Taiwan

Taiwan

AMONG THE HEADHUNTERS OF LAIPUNUK (內本鹿) – THE LAST REFUGE OF THE TAIWAN ABORIGINES

The remote, high-mountain jungle valley of Laipunuk, in the inaccessible mountains of southern Taiwan, is the home of the Bunun tribe, the last Taiwanese headhunters.

I lived with the Bunun tribespeople for five years, recording their ways of life, their music, their traditions and their histories, as part of an oral ethnography project.

Taiwan is the source of the centuries-long process of the peopling of the Pacific, the so-called “Pacific Rainbow” that maps the migration of peoples, materials and languages across the islands of the Pacific, from Taiwan all the way across to Hawaii (see Figure 1 below).

Visit: ECAI Pacific Language Mapping

Tama Biung Istanda 1917–2017 | Bunun tribe, southern Taiwan | Click to visit my Ethnographic Research and Film Page

Source: ECAI Pacific Language Mapping | Distribution of the Austronesian Language Family and Major Subgroupings | Click to enlarge

Stone Pillars of the Peinan Cultural Period | c. 3000 BP | Click to enlarge

Graduate Studies at National Chengchi University

In 2003, I studied abroad at Minghsin University of Science and Technology (MUST), and at the National Chengchi University (NCCU) Mandarin Language Center in Taipei, Taiwan. Soon after, I applied for Graduate school at NCCU and received a prestigious Taiwan Scholarship.

Having lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for twenty-five years, I felt a personal connection to Taiwan, naming it the other Big Island. The two islands share the ancient and mysterious Pacific Ocean legacy of Austronesian-speaking peoples; and both islands have great surfing.

Within a few months of arriving, I was lucky enough to meet filmmaker Tommie Williamson who invited me to Taidong on the southeastern coast of the island to participate in an oral ethnography project. The work centered around a special group of Bunun language speakers, one of Taiwan's 16 indigenous cultures.

This project formed part of my post-graduate studies at NCCU, and in 2006, I received my Master's Degree in Taiwan Studies. For more information on this program follow the links here for College of Social Sciences, and Department of Asia-Pacific Studies.

2006 | Receiving my Master of Arts diploma from the president of National Chengchi University, Taiwan, ROC

The Research

The research focused on Bunun family members who were born in or near a remote high-mountain jungle valley in southern Taiwan called Laipunuk (內本鹿).

For five years I participated in ethnographic filmmaking and translation of this family's heart-felt stories of their mountain home.

I heard the tribe’s oral histories of the arrival of Japanese forces in 1895 after the treaty of Shimonosheki, and the forced resettlement of the Bunun from their mountain homes to the lowlands near Taidong on Taiwan's east coast.

Their story is as fascinating as it is tragic. Once I got to know this family, including Tama Biung, one of the last living headhunters in Taiwan, I found myself deeply involved in the project of recording and translating their stories for the world.

Ethnographic video and oral history research in Taidong, Taiwan

2006 | Conducting field research at Laipunuk | 內本鹿 Nei Ben Lu

Bunun hunter in Laipunuk 內本鹿

Taiwan deer at Laipunuk 內本鹿

Fishing at Laipunuk 內本鹿

The Last Refuge of an Indigenous People

In my research, I refer to Laipunuk as the last frontier of the Bunun, when in fact is was actually the final refuge of a marginalized people who experienced rapid and forced integration into a dominant foreign culture – spelling the end of the life the Bunun and neighboring tribal peoples had known for centuries.

Nevertheless, the remoteness of the region, coupled with the late arrival of Japanese forces compared to the rest of Taiwan, afforded the Bunun children of the 1930s a traditional indigenous way of life. The boys learned hunting skills from their fathers, and the girls learned weaving and food-gathering from their mothers.

Their stories are the last of their kind, and it was an immense privilege to have the opportunity to document their lives.

Reference links to maps, videos, and a list of my recent publications are provided throughout this journal, on my Ethnographic Research and Film page, and in the reference list at the bottom of this page.

Location and geography of Laipunuk 內本鹿 Taiwan © Steven Martin | Click to enlarge

2006 Laipunuk Bunun expedition team posing in front of a Taiwan yellow cypress | Click to enlarge

Ethnographic recording in Taidong of Bunun oral history

Map of Laipunuk 內本鹿 2006 | Japanese trail and our research expedition

Rare photo of a Bunun couple in Laipunuk taken in 1932

A dangerous trek along the Japanese cordon trail at Laipunuk in 2005

Steven Martin (left) and Dahu Istanda (right) during our 2005 Laipunuk field research expedition

Tommie Williamson (1955-2017) at the Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation

Our team on the way to Laipunuk 內本鹿 Nei Ben Lu | 2006

Next generation Bunun explore their ancestral homeland of Laipunuk (內本鹿) in southern Taiwan

20th Anniversary of Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines

In 2014, Dr. Steven Martin was invited to Taipei to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines in cooperation with Academia Sinica, the foremost research institute in Taiwan, ROC. The Museum offered Steven a place in their upcoming publication, a book to commemorate their 20th anniversary: Religion, Law and State: Cultural Re-invigoration in the New Age.

After three years of communication and collaboration, the Museum’s book has been published and is now available to English and Chinese readers.

Steven’s research was focused on the remote, high-mountain jungle valley of Laipunuk (內本鹿), in the inaccessible mountains of southern Taiwan, home of the Bunun tribe, the last Taiwanese headhunters.

Having lived with the Bunun tribespeople for five years, he recorded their ways of life, their songs, their traditions and their histories, as part of an oral ethnography project.

Their stories are the last of their kind, and it was an immense privilege to have the opportunity to document their lives.”

According to Steven, “Taiwan is the source of the centuries-long process of the peopling of the Pacific, the so-called ‘Pacific Rainbow’ that maps the migration of peoples, materials and languages across the islands of the Pacific, from Taiwan all the way across to Hawaii.”

Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines – Opening Ceremony of the 2014 International Conference on Formosan Indigenous Peoples

Recent Papers and Presentations

Martin, S. A., & Blundell, D. (2017). Cultural continuum among the Bunun of Laipunuk (Nei Ben Lu), southern Taiwan (pp. 215–246). In H. Chang and A. Mona [C. Tsai] (Eds.), Religion, law and state: Cultural re-invigoration in the new age. Shung Ye Museum of Formosan Aborigines and SMC: Taipei.

Martin, S. A., & Blundell, D. (2014). A new trial for the journey home to the Bunun villages of old Laipunuk, Taiwan: Contextualizing island Formosa through cultural heritage, digital mapping, and museologyProceedings of the 2014 International Conference on Formosan Indigenous peoples: Contemporary Perspectives (p. 89). Taipei, Taiwan, ROC, September 15–17.

Martin, S. A. (2011). Laipunuk (Nei Ben Lu)—The last frontier of the Taiwan aborigines during the Japanese occupation on Taiwan: Ethnographic narratives of a Bunun elder. The International Journal of Asia Pacific Studies (IJAPS), 7(1) 123–142. Retrieved from http://ijaps.usm.my/?page_id=508 (accessed November 25, 2017).

Martin, S. A. (2011). Rebuilding mama’s house—An ethnohistorical reconstruction and homecoming of the Bunun on Taiwan. Journal of International Studies, 1(2) 61–78. Phuket, Thailand: Faculty of International Studies, Prince of Songkla University.

Martin, S. A. (2010). Laipunuk (Nei Ben Lu)—The last frontier of the Bunun during the Japanese occupation on Taiwan: Ethnographic narratives of an Isbukun elder. Scholarly presentation [PowerPoint]. 3rd Annual PSU Phuket Conference: Multidisciplinary Studies on Sustainable Development. Nov. 17–19. Prince of Songkla University, Phuket, Thailand.

I hope you enjoyed my Taiwan Learning Adventure Page.

Please visit my Ethnographic Research page to learn more about this topic.

Thank You.

–Steven Martin