The Taiwan Association for Indigenous Peoples’ Policies (ATIPP) yesterday panned the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) for allowing college students taking part in the International Youth Ambassador Exchange Program to portray Taiwan’s Aboriginal cultures while wearing incorrect outfits and performing the dances incorrectly.
“We Aborigines are always happy to share our cultures, but we certainly don’t like it when our cultures are twisted,” ATIPP member Yuli Ciwas told a news conference at the Legislative Yuan. “The ministry should apologize over the incident, come up with a plan showing improvements and help promote education in cultural diversity, so that similar mistakes would not be repeated in the future.”
Yuli was referring to flawed performances of traditional Aboriginal dances by students wearing unconventional Aboriginal clothing.
The mistakes triggered criticism from netizens and Aborigines after participants shared photographs and videos of their performances online.
Lee Pin-han (李品涵), a member of National Cheng Kung University’s Taiwan Indigenous Club, said that for example, the traditional Amis alofo bags should be carried on the right shoulder.
“You will only wear the bag on your left shoulder when you are visiting a family in which a member has died recently,” Lee said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the students carried the bag on their left shoulder. It’s like wearing a mourning suit when visiting a friend’s house. I wonder if President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) would wear a mourning suit on his state visits,” Lee said.
She added that while it is popular to wear Aboriginal clothing and showcase Aboriginal cultures, apparently most people are not willing to do an in-depth study of Aboriginal cultures before putting on Aboriginal clothing or performing an Aboriginal dance.
“This is not sharing the culture, it’s consuming the culture,” Lee said.
While acknowledging the mistakes and promising to make changes, the ministry’s Deputy Director of European Affairs Cheng Tai-hsiang (鄭泰祥) said the incident is also a reminder for the younger generation of Aborigines that “if you don’t understand Aboriginal cultures, other people will not know [them] either.”
The remark triggered criticism from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Sra Kacaw of the Amis tribe, who said that the ministry is not in a position to “give Aborigines a lesson” on Aboriginal cultures.