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2021 Taiwan Bunun Indigenous Music & Film Festival Comes to Michigan in October

  • Date:2021-10-01

In order to share and celebrate the unique music and culture of Taiwanese indigenous people, the 2021 Taiwan Bunun Indigenous Music and Film Festival will take place from October 13 through October 27, boasting a variety of in person and virtual programs in Michigan and across the U.S. All of the events are free and open to the public.

The Bunun tribe is the fourth largest of Taiwan's indigenous groups. Like other indigenous groups around the world, the Bunun's music plays an essential role in their daily lives. Therefore, the festival will kick off with a 60-minute online musical titled Listen to Bunun (聆聽布農). The show will be performed by the National Chinese Orchestra Taiwan and Bunun tribal members. Through a Bunun elder’s recollection, Listen to Bunun tells the history of the Bunun people, including generations of joys and sorrows, ethnic disputes, and emotional entanglements among the Bununs and their neighboring tribes, as well as the arrival of Han Chinese people since the 17th century and the Japanese colonization of Taiwan for 50 years.

Of all the Bunun vocal performances, the most renowned repertoire is the Pasibutbut — an eight-part polyphony sung as a sacred prayer for the millet harvest. While singing, all singers attentively listen to each other to match even the most subtle of changes. In 1952, Japanese musicologist Takatomo Kurosawa (黑澤隆朝) presented his research paper on the Bunun's vocal music tradition to UNESCO, drawing international attention to Taiwan's indigenous cultures. During the festival, several panels and lectures will be available online for those who would like to learn more about the Bunun’s music and culture.

Three films, including two documentaries (Sing it (唱歌吧!) and Sing it+ (不只唱歌吧!)) and one feature (Listen Before You Sing(聽見歌 再唱)), all directed by Chih-Lin Yang (楊智麟), will also be played in different venues in Michigan. Sing it and Sing it+ document the inspiring journey of a group of Bunun kids who found their passion through singing. Listen Before You Sing is an adaption of the two documentaries, centering on a school which caters almost exclusively to a dwindling indigenous Bunun community and faces threat of closure. Eventually, it enters a singing contest to avoid being shut down.

As one of the “Spotlight Taiwan” projects supported by Taiwan's Ministry of Culture, the festival is organized by the Michigan Taiwanese American Organization (MiTAI), in collaboration with the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL), the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (DIA), Oakland University Taiwan Week (OU), and the University of Michigan-Flint (UM-Flint), as well as the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments and the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies (LRCCS) at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

For more information, please visit MiTAI’s official website or Facebook page:;

Dates and Venues (subject to change)

Musical: Listen to Bunun
October 13-27 via DIA YouTube Channel or
*Online only

Documentary Films: Sing It and Sing It+
October 14, 12:00 pm at Oakland Center, OU
*In-person only
*With a Q&A session

International Panel Discussion: Bunun’s Music and Culture
October 14, 7:00 pm via DIA StreamYard Live
*Online only
*With a Q&A session

This is an across the ocean panel discussion that features panelists in Michigan (Larry Baranski, DIA Director of Public Programming, and Daniel Birchok, Professor in Anthropology at the University of Michigan-Flint) and panelists in Taiwan (Film Director Chih-Lin Yang; Mr. Guo-Ching Wang, Bunun Chief and General Manager; Ms. Shiu-Lan Chuan, Bunun Dou-Ling, and Art&Music Lead).

Feature Film: Listen Before You Sing (North American Premiere)
October 17, 2:00 pm at Downtown Library, AADL
*In-person only

October 19, 12:00 pm at Oakland Center, OU
*In-person only

October 21, 6:00 pm at Kiva Auditorium, UM-Flint
*In-person only
*With a post-screening international panel discussion. The panelists are director Chih-Lin Yang and Sarah Pattison, Associate Director of Global Engagement, UM-Flint in Michigan.

Lecture: Chance and Intent: Bunun’s Pasibutbut
October 19-27 via DIA YouTube Channel 

The lecture is delivered by Professor Rung-Shun Wu, Ph.D., former Dean of the School of Music, Taipei National University of the Arts, introducing the Taiwanese indigenous Bunun tribe’s story of culture, music, and Pasibutbut.

Lecture: Music and Instruments of the Bunun People of Taiwan
October 20, 6:00p.m. Live by Zoom at AADL

The lecture is delivered by Joseph Gascho, Ph.D., Professor of Music and Director of the Stearns Collections at the University of Michigan. Two Bunun musical instruments will be presented to the Stearns Collection.