The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (MOFA) annual International Youth Ambassador Exchange Program, a platform through which young people help promote the nation’s cultural diversity to a global audience, has come under fire after some of its participants failed to follow the traditional Aboriginal way of wearing costumes and performing ceremonial dances.
Participants in the exchange program, which was launched in 2009, are university students who have to take a series of training courses before they can be sent abroad to promote the nation’s cultures.
However, photographs and videos showing participants putting on flawed performances of traditional Aboriginal dances while clad in unconventional costumes have prompted fierce criticism from netizens and Aborigines.
“When performing the ceremonial dances, dancers should place their right hands beneath the left hands of people on their right, while placing their left hands above the right hands of people on their left. However, while some of these so-called young ambassadors did the opposite, others placed both of their hands beneath those of others,’” a netizen wrote.
Addressing the costumes, another netizen wrote: “Some of the costumes these students wore did not belong to any of the nation’s Aboriginal tribes. There were female students who were clad in the traditional clothing for men, or ridiculously wore the costumes with black stockings.”
Association for Taiwan Indigenous Peoples’ Policies Chairman Oto Micya said Aborigines’ traditional dances were closely associated with rituals and that their dance positions and costumes were not just for show.
“Such dressing and dancing mistakes could be attributed to people’s shallow, instead of profound, understanding of the Aboriginal cultures. Seeing [their flawed performances] only made us think that [our cultures] have been taken advantage of,” he said.
Ministry spokesperson Anna Kao (高安) said that while the ministry had launched the exchange program, it had entrusted a private organization to oversee its participant selection process.
“Each group of young ambassadors are allowed to submit ideas for performances,” Kao said.
Independent Legislator May Chin (高金素梅), an Aborigine said the students represented Taiwan and that if they wrongly portrayed Aboriginal cultures, the mission to promote the nation’s cultural diversity would be nothing but an empty gesture.