Bunun hunting and millet cultures in the East Rift Valley
By Cheryl Robbins
The section of East Rift Valley that runs through southeastern Taiwan's Taitung County is home to several indigenous tribes including the Bunun. The Bunun people once lived high (above 1,000 meters) in the Central Mountain Range, but were forced to lower elevations by the Japanese during their occupation of Taiwan (1895-1945) to better control their movements or in the aftermath of typhoon damage.
Although now in closer proximity to mainstream cultures and lifestyles, the Bunun have been working hard to preserve their language and ways of life, including their traditional ceremonies related to hunting and the growing of millet, once a staple grain.
Once rice was introduced by Han Chinese immigrants, it gradually replaced millet. However, in recent years, there has been a revival of millet culture and growing. Although there are many indigenous Bunun communities in Taitung County that are well worth visiting, two are introduced here.
Near the Luye Plateau and tea growing areas is the Bunun community of Yongkang, located in Yanping Township of Taitung County. In fact, the Taiping Mountain paragliding jump off point is located just above this community, with the landing area at the Luye Plateau. From the summit of this mountain, it is possible to see to the Pacific Ocean.
This community has around 360 residents, although not all live here full time, as most indigenous communities are suffering from an exodus of young people, due to lack of study and employment opportunities. Those that remain are working to develop the community's tourism. Much of this effort is concentrated in and around a traditional-style bamboo and thatch structure that is the Uninang Cultural Workshop. Local residents serve as guides, leading visitors on a tour of the community and explaining its various murals and sites, such as the ceremonial grounds and a centuries-old tree.
Visitors can try their skill at archery or the making of moichi, a sticky rice dessert. They can also put on traditional Bunun clothing and pose for souvenir photos and sample healthy cuisine made from local and traditional ingredients. Some of the families in this community have opened their homes to guests, allowing visitors the chance to spend a longer time in this quiet, rural community and to interact with local residents. Tel: 0933-495730 or 0988-815808
The Bunun community of Kanding is located in Haiduan Township of Taitung County, but is actually in the foothills just above the center of Guanshan Town. Thus, it is very accessible. Here, the Kaiana Workshop highlights millet culture. As millet is harvested, it is grouped into bunches. These bunches are placed onto a flat, woven basket and the grains are separated by rubbing them with bare feet. Then, the husks are removed using a wooden pestle and mortar. A flat basket is moved up and down in the direction of the wind to allow the husks to be blown away. As the desired part of the millet is heavier, it is left behind. Then, the millet grains are cooked to make a thick porridge. Following a demonstration by the family that runs this workshop, visitors can try each of these steps themselves.
In this community live several accomplished hunters. Some hunt using packs of dogs and antique rifles, while others are proficient in the use of traps and snares. Jiang (his Bunun name) is one such hunter. He explains how to build a simple trap using a piece of slate and sticks. This is for catching small animals, such as birds and mice. Large wire snares are for deer and wild boar. The wild boar snare only catches this animal by the leg. The hunter must finish the job using a spear. Following Jiang's demonstrations, visitors can try making a trap and a snare themselves.
There is one guesthouse in this community, named Da Lu Han. Its owner is a community guide and can arrange tours. Tel: 089-813351; 0911-734158