Dili Community: Preserving traditional Bunun songs and language

By Cheryl Robbins

The overwhelming majority of residents of the Dili Community, situated in Xinyi Township of central Taiwan's Nantou County, are indigenous Bunun. The official population is around 1,000, but a much smaller number lives here year round, as mostly the young people have had to leave in search of study and employment opportunities. Many of the remaining residents carry out farming. This community is a few minutes' drive from two other Bunun communities Shuanglong and Tannan (see the Shuanglong Community: Bunun culture and waterfall and river adventures and Tannan Community: Modern graffiti, cultural revival articles in this section). It is also a short drive to the popular tourist destination, Sun Moon Lake. Thus, it is easy to spend a few days in this area enjoying its natural and cultural attractions. 


One of the highlights of a visit to this community is a performance by the Tamazuan Cultural and Arts Troupe. Tamazuan is the Bunun name of this community, Dili being its name in Chinese. A cultural center with seating and stage has been constructed to host performances by this troupe. Many of the performers are middle-aged to elderly. A few school-aged children also take part, ensuring that songs and traditions are passed on.


The performances here are not superficial or "commercial", but rather comprehensive and cultural. This troupe performs traditional working songs and ceremonial songs. It also plays traditional musical instruments. Narration is carried out to explain traditional Bunun life. Towards the end, the Pasibutbut (Prayer for a Bountiful Millet Harvest) is performed. A group of men form a circle and each emits one sound, holding the note, until all have joined in. These harmonies are inspired by the sounds of nature, such as the buzzing of bees and the sound of the wind blowing through the trees. When first recorded and played outside of Taiwan in the 1950s, it shocked the music theory world, as it is a rare example of polyphonic singing, especially in Taiwan. Regular performances are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 am and 2 pm. Tel: (049) 274-1619.


It is definitely worth taking the time to explore the community, as you are sure to meet its friendly residents. Moreover, there are a number of murals depicting various aspects of the Bunun culture. The most recent are ceramic depictions of the Bunun legend of a great flood. The waters came up to the community, and to keep warm the residents needed fire. They could see fire across the water but couldn't reach it. At first, they sent a crow to bring fire to them. The crow started to feast on floating animal carcasses in the water and forgot about its mission. Its punishment is that it is doomed to always be a scavenger. Then, a toad was sent. Although the toad tried very hard, just before reaching the community, it burned itself, resulting in blisters all over its body. Finally, the tribe's sacred bird with its signature red beak was successful.


Older murals tell of various game animals, settling of territorial disputes, the custom of "snatch" marriages and traditional ceremonies and rites. Many of these are accompanied by explanatory panels in both Chinese and English. Thus, it is easy to learn about the Bunun culture on a self-guided tour.


Many of the residents here speak the Bunun language as a habit, ensuring that language is preserved. Even Sunday service at the Presbyterian Church is mostly in the Bunun language including hymns.

There are a couple of options for staying overnight, such as a simple guesthouse near the entrance to the community. The Catholic Church runs a hostel, and it is possible to stay here for NT$250 or NT$300 per night, depending on the type of room. Tel: (049) 2741231. This large church complex has a history of 60 years, and is comprised of red brick buildings with grassy areas, trees and flowers, making it a good place to just relax.

In terms of food, there is a small eatery near the entrance to the community that stays open most of the day selling simple breakfasts (such as toast with various toppings) and lunches (noodle and rice dishes). There are also several grocery stores for purchasing snacks and beverages. If you are traveling with a group, you can arrange in advance for a buffet meal made using mostly local ingredients and more traditional indigenous fare, such as grilled pork, under the shade of a large banyan tree, at the Lang qa Recreational Farm. Tel: 0922-755804.