Mon, Jul 18, 2011 - Page 3 News List

Signing of names on Tao canoe sparks controversy

TABOO ACTMa and Wu were described as ‘cultural idiots’ by a former Taitung county councilor after they signed their names on a traditional Tao canoe

By Lin Shu-hui  /  Staff Reporter

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) sparked controversy on Saturday by signing their names on the prow of the Si Mangavang when the traditional canoe arrived in Taipei, where it was presented as a gift for the Republic of China’s 100th anniversary.

The Si Mangavang, which means “Port Call” in the Tao Aboriginal language, is the largest canoe to be built by the Tao Aborigines on Orchid Island in a century.

It was launched by an 18-man crew on Orchid Island on June 29.

After an 18-day voyage spanning 800km, its crew rowed the Si Mangavang into the Tamsui River (淡水河) on Saturday.

A celebratory event was held the Dajia Riverside Park in Taipei.

Ma and Wu attended the ceremony, and besides shaking hands with the 18 rowers, Ma participated in a performance of the Manhawey, a ceremony unique to the Tao tribe that is meant to increase morale.

However, those present were shocked when organizers of the event arranged for Ma and Wu to sign their names on the prow of the ship.

Former Taitung county councilor Shyman Faien (夏曼夫阿原) said that for the Tao, the canoe was a symbol of masculinity, adding that it represented the Tao tribe’s only means of life on the sea.

Although Ma’s and Wu’s “scribbling” on the canoe was not severe enough to have broken a taboo, it nevertheless highlighted a lack of cultural sensitivity, Faien said, adding that it was similar to stepping on the collective culture of the Tao.

The welcome ceremony degenerated into campaign efforts by Ma and Wu, his running mate in the Jan. 14 presidential election, Faien said, adding that the best description of the pair was that they were “cultural idiots.”

Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Lai Kun-cheng (賴坤成) said that for the Tao, building a canoe was a serious and divine matter rich in cultural meaning.

Signing the canoe would “definitely incite anger among Tao tribesmen on Orchid Island,” Lai said.

If “Han” people wanted to participate in the event, they should demonstrate humility and respect local traditions, Lai said.

The Si Mangavang’s visit to Taiwan proper has been used for various political purposes, undermining the original meaning of the event, Lai said.

DPP Legislator Chen Ying (陳瑩), an Aboriginal from the Puyuma tribe, said the “100th anniversary of the ROC was also a demarcation of the 100 years during which Aborigines lost their land.”

Ma has shown contempt for Aboriginal culture, Chen said.

Council of Indigenous Peoples Minister Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) and Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), the organizers of the event, are both highly educated and should have been more respectful of Aboriginal culture, Chen said.

It is sad that they did not respect the Tao culture, Chen said, adding that Ma and Wu’s actions were “ignorant and terrible,” akin to a guest disregarding the family traditions of his or her hosts.

It certainly is not a cultured way to do things, Chen said.

The canoe also faced criticism earlier over not following Tao traditions during its construction and during the planning of the journey, comments which were dismissed by Orchid Island Township Mayor Chiang Tuo-li (江多利).

Translated by Jake Chung, Staff Writer

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