimilated.

     There are three important positions in Bunun tribes, including a priest, responsible for carrying out agricultural rites; another individual in charge of the "Ear Shooting Ceremony", and the third that functions as political and military leader.

(3) A Sketch of Modern Life

     In 1968, the defeat of Japan's All-Star Team 7-0 at the hands of the Hongye (Red Leaf) team of Taiwan's Youth Baseball League caused celebration over Taiwan. The team was made up of young Bunun from Hongye Village in Yenping Hsiang, Taitung County.

     In addition to their athletic successes, the Bunun have other worthy cultural and musical accomplishments, including their own writing system, an assortment of musical instruments, including the wuyin, kouhuangqin, and gongqin. They are also the originators of eight-part harmony.

     In 1952, Kurosawa Takakiyo, a Japanese music scholar, mailed a recording of the Bunun's "Millet Harvest Song" to UNESCO. The recording brought about changes in the standing viewpoint of the origins of music.

     Theories of the time regarding the development of music stated that music progressed from single notes, to two-part harmony, and finally to more complicated harmony. Not only did their complex harmony "put the Bunun on the map" internationally, it rewrote the history of music.