The Bunun calling themselves “Bunun” live on the Central Mountain Range and its eastern and western side. This demonym has become the name of this ethnical group since Japanese colonization. According to the Bunun legend, their ethnic origins include the excrement, stone, and calabash, with the calabash and the excrement being the most common. The calabash has its story that when a calabash fell from the sky in ancient times, a man and a woman came out of the broken gourd, and they were the first ancestors of the Bunun. The latter goes with the story that in ancient times, where were two caves. The naihai insect made two balls with its excrement and threw one in each cave. Then, a man and a woman came out from the caves. They got married and had children, which were the ancestors of different Bunun tribes as they multiplied.
According to the Bunun migration legend, Bunun ancestors originally settled on Yushan (Jade Mountain) and its northern peaks. They gradually moved down the mountain to Lamungan. To meet environmental needs, they further distributed to the plains and coastal areas in western Taiwan. When Han people expanded their power after the 17th century, Bunun people retreated to Lamungan and turned to the mountains in eastern Taiwan via central Taiwan. Then, they gradually migrated to the mountain area in Hualien, Taitung, and Kaohsiung. Bunun people are widespread and treat their migration history seriously. Before the 17th century, Bunun people originally lived in the mountain areas in central Taiwan and the coastal areas in southwestern Taiwan (upstream and downstream of the Zhuoshui River and its banks). After assembling at Lamungan, they emigrated to the mountain areas in Nantou County.
Since the beginning of the 18th century, they migrated from the mountains in Nantou County across the Central Mountain Range to Hualien. Then, they reached the mountains at the boundary of Taitung County and Kaohsiung City. During Japanese colonization, due to the colonial government’s nationalization of indigenous property and militarization of mountain governance, the Bunun people were upset, causing various rebellious incidents, such as the “Dafen Incident” (1914), “Danda Incident” (1916), and the “Daguanshan Incident” (1932). These incidents urged the colonial government to implement a “mass relocation” policy, forcing the Bunun people to move to the locations they occupy today. The tension between the Bunun and the Japanese continued until national government rule began. After the forced migration during Japanese colonization, no mass relocation of the Bunun has been recoded. However, due to mass relocation, the Bunun people began to live with other ethnic groups, which has affected the development of their relations with other ethnic groups.
According to ethnological research in the 20th century, the Bunun people are divided into the following six branches by dialect and by custom.
1. Takiitudu: Settled upstream of the Zhuoshui River in Nantou County neighboring the Sediq in the north. The Bunun settlement is mainly distributed in Wanfeng (Kantaban), Fazhi (Vogai), Zhongzheng (Kadu), Wangxiang (Kalibuan), and Jiumei (Mahavun) villages in Ren’ai Township, Nantou County.
2. Takiibakha: Originally settled in the Kashe River drainage basin in Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township, Nantou County. Major tribes include the Zhongzheng (Kadu) village in Ren’ai Township and Tannan (Laidazuan (malavi)) in Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township.
3. Takbanuaz: It is said that the Takbanuaz is the oldest Bunun tribe current distributed along the Luanda River drainage basin, a tributary of the Zhuoshui River, in Nantou County and upstream of the Taiping River of the Xiuguluan River, across the east and west of the Central Mountain Range. The principal locations include Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township in Nantou County, Zhuoxi (Takkei) Township in Hualien County, and Haiduan (Haitutuan) Township in Taitung County.
4. Takiivatan: Settled in the Danda River drainage basin upstream of the Zhuoshui River in Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township, Takiivatan people mainly live in Dili (Tamazuan) Village of Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township in Nantou County, Mayuan (Mahowan) Village of Wanrong (Malibasi) Township, and Zuoxi (Takkei) Township in Hualien County. Some have moved to the plains on the eastern coast, including Nanxi in Changbin Township (Kakacawan) and Qimei in Ruisui (Kohkoh) Township.
5. Isbubkun: Originally lived in the Junda River drainage basin and the Chenlan River drainage basin of Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township in Nantou County, the branch moved to the Taiping River drainage basin and the Lakulaku River drainage basin in Hualien County, the Xinwulu River drainage basin in Taitung County, and the Laonong River drainage basin and Nanzixian (Namasia) River drainage basin in Kaohsiung County. Isbubkun is the largest branch among all Bunun branches, accounting for over 50%. The principal group settled in Xinyi (Nehunpu) Township of Nantou County, Haiduan (Haitutuan) Township of Taitung County, and Namaxia (Namasia) and Tauyuan (Ngani) districts in Kaohsiung City.
6. Tapukul: It was divided into two secondary subgroups Isbabanal and Isbubkun in the 18th century. The Isbabanal settled with the Isbukun and eventually lost its own language. Its distribution is similar to that of the Isbubkun. The Tapukul migrated from Tataka and the west of the Namaxia (Namasia) River to the opposite side of Namasia today, between the Tsou and the Kanakanavu peoples. Under greater Tsou influence and with a smaller population, the Tapukul was eventually absorbed by the Tsou.