An 88-year-old man recently asked the Council of Indigenous Peoples (CIP), to which he loaned 13 Aboriginal handicraft works 14 years ago, for their return, only to have his inquiries ignored.
“I am 88 years old, I live alone and I have no money to take legal action [against the council],” Wang Tung-pai (王東白) wrote in a letter to the Chinese-language Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister newspaper).
He produced a hand written slip with the list of items he loaned to the council — including wooden plates, pottery, and clothing items from the Tao and Amis Aborigines — signed by council Deputy Minister Mayaw Dongi, who was director of the council’s Department of Education and Culture at the time, stamped with the council’s official seal and dated April 10, 1997.
Written on the slip was that in the event of damage or loss of the loaned items, the council would reimburse Wang in full.
Wang said that his friendship with several council officials made him want to loan the council the best items in his collection when it organized an exhibition of Taiwanese Aboriginal handicrafts in Canada 14 years ago, adding that the total value of the 13 items was more than NT$365,000 (US$12,000).
Wang said he had written four letters to the council and two to Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) over the past seven months and has even visited the council in person and asked to see Minister Sun Ta-chuan (孫大川) four times.
However, both the premier and the council have so far failed to respond and Sun had not agreed to meet him, Wang said.
Wang said although he has loaned Aboriginal items to other government institutions for exhibitions over the years, “the CIP is the only one that didn’t return the loaned items.”
Although he plans to donate his collection in the future, “I can’t accept the fact that the council just ignores me,” Wang said, calling Sun an “incompetent official.”
“If the council dealt with me properly, I might have even consider forgetting about it, but as it has decided to pretend I don’t exist, I am asking it to compensate me if the items are lost, otherwise, I will write to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and stage a protest outside the council,” he said.
In response, Sun said he was a deputy minister 14 years ago when he asked Mayaw to talk to Wang about borrowing the items. He added that he has now ordered an investigation into the whereabouts of the items.
“He [Wang] said I’m an incompetent official, maybe I am incompetent, but I didn’t meet with him because I didn’t think I could explain things clearly even if we did meet,” Sun said.
Mayaw said that the council had changed its address three times since 1997 and that the items could have been lost during any one of those moves. He said that most of the officials from that time have either retired or passed away and it would take some time to locate the items and determine if they have been misplaced or lost.
Sun promised that the council would compensate Wang in full if the items are not found.