Tannan Community: Modern graffiti, cultural revival

By Cheryl Robbins

The Tannan Community is located in Xinyi Township of Nantou County in central Taiwan. In Chinese, Tannan literally means "south of the lake" referring to its geographical proximity (about 20 minutes by car) to the popular tourist destination Sun Moon Lake.

In 2015, graffiti artists from around Taiwan and the world came to this sleepy hillside community to create murals on the walls of homes and other buildings as part of the POW! WOW! Taiwan festival. POW! WOW! is a global network of artists that come together to participate in gallery shows, lecture series, mural projects and live art installations. The main venue is in Hawaii, but events have also been organized in other areas of the US, as well as in Taiwan, Israel, Singapore, Jamaica, New Zealand and Germany. This high quality artwork has remained somewhat of a secret, but for those interested in contemporary murals, this is a must-see destination.


Most of the residents of this community are from the indigenous Bunun tribe, which once dwelled in areas of significantly higher elevation. However, to squash resistance efforts and better control the movements of the Bunun people, the Japanese forced them down to lower elevation areas, such as this one, during their occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945).

A community tour involves walking up and down steep roadways. A good place to start is at the Tannan Elementary School. The design of this school was based on the traditional Bunun slate house and watchtower. Its total student body numbers 60 from kindergarten through sixth grade, and most are involved in extracurricular arts and cultural activities, such as the school's percussion and dance groups. With advance reservation, visitors can put their artistic talent to use, as they paint stones collected from the nearby Zhuoshui River. Before deciding on a theme, they gain inspiration by learning about various traditional Bunun patterns and motifs. 



From the elementary school, walk uphill to view some of the graffiti art, as well as ceramic murals of Bunun legends and traditional rites and ceremonies. Continue upward until the road ends at the Tannan Catholic Church. This is the highest elevation church in Nantou County. Even before the building comes into view, a white statue of Jesus appears on a hillside, His arms spread outward, bringing to mind the Christ the Redeemer statute overlooking Rio de Janeiro. A glass wall allows natural light into the small sanctuary. On the other walls are paintings of the final events of Jesus' life including His crucifixion. His followers are shown in the traditional clothing of Taiwan's indigenous tribes, creating unique interpretations of these events.


Heading back, pass the elementary school and patrol station to reach "Hunter's Home". This is based on the increasingly popular concept of "hunters' schools" in indigenous communities, which provide information about and the chance to experience various aspects of traditional indigenous life. An exhibition room has been created by a local hunter filled with cultural artifacts and items such as tobacco pipes, hunting rifles, weaving loom, baskets, and hunting knives. In addition, there are rows of deer antlers and wild boar skulls. This hunter uses these items to describe traditional Bunun culture. Outside this exhibition room, he demonstrates how Bunun hunters set traps and snares. There is also an archery area where visitors can test their prowess with a bow and arrow.


Across from the exhibition room is a covered area with tables and benches. Here, lunch can be served with advance reservation. Local ingredients are used, such as cultivated pumpkin, sweet red pepper and bamboo shoots. Dishes can include steamed fish with magao (mountain peppercorn, a traditional indigenous spice), roast chicken, and stewed pork. Wild greens are also served and in this community is an area for wild greens education and collection.


All in all, Tannan is a peaceful, hillside community full of artistic and cultural surprises that can be easily combined with a visit to beautiful Sun Moon Lake.