TK Reite Notebooks


Documenting and practicing Traditional Knowledge
for future generations

TK Reite Notebooks is a toolkit for documenting and practicing traditional knowledge for future generations. At its heart is a respect for indigenous self-determination. The toolkit combines digital technologies and paper. It is low cost, simple to use and can be easily adapted for different communities and languages.

TKRN Toolkit | Project History | Activities | Outputs | Outcomes


Kambuing, Limau & Rosie with an early booklet, Reite village 2012

Project History

TK Reite Notebooks (TKRN) is a process and tools with which people can self-document Traditional Knowledge (TK). It results from a meeting of ideas and practices of social anthropologist James Leach, artist Giles Lane and the people of Reite Village on the Rai Coast (Madang Province) of Papua New Guinea. It extends, in a new way, a long tradition of collaborative documentation of TK pioneered in Papua New Guinea by Saem Majnep and Ralph Bulmer.

During James’s long association with people in Reite village (since 1993), their desire to document, preserve, and find ways to ensure the inter-generational transmission of knowledge has been at the forefront of the relationship. This desire, realised to date through anthropological and ethno-botanical publications, finds a different engagement through TK Reite Notebooks. The project grew from James’ anthropological work with Reite people, and in particular, the collaborative documentation of plants undertaken with Porer Nombo, published as Reite Plants. TK Reite Notebooks now involves many Reite people in the co-design of a ‘toolkit’ offering people an accessible, cheap, locally appropriate and adaptable process for TK documentation.

The TKRN concept has also grown extensively from Giles’ long term artistic practice of developing and facilitating “public authoring” – drawing upon his Diffusion eBook format and the self-publishing platform, bookleteer, which he has led and maintained. Public Authoring emphasises ways and means for people to document, for themselves, what they find valuable, and to share it with others, making use of the wide panoply of media – digital and physical – that are available to them.

The project is supported by US foundation The Christensen Fund whose work in Melanesia aims to support the holders of traditional bio-cultural knowledge as they work to maintain their rich ecologies, often in the face of huge pressure from resource extraction and social change. Further support comes from the Australian Research Council through a ‘Future Fellowship’ award to James Leach to investigate appropriate modes to present socially embedded knowledge forms, and from the Centre for Research and Documentation in Oceania at Aix-Marseille University.

The TKRN Toolkit is based on the use of, an innovative self-publishing system that moves fluidly between paper and digital. Using this process, we have co-designed a series of notebooks with prompts that guide people to determine for themselves how to document and record Traditional Knowledge and practices. These notebooks can be easily digitised and shared online for archiving and for ‘practicing’ with and for future generations.

Explore Reite village’s online library of TK Reite Notebooks. View a sample notebook below:


A pilot study in 2012 established initial notebook templates that were co-designed with Porer Nombo and other Reite people. This provided the foundation for a more extensive and in-depth project, which was awarded funding in 2014, with fieldwork beginning in February 2015.

The first year of TK Reite Notebooks has involved a more extensive engagement in Reite to co-design more booklet templates, experiment with their use, and investigate how they well they fit with peoples’ interests and priorities. Engagement with the local school demonstrated the value of the toolkit in educational contexts, and an elaboration of the basics for a handbook addressing the process, ethics, technology, and potential of the toolkit was achieved.

Liaison with colleagues with extensive experience in TK documentation, including Dr Robin Hide of Australian National University (ANU), situated TK Reite Notebooks within a wider view of past and present initiatives.

In 2016 we tested the toolkit with another community in PNG : Tokain Village, Bogia District (Madang Province) as well as developing a collaborative relationship with the Research + Conservation Foundation (RCF) of PNG (Goroka, Easter Highlands Province) to use the TKRN toolkit with the communities they work with across PNG. We have also extended the project to Vanuatu: working with the women fieldworkers group of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS), the Vanuatu Land Defence Desk, the Heritage Section of the VKS, the Tanna Ecologies Youth & Gardens Project and with youth groups and their communities in partnership with Wan Smolbag Theatre in Port Vila, Efate. To facilitate an indigenous knowledge exchange between PNG and Vanuatu, we participated with 3 Reite villagers in the Tupunis Slow Food Festival held on Tanna island, Vanuatu in August 2016.

In 2018 we began a legacy phase aiming to leave Reite villagers with the capability to continue to use the toolkit and grow their online library of books without external help, and to provide them with the means to train other interested communities in how to use the toolkit and create the books.

The Toolkit is free and adaptable under a Creative Commons license – having been co-designed by an indigenous community living a traditional subsistence based lifestyle we believe that it can be simply and easily adapted by and for other communities across the world who also live traditional lifestyles and are concerned to document, preserve and co-practice their knowledge for future generations.

Posts :

Outputs & Resources

We have created a simple toolkit that can be adopted and adapted by others. We have co-designed a series of notebooks that Reite and Sarangama villagers, and Reite Community School are using. This design is an ongoing and iterative process – we have created additional custom notebooks for RCF, VKS, Wan Smolbag Theatre and for the Tanna Ecologies Youth & Gardens project.

Reite Online Library
We have created a TKRN website (using free web services and software) for the village of Reite and its neighbours, where the booklets they produce can be saved, viewed, and accessed. This website is intended to provide a model for other users to develop their own sites to archive their own TKRN notebooks – a similar site has now been created for Tokain Village.


Key outcomes have been the high level of engagement of people from the villages of Reite, Sarangama and their neighbours.

  • About 150 people took part in a series of initial public meetings in 2015 explaining the project and what we hoped to achieve.
  • Around 12 people assisted in co-designing new and alternative booklet templates, and in testing these templates through utilising them.
  • Collaboration between the generations in making booklets was extensive in the village. Those with limited literacy tended to seek out younger people to write for them. Many, both literate and illiterate engaged in careful and beautiful illustration.
  • 63 Notebooks were completed by 42 people during a two week period.

In 2016 we continued to engage with diverse groups in both PNG and Vanuatu:

  • Introduced 16 ni-Vanuatu women fieldworkers of the VKS in using the notebooks, plus several other VKS staff in the heritage section and members of the Vanuatu Land Defence Desk;
  • Trained around 50 people in Tokain village to use notebooks and toolkit
  • Workshop with around 200 schoolchildren teachers and elders at Tokain School
  • C0-designed or updated at least 17 new notebook templates in Tok Pisin & Bislama
  • About 100 people from Reite and local villages attended a public meeting to discuss outcomes from the project and plans for the future
  • Participated in the pan-Melanesia Tupunis Slow Food Festival on Tanna island with 3 Reite villagers
  • Ran toolkit workshops with Tanna youth group
  • Ran toolkit workshop with youth group & staff at Wan Smolbag Theatre, Vanuatu

Involvement of Local School
In addition, the headmaster and senior teachers of Reite’s Community School asked for a demonstration of the process at the school.

  • Practical demonstrations of booklet making were undertaken with all 8 year groups. In response to requests from the school, James gave a series of talks to the whole upper school on the importance of ecology, traditional knowledge and how it relates to environmental science, a key component of the PNG national curriculum. The use of TK Reite Notebooks in this way demonstrated a model for how the toolkit could bridge traditional knowledge and formal education, and additionally, how the toolkit created a new opportunity for inter-generational co-performance of knowledge, again bridging the concerns of educators and the concerns of village people.
  • An additional 290 booklets were printed and made with the assistance and resourcing of the school.
  • 55 notebooks were completed in less than a week as a result of the students creating their own notebooks with elders and family.
  • The school developed appropriate assessment criteria for each achievement level that related to the use of the notebooks. The notebooks were seen to be valuable because the activity had application in at least four educational priority areas: environmental science, social science, language and communication, and art.
  • In 2016 we introduced the toolkit to staff and students at Tokain village school as part of our visit as well as co-designing a special climate change notebook with RCF for use with primary school students

The Papua New Guinea Department for Education supports a focus on TK under the National Curriculum areas of science, and culture and community. The National Curriculum Statement states that:

The knowledge and intellectual resources of Papua New Guinea, developed here over thousands of years, are in danger of being lost as young people lose contact with their traditions and heritage. Science education has a role in encouraging students to learn about this rich source of knowledge.
National Curriculum Statement for PNG, Dept of Education (p. 28 2003).

External Interest
Papua New Guinea villagers typically have extensive and elaborate mobility, or multiple connections to people outside their own place. Word spread very quickly about the toolkit process and a number of requests for the toolkit to be made available in other places emerged. An outcome of the use of the booklets in both the village and the school contexts was an increased awareness, external to Reite, of the possibility of, and desirability for, documenting and valuing traditional knowledge. In year 2 we were able to extend the project both to another community in Madang Province (Tokain) and to support a core group of Reite villagers who have been introducing other local Rai Coast villages to the toolkit. In addition, the project’s scope extended to neighbouring Melanesian country, Vanuatu, where we have collaborated with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre and its fieldworker and heritage programmes, as well as Wan Smolbag Theatre, the Vanuatu Land Defence Desk and Tafea Cultural Centre on Tanna. We are currently developing collaborations with the Research + Conservation Foundation of PNG in Eastern Highlands Provice, Maror indigenous organisation in Madang, and the Indigenous Research Centre in Bougainville to help them both adopt and adapt the toolkit for their own community documentation projects.

Relevance to Local Culture & Community
The booklets are not necessarily coherent or intelligible to audiences outside the local context. Noting this is important. It makes clear a distinction between TK Reite Notebooks and traditional ethnographic techniques which seek to explain traditional knowledge practices to outsiders. The beauty of much of the documentation already completed by Reite people suggests that they are already finding modes of expression for TK that are tailored to their intentions around it. (These include, for example, relationship building, the demonstration, or performance, of knowing and ownership rather than an encyclopaedic approach to making a catalogue.)

Technical Development
We hope in the future to effect a major technical upgrade of to make it more accessible to people living in non-industrialised settings without immediate access to the internet, computers and printers. We have so far done some simple feasibility studies into porting a version of the platform to run on an Android-based smartphone, for use in off-grid contexts where internet access is patchy or unavailable. This will be designed to synchronise with the main bookleteer server as and when internet access becomes available (e.g. by taking the phone to a local town), and will also incorporate as simple method for scanning and sharing handwritten notebooks using the phone’s camera.

Legacy Phase
In 2018 we returned to Madang to lead a ‘handover’ workshop for Reite people and local partners including Yat Paol of Tokain community, and Banak Gamui of the Karawari Cave Arts Fund. The workshop was generously hosted by local NGO, Bismarck Ramu Group, which “informs, trains, advises and helps empower people so they can make informed decisions, confidently speak out, organise and take action to protect and maintain control over their land, resources and livelihoods.”
A further trip in 2020 is anticipated to result in an event in Reite itself to bring people from around the region to the village and to learn about their culture and practices in situ, and the role which the TKRN project and books have played.

Villagers of Reite & Sarangama, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, Pinbin Sisau, Giles Lane, James Leach & Porer Nombo

Supported by The Christensen Fund
Pilot Phase : 2012
Main programme : Begun 2015 | Completed 2016
Legacy Phase : Begun 2018