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 songs, 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.

Conducting ethnographic research and oral history recordings with Tama Biung Istanda [click to see a video of our project]

Graduate studies

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 cultures.

There was great surfing in Taiwan, and 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 centered around a special group of Bunun language speakers.

This project formed part of my post-graduate studies at Minghsin University of Science and Technology (MUST) and National Chengchi University (NCCU) in Taipei. In 2006, I received my Master's Degree from NCCU in Taiwan Studies. For more information on this program see the link at the Department of Asia-Pacific Studies.

Ethnographic video and oral history research in Taidong, Taiwan [click the photo to see my 2004 short film]

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.

Laipunuk Research Expedition  內本鹿  Taiwan Photo Journal - Dr Steven Andrew Martin

Conducting field research at Laipunuk (內本鹿) Nei Ben Lu

Laipunuk Bunun Hunter - Taiwan Photo Journal - Steven Andrew Martin

Bunun hunter in Laipunuk (內本鹿)

Bunun Hunting Taiwan Deer at 內本鹿 Laipunuk Photo Journal - Steven Andrew Martin

Taiwan deer at Laipunuk (內本鹿)

Traditional Bunun Fishing at 內本鹿 Laipunuk Photo Journal - Steven Andrew Martin

Fishing at Laipunuk (內本鹿)

The last refuge of an indigenous peoples

In my research, I refer to Laipunuk as the last frontier of the Bunun

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 below.

Location and geography of Laipunuk (內本鹿), Taiwan [click for full HD] © Steven Martin

2006 Laipunuk Bunun expedition team posing in front of a Taiwan yellow cypress [click for full HD]

Ethnographic recording in Taidong of Bunun oral history [click to see video]

Detailed map of Laipunuk (內本鹿) illustrating the Japanese trail and our 2006 research expedition [click for full HD]

Rare photo of a Bunun couple in Laipunuk taken in 1932 [click to view – see p. 89]

Taiwan Photo Journal - Laipunuk - Steven Andrew Martin

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

Laipunuk Field Research - Dr Steven Andrew Martin - Taiwan Photo Journal

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

Tommie Williamson in Taiwan making ethnographic film - Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation - Steven martin

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

Research articles and scholarly presentations

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.

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 (IJAS), 7(1) 123–142. Retrieved from http://ijaps.usm.my/?page_id=508 (accessed April 5, 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. Retrieved from http://jis.fis.psu.ac.th/images/jis_file/JIS_Vol1_No2/JIS_Vol.1_No.2_6.pdf (accessed January 15, 2017).

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 museology. Proceedings of the 2014 International Conference on Formosan Indigenous peoples: Contemporary Perspectives (p. 89). Taipei, Taiwan, ROC, September 15–17.   

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.

Thank you for visiting my Taiwan photo journal page.

Steven A. Martin