As soon as the man with the top-knot hairstyle dropped us off at the entry to the Bunan farm he took off to join in a performance. We left our bags and followed close behind, where other members of the tribe, wearing similar embroidered outfits, began a program of traditional Bunan singing and dance.
The Bunan tribe is one of sixteen indigenous tribes of Taiwan and while I am no expert on their traditions and ceremonies I can tell you one thing for certain: they are beautiful singers:
Many of the songs were polyphonic and, I think, a bit improvised. There was a sort of MC at the performance we attended but we couldn’t understand him so we didn’t know the nature of each ceremony.
The most well known type of Bunan singing goes by the extremely pleasing name Pasibutbut.
Pasibutbut is performed by male singers facing each other in a circle. Slowly they each pick up one of four threads of the polyphonic harmony. The eerie and gorgeous sound makes the annual millet harvest more productive. (We tried to make a video but the annoying MC was talking over it and rather ruins the effect).
The performers at the Bunan farm ranged in age from three to about thirty. Notice the little girl with her tongue out on the left side of the photo above? She was adorably cheeky.
A two year old from the audience was so moved by the performance that he had to join in. Little dude has a future in dance—he picked up the choreography and fit right in with the rest of the dancers.
After the performance the kids mingled about mugging cameras and playing soccer in their ceremonial outfits.
For the rest of our stay we explored the Bunan farm and surrounding village. I wasn’t sure what to expect at the farm, located in a village outside of Taichung, on the Southeast side of Taiwan. I learned of the farm from from the blogger and author Richard Saunders (you should read his blog and buy his books about Taiwan) and my Mandarin-speaking sister in law made arrangements for us to stay. It felt like equal parts working farm, indigenous cultural center, and summer camp.
These carved chairs were in front of our cabin-style room.
Bunan weaver at work. The finished products, along with other Bunan farm-produced crafts and food, were for sale at the on site gift shop.
While I had anticipated the beautiful music of the Bunan people, I was not prepared for the excellent quality of their wood carving.
The carved sculptures were scattered about the farm.
Much of the work featured hunting and agricultural themes.
I was especially charmed by carvings of round-mouthed faces hidden in vegetation.
Outside of the farm the view was lovely with interesting trees that I don’t know the names of so I’ll call them the Huggy Huggy Trees.
HOB and I ate a light picnic for dinner which was a good plan since we were served an enormous breakfast of traditional foods the following morning.
We were privileged to stay with the Bunan on their farm and to watch their ceremonial performances. While I am always in love with people who cultivate their traditional culture, the Bunan are especially admirable for not only preserving their culture, but for doing so in a way that provides jobs and autonomy for their people. Around 100 tribal members are employed by the farm, which draws day trippers and overnight guests from around Taiwan. This is not a scrappy operation (and not a particularly low budget destination either). The Bunan farm is a business model that meshes authentic indigenous culture with leisure tourism.
Respect to the Bunan people and their lovely landscape, sculpture and song.
How we got to Taoyuan Village: train from Tainan to Taitung followed by a second train from Taitung to Luye.
Where we slept: at the Bunan Farm. Price: €91 for a double (includes performance and shuttle to and from the train station). Recommended: yes.