Girl meets boy: Taiwan’s tribal matchmaking festival

This picture taken on August 19, 2017 shows members of the Amis indigenous group posing for a selfie during the traditional harvest festival in Hualien, eastern Taiwan. As night falls on a square in the village of Matai'an, young women cast critical eyes over a dancing circle of men in embroidered skirts and feathered head dresses as part of an ancient match-making ritual. Known as "Lovers' Night", it is the grand finale of the annual harvest festival for the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 recognised indigenous groups in Taiwan. (AFP)
Updated 22 August 2017
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Girl meets boy: Taiwan’s tribal matchmaking festival

HUALIEN, Taiwan: As night falls on a square in the village of Matai’an, young women cast critical eyes over a dancing circle of men in embroidered skirts and feathered head dresses as part of an ancient match-making ritual.
Known as “Lovers’ Night,” it is the grand finale of the annual harvest festival in the settlement which belongs to the Amis tribe, the largest of the 16 recognized indigenous groups in Taiwan.
Near the island’s rugged east coast, the village — also known as Fata’an, the name of a local plant, in the Amis language — is a collection of basic, low-lying houses along meandering streets, located in a valley between two mountain ranges.
The harvest festival — which usually runs between June and August, with each village holding it at a different time — is the biggest and most important celebration for the Amis tribe, and in Matai’an it culminates with single women taking their pick of eligible bachelors.
The centuries-old custom is a reflection of the tribe’s matriarchal system, which sees women make key decisions including managing finances and men marry into their wives’ families.
As the singing and dancing men pick up their pace, the women move in behind their chosen love interest and tug on a multicolored cloth bag slung on their target’s shoulder.
To spark interest, the men wiggle and flex their muscles, the most popular among them accruing a queue of interested women.
If a man reciprocates the approach, he will give his bag — known as an “alufu” — to the woman, marking the beginning of a courtship.
In the past, the ritual would commonly lead to marriage and even now still sparks relationships, but it is also a chance for Amis community members who are working in the cities to return and socialize.
“Lovers’ Night is to make friends,” said Cheng Ying-hsuan, 22.
Dressed in a red traditional outfit adorned with green beads and her own sequined alufu, she had returned to the village from the city of Hualien, where she now lives, an hour’s drive away.
When asked if she hoped to find a boyfriend, she laughed and said coyly: “That’s also a possibility.”
Matai’an is one of the biggest Amis settlements and is home to around 500 people — mostly elders and children.
“We like the feeling of everyone coming back together and reconnecting. For us this is the most important,” said Liao Ching-tung, 28, who lives in the capital Taipei.
Each harvest festival, hundreds who have moved away to work or study return to join in the festivities.
The indigenous community — which remains a marginalizedgroup in Taiwanese society — has seen its traditional culture eroded since immigrants started arriving from China centuries ago.
Since President Tsai Ing-wen came to power in May 2016, her government has been pushing for greater indigenous rights and preservation of tribal languages and culture.
But some groups have criticized Tsai for not going far enough and have clashed with authorities over land rights policy, demanding their ancestral areas be returned.
In Matai’an, tradition is alive and kicking.
Lamen Panay, 41, who goes by her tribal name, says the matchmaking event is still meaningful to her even though she is no longer single.
She has a collection of lovers’ bags from past harvest festivals, but has since settled down with her long-term boyfriend, living with him in Taipei.
The couple are both from the village and Lamen still makes a point of picking him out during the matchmaking ritual.
“We are both usually very busy with work,” she said.
“It’s necessary to rekindle the flames.”


Six classic car films to watch as women in Saudi Arabia prepare to take the wheel

Updated 23 June 2018
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Six classic car films to watch as women in Saudi Arabia prepare to take the wheel

DUBAI: In celebration of women in Saudi Arabia getting behind the wheel on June 24, we take a look at six classic car films — female-driven flicks included — that are guaranteed to get your adrenaline going.
‘The Italian Job’ (1969)
“You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” It’s an iconic line known the world over, but have you actually sat down to watch this Michael Caine-starring classic? The plot centers on Caine’s character and his crew of gangsters who pull off a dazzling heist while driving a bevy of Mini Coopers. It’s fantastically fun and even inspired a 2003 remake. If it’s your first time, however, we suggest sticking to the original — they don’t build ‘em like they used to.
‘Thelma and Louise’ (1991)
It may have a controversial ending, but many see this film as the high octane, feminist version of “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and it is revered in film culture. Directed by Ridley Scott and starring Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon, the film sees the pair flee after they kill a rapist and follows them as they fight until the very end — and meet a very young Brad Pitt on the way.
‘Crossroads’ (2002)
It may have received lukewarm reviews at the time, but this film was loved by teenage girls the world over. The flick stars Britney Spears (alarm bells, anyone?) and tells the story of three childhood friends who rekindle their connection on a cross-country trip.
‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’ (2006)
The humor may be eye-roll inducing, but this film has too many fans to discount. The film pokes fun at NASCAR and sees Will Ferrell play the role of Ricky Bobby, a driver who was at the top of his game but loses it all to a snotty Frenchman.
‘Drive’ (2011)
It’s dark, it’s gritty and best of all it stars Ryan Gosling. He is known for his deadpan, inexpressive face (and oh, what a face) and skillfully portrays a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver and ends up risking it all to protect a woman and her son from vengeful criminals.
‘Baby Driver’ (2017)
You can’t discuss this film without giving special mention to its epic soundtrack — it features everything from James Brown to Beck and will have you wiggling in your seat throughout the movie. Ansel Elgort plays a brilliant young getaway driver with a penchant for seriously good music, stunningly choreographed car chases and the primal desire to escape a mob boss with the girl he loves.