Earlier this month, Maori undergraduate students from New Zealand visited Taiwan in a two-week trip organized by the Atayal Organization, a not-for-profit aiming to unite worldwide indigenous communities.
Last year, organizers had told the Taipei Times that they were fundraising to make Beyond Hawaiki, a documentary film that follows these Maori students as they meet Aborigines in Taiwan.
The Maoris completed the trip and returned to New Zealand last week, but the film project didn’t pan out as planned. Atayal Organization founder Tony Coolidge (陳華友) said the fundraising didn’t come through as expected.
“The film is not in development yet; it’s been put aside,” Coolidge told the Taipei Times.
He added that all financial support they gained over the past year and a half had gone into the two-week pilot run of the Tap Root Cultural Exchange Program, which promotes mutual understanding between the Maoris and Aboriginal peoples in Taiwan.
The group had comprised Maori film students from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), as well as Maori elders and university faculty members.
During the two weeks, they visited Aboriginal villages, museums and archaeological sites in New Taipei City, Greater Taichung, Hualien County and Taitung County. They also met Aboriginal and film students from Chaoyang University of Technology, National Dong Hwa University and Jin Shan High School.
The Atayal Organization’s Web site (www.atayal.org) indicates that the visiting Maori group had come to Taiwan to seek their roots.
In bold lettering, the Web site introduces the exchange program with a rhetorical question: “What if the great diaspora of 400 million Austronesian peoples from 38 countries strengthened their cultural bonds by uniting at the source of their cultural roots?”
The “Opportunity” section on the Web site cites a hypothesis that suggests that the ancestors of Austronesian-speaking peoples originated from Taiwan.
But according to the Maori elders and students, the purpose of their trip had little to do with roots and reconnection.
Maori elder Makarita (Maaki) Howard said she had never heard of the theory that the Maori ancestral roots are in Taiwan.
“It has been quite an experience meeting people from Taiwan but certainly we didn’t come here to look for where we came from,” she added.
Student Urshula Ansell found the question odd when asked about roots-seeking.
“We all know who we are, where we are from; it is something Maoris hold on to,” Ansell said.
Meanwhile, Chinese-language news coverage continued to indicate that the Maoris were in Taiwan in search of their roots. A Central News Agency story dated Dec. 10 said the group came all the way across the Pacific Ocean to seek for their roots in Taiwan.
Another news story dated Dec. 4 on Yam.com reported that the group had come back to their homeland — Taiwan.
Such portrayals could have created misleading impressions about what the group had come for.
Reece Howard from AUT said he participated in the program for the opportunity to help make a film.
“I expected other people to be filming ... no one really did [that] ... there was only me filming my own project,” he said.
Asked whether he knew Beyond Hawaiki has been downsized, Howard said he was never told about that.
Ansell said each student prepared a film because they were told the trip was a “film exchange.”