2000 Who's shooting on the Mountain? --- ritual songs of the Bunun tribe
In the former days, the Bunun tribe was an agricultural and hunting society, and millet was their major food. As a result, rites marking the seasons for farming activities were particularly emphasized. Before the sowing of millet seedlings in January and February, the villagers had to practice appropriate rituals: offering sacrifices to the land, exorcising evil spirits or malignant forces, transplanting-test, dining together, singing the prayer song for good harvest, etc.
The prayer song for good millet harvest is the most important ritual song for the seedling rite. The Bunun tribe believes that the harvest of the year depends on how well the song is chanted. From beginning to the end, the song proceeds with grave solemnity. But the prayer song also concludes the whole seedling rite, after which all taboos and restrictions are lifted.
Of all Bunun rites over the year, the grandest and the only one that's open to visitors is the Ear Shooting Rite. Held usually in April or May after the tribesmen return from their hunting expedition, the rite starts around three o'clock in the morning and all the men and boys have to attend. Ears of the animals they have caught, usually sambhars, are cut off and hung on wood boards beforehand. When the rite begins, the seniors teach the boys how to use bow and arrow and aim at the animal ears, an exercise to train the boys into brave and skillful hunters when they grow up.
But the Ear Shooting Rite is more than an exercise of archery for the tribesmen. It is also a display of strength over the enemies, and a tribute to wildlife and weapons, forging solidarity across the tribe. It is not only a religious fiesta, but also an occasion for social education and economic-political functions.
Farming rites of aborigines in Taiwan share a common characteristic: they all center on millet. Other peoples of the Austronesian language family have rituals for rootstock crops; but very rarely are millet rituals as prevalent as among aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. From the seedling to harvesting, there are a series of farming rituals to observe, which reflect the particular emphasis the Bunun tribe places on farming. In the past, farming rituals or restrictions could last up to a whole month.
The Bunun tribe endows great importance to the waxing and waning of the moon, which they believe is linked to the growing of crops and the fate of man. Prayer rites for good harvest or reproduction are held in nights of the full or nearly full moon (wishing that the harvest will be as full as the moon); rites for weeding or ridding of pests, on the other hand, are held when there is a thin old moon (so that the weeds or pests will disappear as fast as the moon). But the date for the rites are decided by divination of the sorcerer as well as by the moon. Bunun rituals are related to both the sun and the moon, as explained in the following legend. There were once two suns in the sky, scorching the earth relentlessly with no changes in day or month. Then a Bunun tribesman, carrying a child on his back and bow and arrow in his hands, set off east to fight the suns. He moved on year after year and climbed mountain after mountain; finally he found an opportune moment and, shielded with mountain palm leaves, shot one of the suns. The injured sun was going to take out his rage on the Bunun tribe, but changed his mind when he learned of the plight of the people, promising that there would never be two suns in the sky. The sun that was shot turned into the moon, adding night to day on the earth. Then the moon taught the Bunun tribe rituals of the seasons. From then on, the people always observe farming rites according to the waxing and waning of the moon.
The Bunun always described themselves as people without dance. All their music is performed with vocal chorus, occasionally accompanied by instruments, but never with lyrics.
An outsider may find Bunun music repetitive and unvarying. To the Bunun tribespeople, however, the difficulty of bunun tu sintusaus will not dawn on you until you start singing it. Although the melodies consist of combinations and overtones of only four notesˇXdo, mi. sol, doˇXthe greatest difficulty lies in how to achieve unspoken harmony among various parts, and masterly fusion of the vowels into music. Without set dances to the music, the singers move their bodies rhythmically, in time to their own breathing, to the flowing and overlapping octave accords. They have to know how to raise the next note, how to move the next step, so that their voice, body, form and movement will merge into a harmonious unity. Those troupe members who have learned Sima Tisbung Baav (Who Was Shooting on the Hills?), a Bunun musical production, certainly understand best that to know is one thing and to do is another. The ultimate beauty of the Bunun music lies in its vocal harmony, a perfect unity of the singer, Nature and the supernatural. The troupe's production is based on Bunun music of Mingde and Luona villages in Nantou countyˇXthat is, the music styles of Jun and Luan communities supplemented by the songs of Dan, Ka and Zhuo communities. In a way, the performance covers the whole singing repertoire of the Bunun tribe. A prelude of Bunun myth of the moon is followed by an epic of vocal harmony, recounting the seasons of the year and the sequenctial farming rituals of the tribe. It is an ode to the deep connection between the Bunun and Mother Earth, a celebration of the potential of mankind.