AAFSW and the Asian Spouses Circle Explore the Culture, Arts, Music, and Cuisine of the ASEAN Countries at the Dean Acheson Auditorium
Celine C. Erickson, President, AAFSW
Celebrating the Diversity and Richness of the Southeast Asian Nations Through Various Performances and Presentations
On October 31, 2023, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) and the Asian Women’s Circle (AWC) co-hosted a beautiful cultural program to celebrate the diversity and richness of the ten Asian countries that are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This regional organization fosters cooperation and peace among its members, and beyond. The program featured the vibrant culture, dances, music, and songs from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam.
Over six hundred guests from the diplomatic community, AAFSW members, and ASEAN guests were captivated by over eighty artists and performers who explored the most important aspects of their culture, arts, music, and cuisine. The many guests also received souvenirs from these countries to take back home, compliments of Mdme Ayu Heni Rosan from the Embassy of Indonesia. Some of Mdme Ayu’s guests also enjoyed these countries’ diverse and savory cuisine at the Delegates’ Lounge.
The event started with a warm welcome from Sheila Switzer, AAFSW Program Chair, who made this program possible, and a welcome speech by the AAFSW President, who highlighted the importance of cultural exchange and appreciation among different nations and peoples. Celine also emphasized the importance of dialogue and harmony among different peoples and cultures in a world that urgently needs peace. She urged everyone to recognize and act on our individual and collective responsibility to foster peace. She also thanked AWC for their collaboration and support in organizing the event.
One of the aspects of the culture of the ASEAN countries is their peace pledge, which is expressed through various treaties and declarations that aim to promote cooperation, dialogue, and mutual respect among the countries and regions. For example, the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) is a peace treaty among Southeast Asian countries established by ASEAN’s founding members in 1976. The TAC outlines the principles of good neighborliness, respect for sovereignty, non-interference, peaceful settlement of disputes, and renunciation of the use or threat of force. The TAC also allows for the accession of other States that subscribe to its principles and objectives. So far, thirty-seven countries and one regional organization have acceded to the TAC, including the United States in 2009.
Another example of the pledge to peace of the ASEAN countries is the ASEAN-U.S. Special Summit 2022 Joint Vision Statement, which reaffirms the shared commitment to strengthen and build more comprehensive ASEAN-U.S. relations based on fundamental principles, shared values, and norms enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, the ASEAN Charter, and other relevant documents. The statement also emphasizes the importance of creating a peaceful environment for further enhancing cooperation and strengthening the existing bonds of friendship among the countries in keeping with the principles of equality, partnership, consultation, and mutual respect.
A third example of the pledge to peace of the ASEAN countries is the GCC-ASEAN Leaders’ Summit 2023 Joint Declaration, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 4, 2023. The declaration reaffirms the commitment of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and ASEAN to enhance their strategic partnership and cooperation in various fields, such as trade, investment, energy, tourism, education, health, and culture. The declaration also expresses the support of both sides for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and disputes in accordance with international law and the principles of the UN Charter.
Showcasing the Diversity and Richness of the ASEAN Countries
The program was also a wonderful opportunity to learn about the culture of the ASEAN countries, which is diverse and rich, reflecting the influences of various religions, ethnicities, languages, and traditions. Some of the common cultural elements include respect for elders, family values, harmony with nature, and communal spirit as a regional community that promotes peace, stability, and cooperation.
Over eighty artists and performers from the region explored the most important aspects of their culture, arts, music, and cuisine and captivated over six hundred guests from the diplomatic community, AAFSW, and AWC. Everyone learned about the culture of the ASEAN countries, diverse and rich, reflecting the influences of various religions, ethnicities, languages, and traditions. Some of the common cultural elements include respect for elders, family values, harmony with nature, and communal spirit as a regional community that promotes peace, stability, and cooperation.
The ASEAN countries express their culture through their clothing. The traditional dress of the ASEAN countries varies from country to country but often features colorful fabrics, intricate patterns, and elegant designs. Some examples of traditional clothing are the baju kurung in Malaysia and Brunei, the stamppot in Cambodia, the batik in Indonesia and Singapore, the sinh in Laos, the longyi in Myanmar, the barong tagalog in the Philippines, the sarong kebaya in Singapore and Malaysia, the chut Thai in Thailand, and the ao dai in Vietnam.
The arts of the ASEAN countries are varied and vibrant, ranging from classical to contemporary forms. Some of the notable art forms include shadow and masked plays (such as wayang in Indonesia and khon in Thailand), puppetry (such as yoke thay in Myanmar and nang talung in Thailand), dance (such as tari in Indonesia and bharatanatyam in Malaysia), painting (such as batik in Indonesia and Malaysia and lacquerware in Vietnam), sculpture (such as Buddha statues in Thailand and Cambodia and woodcarving in Philippines), and literature (such as epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata in Indonesia and Malaysia and poetry like pantun in Malaysia and Singapore).
One of the ways that the ASEAN countries express their arts is through their music, reflecting the influences of various musical traditions from India, China, Arabia, Europe, and America. Some of the typical musical instruments include gongs (such as gamelan in Indonesia and Malaysia and kulintang in the Philippines), xylophones (such as ranat in Thailand and Cambodia and bonang in Indonesia), flutes (such as suling in Indonesia and Malaysia and sao truc in Vietnam), drums (such as kendang in Indonesia and Malaysia and klong yao in Thailand), string instruments (such as saung gauk in Myanmar and dan bau in Vietnam), and zithers (such as kacapi in Indonesia and koto in Japan). Some of the popular musical genres include folk songs (such as dangdut in Indonesia and Malaysia and mor lam in Laos), pop music (such as K-pop in mKorea and J-pop in Japan), rock music (such as Pinoy rock in Philippines and Thai rock in Thailand), and classical music (such as piphat in Thailand and Cambodia and nobat in Malaysia).
The program continued with a series of cultural and musical performances by the ASEAN countries, featuring their traditional dances, songs, and costumes. The audience was treated to a feast of colors, sounds, and movements as they witnessed the beauty and diversity of the ASEAN cultures.
The Cambodian group showcased the dance of mythical tales through intricate gestures and movements. The Lao group demonstrated the lam vong, a dance that involves rhythmic and harmonious circular movements and clapping, creating a festive and joyful atmosphere. The Vietnamese group delighted the audience with a musical genre that blends folk and court music elements, featuring various instruments and improvisational melodies. The Bruneian, Thai, Philippine, and Myanmar groups entertained the spectators with music and dances. The Singaporean group performed a dance, symbolizing good luck and prosperity, featuring colorful costumes.
The program concluded as all attendees gathered at the podium to greet the artists and take pictures to remember this grand celebration of the Southeast Asian Nations. The program showed the importance of cultural exchange among different nations and peoples, with a call to action to foster peace in our world. AAFSW, AWC, and all the attendees deserve our thanks and praise for their efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding and cooperation. The event also demonstrated the strong ties and friendship between the United States and the ASEAN countries and the shared vision and values of peace, prosperity, and partnership.