The Bunun people, Taiwan’s indigenous mountaineers, have wended their way through the mountains of central Taiwan for untold centuries. Bunun poet and scholar Salizan, who has trekked with the rangers for decades, dives deeply into their culture, expertise, and troubled history through the colonial era.
The Bunun people, Taiwan’s indigenous mountaineers, have wended their way through the mountains of central Taiwan for untold centuries. For growing numbers of enthusiastic amateur mountaineers, the Bunun are skilled guides and porters who sustain long expeditions in this now-popular pastime. Yet in this book, Bunun poet Salizan takes us deeper into the culture, the accreted wisdom, and the troubled history of his own people over the past century.
A veteran backpacker himself, Salizan presents many of his expeditions as narrative backgrounds for scholarly (and sometimes deeply personal) investigations of Bunun culture, mountaineering expertise, and colonial history. Through his writer’s eyes we see the ancient trails dug through the mountains by the Qing armies, the Japanese colonists, and eventually the modern Taiwanese government, while following the actions and reactions of the Bunun rangers and guides who made those projects happen.
As Salizan’s backpacking team follows old, sometimes overrun mountain trade routes, they run across emblems of the past – stone houses, changing natural environments, destroyed landmarks, and more – that find themselves alive once more in the accounts of the rangers. The reader, following these material and oral histories like stepping across river stones, (re)discovers the Bunun as an adapting population, responding to collaborative and oppressive forces as all civilizations do, while attempting to preserve the expertise that their mountaineering ancestors bequeathed to them.