TK Reite Notebooks
Empowering indigenous people to preserve and transmit Traditional bio-cultural Knowledge to future generations
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 bookleteer.com, 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 transmission to future generations.
Explore Reite village’s online library of TK Reite Notebooks.
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 year 2 we have 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.
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 transmit their knowledge to future generations.
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.
Additional resources will include a handbook, a technology list, and explanations of how Reite people have guided the use of these booklets.
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. Tips on building similar sites will be included in the handbook.
A key outcome of year 1 was 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 public meetings 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 utilizing 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.
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 transmission 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.
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).
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. We hope in year 2 to be able to assist other local communities in adopting and adapting TKRN notebooks for themselves.
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 of knowing and ownership rather than an encyclopaedic approach to making a catalogue.)
We have begun an assessment of how the bookleteer platform can be extended and developed to make it accessible to people living in non-industrialised settings without immediate access to the internet, computers and printers. A feasibility study is being conducted on 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. We hope to have a proof-of-concept version of this in 2017-18.
Villagers of Reite & Sarangama, Madang Province, Papua New Guinea, Pinbin Sisau, Giles Lane, James Leach & Porer Nombo
Supported by The Christensen Fund
Begun 2015 | Ongoing