Gan Zhaowen, MA , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
This twenty-minute video interview with Topas Tamapima (Chinese name Tian Yage) comes from footage compiled by documentary filmmaker Lee Daw-ming. The same interview also appeared as part of a longer public television documentary entitled Eternal Tribe, Part Three: The Last Hunter.
Living mostly on the two flanks of the Central Mountain Range, the Bunun people are Taiwan’s most widely dispersed indigenous population. The Bunun are a traditionally patriarchal society, and although they have not adopted a tribal class structure based on a single leader or aristocratic rule, the authority of male tribal elders is paramount. Vertical and horizontal alliances between clans within the tribe have gradually produced a complex organizational structure. The Bunun people have received widespread attention for their cultural heritage—their consummate hunting culture, eight-part musical harmony, and festival calendar—as well as for their witchcraft and advanced millet-growing techniques.
The Bunun are also a “people of the moon,” as almost all the seasonal calendars, traditional festivals, and religious ceremonies passed down from their ancestors are closely connected to the waxing and waning of the moon. For the Bunun, the full moon represents the rich and fertile time of harvest; when the moon is full, it is the perfect time to hold ceremonies offering thanks to the gods. The crescent moon, by contrast, is a sign of deficiency; when it appears, tribespeople must perform rites to rid their land of worms and weeds, so as to purify and enhance the spiritual order.
In this interview, Topas Tamapima first gives a brief account of the special features and basic linguistic and cultural traits of the various Bunun tribes. These include food-related customs, types of dwellings, and the way tribal traditions have changed over time in the midst of Taiwan’s mainstream (Han) culture. Topas Tamapima explains how, as an ethnic minority, the Bunun have had to adapt (or react) to the impact of other cultures in order to preserve their own “indigenous” character. This is the biggest challenge currently facing the Bunun people and all the indigenous peoples of Taiwan.
Topas Tamapima uses the example of his own educational experiences. He has continually asked himself why the officially prescribed school textbooks do not make the slightest reference to Bunun culture and why the beautiful and moving traditional stories of the Bunun people have yet to enter academia. These provocative questions later turned into a source of inspiration and gradually sowed the seeds for Topas Tamapima’s writing.
Present-day Bunun people face certain strictures and are no longer able to race through the mountain forests or live as hunters in the manner of their ancestors. But Topas Tamapima hopes to create an illuminating fusion of imagination and knowledge, drawing on ancient tribal myths, the lives of Bunun elders, and the subtleties of his mother tongue, and in doing so pass down a written version of Bunun culture to future generations.