Posts Tagged ‘olympics’

I’m quite a few weeks late on this, obviously. And, frankly, I’m not sure that I have that much to say. But I just wanted to share a collection of videos I found, mainly from TikTok, highlighting different indigenous individuals and peoples represented at the 2021 (oops, I mean 2020) Tokyo Olympics, especially since many – whatever their relationship with and feelings towards their country may be – are obliged to represent that country, flying its flag, receiving medals to that country’s national anthem, rather than more overtly representing their own people.

So, first, a video from Connor, a Native American (Lumbee) TikToker from Lenapehoking (Lenape lands), talking about the Ainu, one of the indigenous peoples of the land now controlled by Japan, who were originally planned to have a bit more representation in the 2020 Olympics, but got less airtime in the postponed 2021 version of the Opening & Closing Ceremonies:

Uchinanchu (Okinawan) artist Dane Nakama expands on the above video to talk about the other major indigenous people of what is today controlled by Japan – namely, the Ryukyuan peoples:

Connor also posted a number of other videos during the Games, including this one about Carissa Moore, a Native Hawaiian surfer who won a gold medal in surfing, the first time surfing was included in the Olympics. I saw a bit of controversy on social media during the Games, about the whitewashing or appropriation or colonization of surfing… I’m glad a Wahine Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian woman) won gold, dominating the sport pioneered by her ancestors, a “sport” that’s not just a sport but has deep cultural and spiritual meaning.

It is a shame that she was not (as far as I’m aware) permitted to display the Hawaiian flag in any way, let alone of course to be awarded her gold medal under the Hawaiian flag or Hawaiian national anthem rather than those of the United States, which continues to illegally occupy the Hawaiian Kingdom.

Connor also talks about Pita Taufatofua, the tae kwon do competitor from Tonga who was also that country’s flagbearer in the 2016, 2018, and 2020 games, attracting much attention for his bared, oiled, muscular upper body. As Connor explains in this video, in 2016 Taufatofua was told he couldn’t wear his traditional taʻovala wrap-skirt, but he did it anyway; I love the way Connor talks about this, talking about how Native communities and individuals are often encouraged to hide their culture, and how inspiring and powerful it is to see people proudly display their culture in this way.


I think I’m going to do some content highlighting Indigenous ppl at the #olympics 🥰 #olympicspirit #tokyoolympics #tonga #indigenous #firstnations

♬ Sunset – Chillthemusic

Connor also highlighted Patty Mills, an Australian Aborigine / Torres Strait Islander who was the first Native person to be flagbearer for Australia at the Olympics. He also plays in the NBA, on the San Antonio Spurs. I know next to nothing about basketball fandom – I wonder how well-known it is among NBA fans that he’s Australian Aborigine. Here’s your regular reminder that not all Black people are descended from slaves, or from otherwise relatively recent immigrants from Africa. Aboriginal folks from Australia, Torres Straits Islanders, Melanesians from places like Fiji and New Caledonia share many of the features we typical associate with Africans or African-Americans. Diversity means not only recognizing Black Lives, but the incredible diversity within, and beyond, Black Lives.


got some more content coming soon about Indigenous ppl at the #olympics 🥰 #tokyoolympics #olympicspirit #aboriginal #indigenous #firstnations #fyp

♬ Triangle – Clutch

The Australian women’s football (soccer) team also honored and recognized Aboriginal peoples by posing with an Aboriginal flag and linking arms in a show of solidarity. I won’t pretend to know the history beyond the most minimal surface level, but Australia has a pretty heinous history of racist and colonialist policies, persecution, and so forth, in addition to the broader fact of the country as a White settler colony; and many of these racist attitudes and policies, sadly, remain in place today, as they do to one extent or another in many other parts of the world (e.g. the US, Canada).

Thanks to my friend Dr. Yuan-Yu Kuan, I also learned of a few heartwarming moments of representation by athletes from Taiwanese aboriginal backgrounds.

In this brief clip, boxer Chen Nien-chin, from the Pangcah/Amis people, shouts “I am a child of Pangcah” at the cameras in his native language. As Kuan points out, one of the few times a Taiwanese aboriginal language has likely ever been spoken (or, more to the point, broadcast on camera) during any Olympics Games.

His shout, “O Wawa no Pangcah” (“I am a child of Pangcah,” or 我是邦查(阿美族)之子!in Chinese) comes around 1m35s in this video:

Finally, the Bulareyaung Dance Company recorded and posted this video of them watching the Olympics awards ceremonies from home in Taiwan. Amis weightlifter Kuo Hsing-chun took gold. Taiwan is, of course, barred from even representing itself at the Olympcis as a full proper country, with its proper national flag and national anthem, to begin with, because the government of the People’s Republic of China are all dicks and refuse to acknowledge Taiwanese autonomy and sovereignty even now, more than 70 years later. So, rather than celebrating the fake “Chinese Taipei Olympics team” flag and anthem that’s officially shown/played at the awards ceremony, this Dance Company sings over it a traditional Amis song. I don’t know the language or the song, or to be honest do I know that much about the people, but as someone with a special place in my heart for Hawaiian and Okinawan music, and for indigenous cultures more broadly, it really warms my heart and puts a smile on my face to hear it.

I’m sure these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to indigenous representation at the Olympics. But these are the stories I saw.

These Olympics were, of course, more controversial than most. Here in Tokyo, a great many people were staunchly opposed to, and critical of, the city / the country going forward with holding the Olympics despite the raging Covid pandemic, and the government’s incompetence in getting the vaccines rolled-out more widely more quickly. Of course, many people are opposed to or critical of the Olympics anyway, for a variety of other very valid reasons. And I don’t challenge or deny those people’s valid opposition and criticism.

But I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for displays of international coming-together, of cultural pride, of global diversity. This is something I feel we don’t see enough of, and something we need more of in this world. People coming together, regardless of country, race, ethnicity, religion, interacting together across these divides, building or showing friendships, learning about and celebrating one another even if only for a moment, and just showing and celebrating the incredible diversity of our world. A diversity that goes beyond nation, that extends to indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities as well.

I apologize to leave on a negative note, but especially with me composing this post on Sept 6, the anniversary of the Munich massacre, I think it relevant and important to note that these 2021 Olympics were the first time that the terrorist violence that took place at the 1972 Olympics – in which 11 Israelis and one German police officer were killed – were formally commemorated in such a central, public, manner.

There are still far too many groups and governments in the world today who deny the peoplehood of other people, who deny their identities, their history, their indigeneity to their ancestral homelands, and who seek to deny them their rights to freedom, equality, safety & wellbeing, and self-determination as a people. Many peoples continue to fight courageously and persistently to gain, regain, or retain those rights. But there remain far too many who are powerfully determined to block them, oppress and persecute them, to claim their land as their own, and even to massacre them. I hope that someday we can see peace.

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Olympics being in Beijing is a wonderful thing for anyone fascinated with and allured by traditional Chinese art and aesthetics. The bike races run through the streets of Beijing, news coverage as well serving as a beautiful travelogue – views of Tiananmen Square, of the hutongs, of the brand-new massive ultramodern skyscrapers – that is, when air conditions allow us to see anything at all.

The design of the mascots, logos, and the large backboards seen the background of every event, on a separate note, not traditionally Chinese, but still fantastically gorgeous, brightly-colored, well done. I love the font style on the words “Beijing 2008” on the logo, the bright blue water/waves motif on the backboards in the swimming events, the bright colors of the swashes representing the Olympic rings on the various ads we see. There is a sort of wave, brush-painted design aesthetic that we are seeing everywhere – on the backdrops, on some of the Chinese athletes’ uniforms, on fans’ t-shirts, on promotional Coke cans.

And the uniforms are fantastic too. Here’s an event where, unlike in most aspects of fashion, of everyday life, we get to see bold, vivid colors and blatant nationalism. The ways in which each country, in each event, represents its national colors is interesting and fun to watch, and evokes I think a warm, uplifting feeling of patriotism on behalf of the athletes we’re watching, regardless of their nationality. The red and gold design on the uniforms of the Chinese girl gymnasts (and I really liked the red & yellow flame design on their windbreakers as well); the way in which stars and stripes are arranged against a dark navy blue background on the US men swimmers’ swimsuits. And I think it would be hard to argue that its not pleasant simply to watch these men and women, in peak physical condition, beautiful bodies in skintight swimsuits, leotards and beach volleyball bikinis. And the new and somewhat controversial Speedo Lazer Razor suits, while I don’t much care for their black and darker black default design, fit in interesting ways (look at Michael Phelps and the other men swimmers, their shoulders down to halfway down their sides totally open, uncovered) and create a new and interesting figure or silhouette.

And, there’s the medals. I hadn’t known, realized, that at each Olympics, the medals are redesigned by the host country. That’s really cool for the athletes, I should think. As incredible, as amazing as earning an Olympic medal is to begin with, having one with that particular Chinese style, next to those of Greek (2004) or English (2012) designs, rather than just identical medals from different years… In any case, here’s the really keen thing about this year’s Chinese-designed Olympic medals – they include rings of jade. As not explained on NBC’s coverage of the subject, a ring of jade recalls an ancient form, the bi, which goes so far back in history that we cannot know its original meaning, significance, or use. Jade, of course, a material with extensive and ancient significance in Chinese culture, including associations with Heaven, spiritual power, and immortality.

There’s also the gorgeous ultramodern stadiums – I personally care for the Water Cube, a design so fantastic, so futuristic, I find it hard to believe it actually exists, over the Bird’s Nest.

As long as we’re talking about the Olympics, here’s a few more articles:
*The greatest Olympics ever by Dave Barry
*From Inside the Stadium, Another Look at Beijing’s Opening Ceremony

Speaking of which, how could I forget the Opening Ceremonies? I missed the beginning, and I’m sure there’s plenty that could be said about the costumes, dances, fireworks, every element of this amazing show. But what really amazed me was the massive narrative handscroll “painting” in the center of the arena, the use of traditional Chinese painting styles, imagery, implying an idea of the performers dancing across Chinese history. Unlike Japan, which seems to have a never-ending love affair with the West, and which really cannot seem to be convinced to love its own heritage enough, China remains obsessed with its history, its traditions, even as it modernizes, producing a wonderful blend of the distinctly “Chinese” with that modern global trans-national, trans-cultural style that cannot be said to be any more American than British, French, German, Arab, Japanese, or Chinese.

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