A couple who held their wedding in Singapore has been criticised online for cultural appropriation.
Bride wears native American headdress, guests wear Indian clothing
Benjamin Matchap, a local photographer, posted to Facebook several screenshots an Instagram Story showing a couple's wedding.
Someone else had sent the screenshots to Matchap.
The wedding, held at Hilton Singapore, featured the bride donning a native American headdress.
However, the use of a cultural symbol as part of a costume did not sit well with Matchap and some online commenters.
Matchap explained that wearing the headdress, a sacred icon with significance for the native Americans, was "insensitive" and "f*cked up".
He claimed that in the Instagram Story, the wedding attendees were also filmed making head gestures, where they would shake their head from side to side.
Other screenshots show a group of Chinese guests dressed up in traditional Indian outfits.
The photo appeared to identify themselves as "4 chindians at a Chinese wedding".
The group is also pictured holding up hand signs.
This led Matchap to question if the couple had mixed up the concepts of a "Red Indian"-themed wedding (as seen from the headdress), with that of an Indian or Bollywood-themed wedding.
Matchap added that there was nothing wrong with wearing another culture's traditional clothing, but that one should be aware of the sensitivities of being seen appropriating another culture's practices.
"Erm bottom line, people culture should not be your costume, and the native American head dress is a deeply religious symbol it's like wearing a Taoist monk outfit as a "for fun" kinda thing."
It is uncertain if the couple are from Singapore.
Couple's friend said they wore headdress because they loved parrots
The post has since sparked opposing viewpoints in the comments section, many times at odds with one another.
Some criticised the couple for their ignorance, commenting that it was a "tasteless" move and continued to explain the problem of cultural appropriation.
However, others who claim to be the couple's friends have come forward to defend the pair.
One person, Lester Ang, explained that the choice of the native American headdress was allegedly due to the couple's love of parrots, and was not meant to mock or disrespect another culture.
Ang also proceeded to give his version of events.
He said that the wedding had not been Indian-themed, and the group wearing traditional Indian outfits were close friends of the bride and groom.
According to him, one person in the group was an Indian who had purchased the outfits from a trip to India, but was then unable to attend the wedding.
The hand signs were also allegedly an "inside joke" to be more "zen and like guan yin ma [Goddess of Mercy]".
Ang then questioned "what happened to racial harmony and tolerance", and urged others to be more accepting.
OP allegedly blocked commenters, doubles down
Other Facebook users also proceeded to call out Matchap for blocking some commenters, and for calling the couple "idiots".
Another person, Ferlyn Koh, added that the couple had the "freedom to do whatever [they] want" as the wedding was a private event, and that did not give Matchap the right to publicly shame the pair.
However, another person responded that such things were no longer private once it was posted to social media.
In several subsequent updates, Matchap clarified that he had since censored the faces of all those in the photos, following backlash and "legal threats" from some netizens.
However, he continued to defend his stance, and said that the couple's friends' reasoning did not explain the head-shaking or excuse the cultural appropriation.
"Still doesn't explain the shaking head gestures and the fact that native Americans hate people wearing the headdress casually or as a costume they fought and died in a genocide so please understand why they might be touchy about people misappropriating their culture. That headdress has to be warned and is a deep part of their religion. If are considering wearing these things for fun please do some research and see if it is appropriate."
You can read his full post here.
Some background information
Here's some context for those who might be wondering why others are kicking up a fuss over a headdress.
The native American headdresses are typically worn by revered elders of the tribe, and are considered symbols of honour and respect that have to be earned.
Headdresses are also only worn by Native American men and not women.
For example, non-natives wearing a headdress is similar to wearing military badges of honour without having earned them.
But with the commercialisation and popularisation of the object, headdresses and the like have since been worn by many non-natives at festivals, on Halloween and other events, something which is considered offensive to actual native Americans.
Cultural appropriation is usually carried out by a dominant group on a minority group.
Native Americans have faced a history of genocide, and it is this exploitation and oppression which makes donning their fashion so problematic.
These dominant groups also fail to acknowledge and celebrate the culture of the minority group, which reinforces the power imbalance between the two.
With all this in mind though, one Facebook user summarised most of our sentiments pretty perfectly.
Top photo from Benjamin Matchap / FB