Just over a week ago the Tupunis Slow Food Festival on Tanna island, Vanuatu concluded. It was the first festival of its kind held in Melanesia – bringing together people from Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, New Caledonia (Kanaky); the Solomon islands and Fiji to celebrate traditional ways of producing and preparing food as part of a redefinition of “development”; rejecting the simple monetary definitions (dollars per day) and exploitative, extractive industries that characterise what global institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF define as development in favour of alternative criteria that recognise the value of sustainable land and sea tenure, the qualities of organic grown food and traditional methods of preparation, and the richness of lives not governed by the need for money. The festival was organised by a coalition of local organisations (including Vanuatu Slow Food Network, Vanuatu Land Defence Desk, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Tafea Cultural Centre) and supported by The Christensen Fund as well as the Vanuatu Government.
As part of our TK Reite Notebooks project, James Leach and I travelled to participate in the festival along with three people from Reite village in Papua New Guinea – Porer Nombo, Pinbin Sisau and Urufaf Anip – with whom we have been co-designing the TKRN toolkit since 2012. Our trip was intended to bring the TKRN project and toolkit to a wider audience of Melanesians interested in documenting and preserving traditional culture – with the focus on presentation being led by Reite people themselves (rather than James and myself). Our role was to facilitate and support, with the key exchange of ideas, tools and processes taking place between people indigenous to Melanesia themselves.
This is a key aspect of the project for us – having our co-design collaborators from Reite village be identified and engaged with as cultural leaders in their own right who are actively taking steps to document and transmit their living culture and knowledge traditions to future generations in the face of extreme pressure from “development”. For most of our time we were also accompanied by Yat Paol, a PNG man of the Gildipasi community with whom we worked in Tokain village earlier this year (and a representative of The Christensen Fund in PNG). Yat’s insight and gentle wisdom concerning the importance of self-documentation of traditional knowledge as a means for indigenous people to empower themselves has been a source of inspiration and a great sounding board for us.
Porer and Pinbin represented Reite on a panel bringing perspectives from various Melanesian communities and spoke about the project and the importance of kastom, land and bush. For many people at the festival the emphasis was on a return to traditional ways of life – having two people who come from a community that maintains its traditional way of life speak about what it means to them and their families truly caught the mood of the audience and their response was fantastic, giving rousing applause.
The festival ran over 5 days and had speakers from across the region, as well as performances by cultural groups, traditional crafts, music and demonstrations of new ideas for food preservation and health initiatives. Moreover, each day traditional foods were prepared and cooked by people from all the provinces and islands of Vanuatu (and New Caledonia) for attendees to sample. Thus we were feasted on a daily basis on everything from (and often in locally specific combinations of) taro, yam, manioc, tapioca, cassava, banana to fish, coconut crab, goat and beef.
At the festival we connected with Canadian anthropologist, Jean Mitchell, who is running a project (Tanna Ecologies Gardens & Youth Project) with young people on Tanna documenting and recording kastom gardens and traditional foods. James, Urufaf and I ran a TKRN workshop with a group of them, teaching them to fold and make notebooks, as well as co-designing a new custom notebook for their project. A couple of days later we demonstrated scanning in the first few completed books and printed out copies for the young people who had made them. Our simple bush publishing set up of laptop, scanner and printer meant that we were able to do this quickly and simply – working in basic conditions on site and being able to carry all the equipment we needed in a couple of backpacks. Jean’s project is an extension of one she originally developed in 1997, the Vanuatu Young People’s Project, with the Vanuatu Cultural Centre. Over the next two years the young people on Tanna will be documenting as much knowledge about traditional kastom gardens as they can, using the TKRN toolkit as their primary tool. Jean has worked with them this summer to develop a questionnaire template which has been adapted for the notebooks:
Once back in Port Vila, Jean also arranged for us to train a couple of young people who will be sharing their skills with the men fieldworkers of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre at the annual fieldworkers’ meeting at the end of September. This will complement the work we did in March with the women fieldworkers and hopefully bring the TKRN toolkit to many different communities across Vanuatu.
At the festival we also met and had great conversations with Dr Ruth Spriggs and Theonila Roka-Matbob from Bougainville (a semi-autonomous part of PNG), who are setting up an Indigenous Research Centre on the island, and Professor John Waiko of Oro Province PNG and his son, filmmaker and slow food activist Bao Waiko, from Markham Valley PNG (where he lives with his wife, Jennifer Baing-Waiko, also co-director of Save PNG). We’re hoping to share the TKRN toolkit with their initiatives as part of our next steps.
A highlight of our trip was a visit to Tanna’s famous Mount Yasur volcano, truly awe inspiring:
Before attending the Tupunis festival, we took the opportunity to build on a relationship we had initiated with Wan Smolbag Theatre during our previous trip to Vanuatu earlier this year. Through co-founder Jo Dorras we were introduced to researcher Ben Kaurua and digital trainer Cobi Smith with whom we ran a TKRN workshop introducing the books and documentation process to a group of young volunteers who work with various island communities living in and around Port Vila, the capital on Efate island. (I had designed a very simple custom notebook for WSB in advance of travelling). We were also introduced to some local Chiefs from the nearby Lali community and were invited to attend a ceremony that was part of a boys’ initiation ritual. We left WSB with some new equipment to assist them in using the TKRN toolkit (a Polaroid Snap camera/printer & Zink sheet packs, as well as a low cost Canon combined inkjet scanner and printer) and are hoping to see some results in the future.
Porer speaking at IUCN
After the festival, while I returned to the UK and Pinbin and Uru returned to Madang, James and Porer continued on their travels to participate in the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii. There they took part in a session on indigenous documentation to demonstrate the TKRN process and toolkit, and to discuss the complex issues facing traditional communities who wish to preserve their culture and values and to transmit them to future generations.
This trip was the final activity of our recent TKRN programme – we are now preparing a new programme of activities that aim to build a lasting legacy for the project and enable the establishment of a network of indigenous groups and local organisations in Melanesia to adopt and adapt the TKRN toolkit for themselves. Huge thanks are owed to Catherine Sparks of The Christensen Fund who made so much of this possible; funding many of the projects, organisations and the festival itself, as well as being the consummate connector introducing people and taking care so that everyone had the most productive time possible. Thanks also go out to Paula Aruhuri, Joel Simo and Jacob Kapere who were instrumental in inviting us, arranging travel and accommodation and making time and space for us on the programme.
I’ve recently returned from Papua New Guinea where, with James Leach, I have been doing field work for our TK Reite Notebooks (TKRN) project. This follows on from our work last year in Reite village on Madang’s Rai Coast, and also from our trip to Vanuatu in February, where we worked with a group of women fieldworkers and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.
Having established the model of working with the notebooks with Reite villagers last year, the focus of our trip in this second year of the project was not to produce more books, but to explore how and if the model would work with other communities and, to find other local partners for whom the tools and techniques we have developed could be useful additions to their own methods and practices of documenting traditional knowledge.
Through our close discussions with Catherine Sparks and Yat Paol of The Christensen Fund (our project’s main sponsor), we identified some possibilities – the Research + Conservation Foundation (RCF) of Papua New Guinea (in Goroka, Eastern Highland Province); and Tokain village, Bogia District (Madang Province). Having arrived in Madang and met up with two of our key collaborators from Reite – Porer Nombo and Pinbin Sisau – we made plans to travel up the coast to the village of Tokain and stay a few days to introduce our model to local people. James and I then travelled to Goroka to spend a day at RCF meeting with their director, Sangion Tiu, education programme manager, Emmie Betabete, and resource officer, Milan Korarome. We learnt about RCF’s work in communities and in teacher training, and presented our TKRN approach. This resonated strongly with RCF whose staff spoke of the problem of documenting traditional knowledge in both school and village settings. It was a lovely moment when their enthusiasm for the books spilled over and we decided on the spot to co-design a new template with them. We then spent a while devising questions about climate change for elementary schoolchildren, which RCF will pilot this summer.
We returned to Madang after this highly successful meeting and the next day set out for Tokain with Porer, Pinbin and another young man from Reite, Urufaf, who has become a key proponent of using the TKRN books in his own community. Piling aboard a PMV (an open back truck with benches and a tarpaulin for sun/rain cover) we bumped along the highway following the coast north for about 4 hours before arriving. Many people from the village turned out to meet us and hear Porer, Pinbin and James introduce what the Reite villagers had done with the TKRN books and why it was important to them to preserve and transmit their culture and knowledge to future generations this way. The following morning we walked around different parts of the village meeting people going to market and in the community office, where they have a laptop and printer/scanner of their own, giving us an opportunity to demonstrate the whole cycle of printing off a PDF booklet, filling it in, scanning and storing it as a PDF on the computer and printing out another copy of the scanned book.
Then we addressed all the students from the elementary and primary schools, their teachers and some of the village elders – again, the focus being on the Reite villagers explaining their use of the books and how the school in Reite had adopted the books as part of their own curriculum activities on environmental science and cultural heritage. This indigenous or local exchange of documentation practices (with James and myself taking a secondary role as facilitators rather than teachers) is very much the beginning of where we see the TKRN model developing in the future. The afternoon was spent workshopping ideas for the booklets and getting people used to the cutting and folding process for making up the books, as well as taking their photos to stick onto their books – always a popular aspect of the process. This continued well into the night with the convivial atmosphere of a house party surrounding the guesthouse where we stayed.
We left Tokain having agreed to meet up in a week or so’s time with a representative from the village who would bring us the first batch of completed books to scan and for me to build a simple website for – as I did last year for Reite (Reite Online Library).
From Madang we set off across Astrolabe Bay and down the Rai Coast to return to Reite for a few days and discuss with the community what had happened since our last field trip and what we proposed to do next. A meeting was organised and many people also came from neighbouring villages and hamlets: Sarangama, Asang, Marpungae and Serieng. Porer, Pinbin and Urufaf all spoke about the project, what was achieved last year, what we had just done at Tokain and how important it is for knowledge to continue to thrive and be passed on to future generations despite all the changes happening to the world around them. James also spoke of our visit to Vanuatu, how we had shared some of the Reite books with the indigenous fieldworkers there and we showed them some of the books made by the ni-Vanuatu people we met.
The response was dramatically positive, with people calling for a revival of teaching and learning in their traditional local language, Nekgini, alongside using Tok Pisin to document stories and practices. A core group of people interested in taking the lead to build up a library of traditional knowledge also emerged, a group who were also prepared to go ‘on patrol’ to other local villages to share with them the TKRN methods. We left over 250 blank books in the village, as well as a simple to operate Polaroid Snap camera (and several hundred sheets of Zink photo paper) to take and print out photos of people to stick on the front covers. By shifting the focus from the familiar and everyday towards the more esoteric, and perhaps endangered, types of knowledge of their environment that Reite people have, we are hoping they will be able to develop a truly unique and exemplary library that could inspire others across PNG, Melanesia and perhaps even farther afield to document their traditional knowledge before it is lost. We also took the opportunity to improve the design of the books, redesigning the front covers to allow for more contextual information about the author and the books contents, and rewriting the engaged consent statement on the front for better clarity.
Returning again to Madang we met with Ernest Kaket from Tokain and scanned in the books he’d brought with him from the village. These now form the foundation of their own online library which we hope to expand in due course.
Our next steps are to make a return visit to Vanuatu with a couple of Reite villagers to introduce their use of the TKRN model themselves; and to continue to develop the basis of a partnership with RCF as a means of extending the reach across PNG of the tools and methods we’ve co-created with Reite people.
Over the past 2 weeks I have been in Port Vila, Vanuatu in the South Pacific with James Leach and Lissant Bolton (Keeper of Africa, Oceania and the Americas, British Museum) working with the Vanuatu Kaljoral Senta (Bislama for Vanuatu Cultural Centre). Lissant organised and led a special workshop with a group of women fieldworkers on the theme of current changes to kinship systems (supported by the Christensen Fund). The fieldworkers are ni-Vanuatu (local) people representing some of the many different vernacular language groups from across the many islands who do voluntary work to record and preserve traditional culture and knowledge. The fieldworker programme has been established and overseen by the Cultural Centre (VKS) for over 35 years and is a unique initiative where local people gather “cultural knowledges about all the aspects of the customary art of living of Vanuatu”. Each year the fieldworkers gather together to share their research with each other and contribute to the documentation held at the VKS.
Lissant had invited James and I to visit Vanuatu with her and introduce the TKRN toolkit and techniques to the fieldworkers participating in the kinship workshop, as well as to meet with others working on different projects at the VKS. The low cost and ease of use of the TKRN booklets – both for collecting documentation in rural settings as well as digitising and archiving (both online and as hard copies) – made it an obvious tool to share. Prior to leaving London, Lissant and I had made some initial examples of Bislama (the local pidgin) notebooks for Vanuatu similar to those created in Tok Pisin for Papua New Guinea. These would be tested with the women fieldworkers during the workshop and we planned to adapt them with their assistance, as we have done in PNG with local people from Reite village.
In Port Vila James and I were also were introduced to Paula Aruhuri of the Vanuatu Indigenous Land Defence Desk, an organisation that promotes awareness of indigenous custom and land rights across Vanuatu and campaigns to stop land alienation from traditional owners. With Paula we co-designed a simple reporting notebook for the fieldworkers who deliver awareness events to local communities that will assist the land desk in documenting local people’s concerns and how they might be able to help them. And we met with Edson Willie of the VKS Akioloji Unit (Heritage Unit), with whom we co-designed a notebook for fieldworkers to record heritage sites.
The women fieldworkers experimented with one of the notebook formats and helped us re-design the front cover and write up a more appropriate ethics statement that reflected their different concerns about sharing traditional knowledge. In this case they chose not to share their books online (as we did in Reite), but to have them scanned, re-printed and stored in the ‘Tabu Rum’ of the VKS, the audio-visual archives. Local concerns about rights to aspects of traditional knowledge in Melanesia are a major theme and extremely important to design for. Developing tactics and a strategy to enable clear documentation and permission for sharing has been at the heart of the TKRN co-design process. Lissant has written about this issue in the context of Vanuatu and it also reflects on James’ work with Porer Nombo from Reite on their book Reite Plants in this essay.
We are planning to return to Vanuatu later in the year with some Reite people to participate in a knowledge exchange around the TKRN toolkit and techniques with men and women fieldworkers of the VKS. In this way we hope to develop a model of adoption whereby communities learn from each other how to use and adapt the toolkit for their own purposes, with our role being more one of facilitation than education or training. As a toolkit designed from the grassroots up, I hope to continue expanding on the concept of ‘public authoring’ that has driven the development of bookleteer and the ‘shareables’ it enables people to make and share.
In late April James and I will return to Papua New Guinea to work with Reite villagers to introduce the TKRN toolkit to a couple of other villages in Madang Province – this should provide an good indication of the possibilities and limitations of how a model of community knowledge transfer and adaptation can work.
TK Reite Notebooks is a toolkit for documenting and transmitting traditional knowledge to 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.
The toolkit was co-designed with Reite villagers in Papua New Guinea, with support from The Christensen Fund.
Versions : English | Tok Pisin | Bislama
|What you need:
|What to do:||Why?|
|1. Identify the people who you will work with, and discuss the possibility of documenting Traditional Knowledge through this toolkit. Discuss what they might like to document, and what the value of recording it will be for them.|
|2. Make it clear that participation is voluntary, and that there are ways of restricting content built into the process. (You may use the engaged consent model developed with Reite Villagers)||It is crucial that everyone involved in the process understands certain things about it, and has a chance to consider others:
a. it is wholly voluntary.
|3. Choose from notebook templates available here, or design you own.||Notebook templates have been designed in Tok Pisin and in English, of various lengths, and with different prompts and guidance. You can choose one or more of these as suitable to your requirements. Alternatively, using bookleteer, anyone can design and create their own blank notebooks in different languages, for different contexts, or with different communities.|
|4. Print and make up the number of notebooks that you think you will use. Depending on conditions and resources, you might choose to use a waterproof paper stock in place of standard office paper. Make sure people have enough scissors to make up the notebooks. You may have to supply these.||The toolkit is based around the use of these notebooks. People use them to document anything they choose.
Waterproof paper (e.g. Aquascribe) is more durable in humid environments.
It is a very good idea to involve the participants of the process in making up the notebooks. Learning to fold notebooks engages participants and offers ownership of a key part of the process. There is also a sense of achievement in making one’s own notebooks. People who have learned to fold the notebooks can teach others, or assist in folding workshops. In a large-scale documentation process, this also means one or two people are freed from making up multiple notebooks.
|5. Public meetings or private discussions with participants to discuss content and how best to utilise the notebooks for what they wish to record. This is not about restricting content but enabling people to see how they can use the notebooks for different types of content.||People should choose their own content. These meetings are an opportunity for people to decide in co-operation with other people what is appropriate to record and how the process should be organised. Just as with involving people in the folding of notebooks, this process is about people taking control over their own documentation project. It is also doing things together. Whether or not people decide on a division of labour or content, or even if they choose not to share content with one another, making the process a common activity motivates people to engage and stimulates deeper consideration of the corpus and range of Traditional Knowledge. It also makes it possible to air concerns, and head off disputes over what can and can not be recorded before the notebooks are filled in.
Whatever people make with the notebooks sits within a bigger context of who they are making it for, who will see them doing it, and what they hope to achieve.
|6. Personalise the notebooks.
Take a photograph of each person or group of people who will fill out a notebook. Print the photograph out and stick it on the front cover. Ask them to write their name(s) after the engaged consent statement.
|The photograph serves to identify the authors, to personalise the notebooks, and gives people an extra impetus to complete them. It also makes whatever is recorded there associated with this person and therefore keeps knowledge attached to people|
|7. Make sure participants have writing and drawing materials. Distribute pens and pencils if necessary.|
|8. Ask if they wish to delete any of the lines on the engaged consent statement.||The engaged consent statement is a simple mechanism to get people to think about what they record and how willing they are for it to be seen by other people. This is important for several reasons, including taking ownership of the documentation process, controlling its circulation, and considering the nature of and restrictions on certain kinds of knowledge before making it public. In order to feel confident that they will retain control over the content it is vital to remind people that they are making these notebooks for themselves and those they wish to pass things on to, and can restrict the circulation of the notebooks completely if they wish. It reminds them they are not being asked to record things for outsiders but that if they are willing, other people can be given access to their notebooks.|
|9. Remind people to be as full and complete in their documentation as possible. Encourage people to use all the space available, and to use drawing, images, photographs etc. as well as words.||People often assume a lot of background knowledge, or take for granted that the reader already knows the content. Ask them to consider what they would like their grandchildren’s grandchildren to know if they had never been in the village/area etc.. Suggest people give enough information so that someone with no knowledge of a plant or process or story could identify it or follow it properly.|
|10. Suggest a time frame for the return of completed notebooks.||This encourages completion. Some participants will be enthusiastic and wish to complete multiple notebooks. Others may be shy of their ability and need a prompt to complete the work.|
|11. Be available for and encourage that questions and concerns are brought to you while people are in the process of filling out the notebooks. Respond positively to new ideas for content, or to suggestions about what people would like to document.||This means people who become confused, or lose confidence in what they are doing will not just drop out of the process.|
|12. Digitise the completed notebooks. First confirm consent to scan and/or share online by giving people another chance to modify the consent statements on the front of the notebooks. Unfold the booklets, scan the individual pages as either jpeg images or PDF pages. Collate all the scanned pages for each individual notebooks into a single PDF file, and give it an appropriate file name.||Digitising the notebooks will allow them to be archived and shared, or printed out again if the original is lost or damaged.|
|13. Put the notebooks back together and return it to its author.||Immediately returning the notebooks is an important way to keep the documentation with participants, and can be reassuring for them.|
|14. Share files via removable media. Copy files to USB flash drives of people involved in the project. Alternatively, each scanned notebook should be small enough to email.
15. For those with sustained access to the internet, we recommend building a simple website which can act as archive of uploaded PDFs of the notebooks. Visit the online library website created for Reite village for inspiration and ideas.
16. Print out copies of the notebooks, fold and make them up for the establishment of a library of physical copies of the notebooks. This might be hosted by a local school, community centre or government institution.
|The project only uses freely available digital and analogue technologies. The most basic tools required are pens, paper and scissors, with various digital technologies adding increased capabilities at different levels :
Creating New Notebooks
Making Up Notebooks
Scanning & Printing
Sharing & Distribution
Another simple sharing method is to copy PDF files of scanned notebooks onto cheap USB flash drives which can typically store thousands of files.
Power & Light
The toolkit is licensed under Creative Commons.
Documenting and transmitting Traditional Knowledge
for future generations
TK Reite Notebooks is a toolkit for documenting and transmitting traditional knowledge to 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.
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. 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 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.
- 2012 PNG: Saem Majnep Symposium & Reite village pilot study
- 2015 PNG: Reite co-design collaboration
- 2016 Vanuatu: Vanuatu Cultural Centre
- 2016 PNG: Further iterative design (RCF, Tokain & Reite)
- 2016 Vanuatu: Wan Smolbag & Tupunis Festival Cultural Exchange
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 Year 2 we have 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 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.
- In year 2 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).
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 of knowing and ownership rather than an encyclopaedic approach to making a catalogue.)
We are fundraising for a major technical upgrade of bookleteer.com to make it more 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
Pilot Phase : 2012
Main programme : Begun 2015 | Completed 2016
Legacy Phase : in development
Today is the last day of our fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. I’ve been here for the past 3 weeks or so with anthropologist James Leach piloting the first stage of a new kind of toolkit designed to help remote indigenous communities document and record – in their own hand and forms of expression – the kinds of traditional cultural, environmental, ecological and social knowledge (“TEK”) that are in danger of gradually fading away as development, resource extraction, industrialisation and the money economy erode their ability to live sustainably in the bush/jungle.
I flew to Perth in late February to spend a week with James preparing for our trip : gathering the gear we’d need to be able to co-design booklets using bookleteer offline in the bush, print them out and scan them back in, as well as documenting all these processes. James is currently on an ARC Future Fellowship at the University of Western Australia, as well as Professor and Director of Research for the French Pacific Research Institute, CREDO in Marseille. He has been working with the people of Reite village on Papua New Guinea’s Rai Coast (Madang Province) since 1993 and his 2003 book, Creative Land (Berghahn Books), is a major anthropological study of their culture and society. James and I have been collaborating on ideas of self-documentation of traditional knowledge and “indigenous science” ever since I introduced him to the Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer back in 2008. When two Reite people, Porer Nombo and Pinbin Sisau, came to the UK in 2009 to take part in a project at the British Museum’s Ethnographic Dept telling stories and giving information about hundreds of objects from PNG in the collection, we first used the notebooks together to create a parallel series of documents about this encounter and what was revealed.
In 2012 I was invited to share my thoughts on how bookleteer and the books format could be used by indigenous people themselves at the Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium on TEK at the University of Goroka in PNG. We followed this up with a trip to Reite village where we spent a week testing out our ideas with people from the village, and developing a simple co-design process for creating notebooks with prompts to help people (whose literacy varies dramatically) record and share things of value to them. The focus was to understand how far this idea could really deliver something of use and value to people who live a largely traditional way of life in the bush, and why they might want to do this. It became clear early on that the enormous enthusiasm was driven by concerns about how all the knowledge that has allowed their society to thrive in the bush for countless generations could easily vanish in the face of money, cash cropping and the speed of communications and change that factors like mobile phones are bringing – leading some young people to turn away from traditional life for the dubious advantages of a precarious life in the shanty towns on the edge of PNG’s growing cities. The notebooks offer a new kind of way to preserve and transmit such knowledge for future generations, especially as they combine the physical and the digital, meaning the loss of a physical copy of a book doesn’t matter when it has been digitised and stored online. The success of this first experiment enabled us to write a proposal for funding a 2 year pilot to the Christensen Fund (a US-based foundation) which awarded us funding in 2014.
After a brief stopover in Canberra to consult and share ideas with Colin Filer and Robin Hide of Australian National University (both PNG experts of longstanding), we headed straight to Madang to meet with James’ friend Pinbin Sisau (at whose home we would be staying in Reite village) and gather all the necessary stores to sustain us in the field for several weeks. After a day in Madang we took a dinghy, skippered by the ever-reliable Alfus, across Astrolabe Bay and South-East 60km or so along the Rai Coast to the black sand beach where we landed and were met by some villagers who’d help portage all our cargo the 10km inland we’d have to walk, up into the foothills of the Finisterre Mountains where Reite village is located (at about 300m above sea level).
James had visited Reite again recently, in October 2014, to discuss the upcoming field work and to gather more feedback on our original experiment so we could plan how, in practice, we could co-design notebook templates with the villagers and what we could prepare in advance to help this. A few small tweaks to prompts used in our 2012 co-designed notebook were made, as well as creating a simple printed version (I had handwritten all the notebooks we used before) on bookleteer and a new book for collective writing. To have the capability to design, generate and print out bookleteer books in the field, I commissioned Joe Flintham (Fathom Point Ltd) – who is bookleteer’s chief consultant programmer – to adapt a version of bookleteer to run offline (i.e. with no need for internet connectivity) on my Apple MacBook Air laptop. Joe created an Ubuntu Virtual Machine image of bookleteer (minus various online services) that runs on Oracle’s Virtual Box application. Combining this with a portable inkjet printer (a Canon Pixma iP110 with battery), a portable scanner (an EPSON DS-30) and the Polaroid PoGo & LG Pocket Photo PD239 Zink printers would give us a fully-fledged ‘bush publishing” capability. For paper we brought with us a supply of Aquascribe waterproof paper (a Tyvek-type product) and pre-printed and shipped some 170 copies of different book templates. The waterproof paper is a highly useful technology to use in the damp and humid environment, where ordinary pulp-based paper becomes fibrous very swiftly and disintegrates in a short time. Books printed and made on this paper (as we used before) have a much longer lifespan – possibly decades.
Reite is made up of several hamlets, being the name applied not just to one village but an administrative district from the colonial period. As such the people who took part in our project come not just from Reite itself, but from Sarangama, Yasing, Marpungae and Serieng. For the next two weeks of our fieldwork we were constantly engaged in discussions with local people about the books, what they might include in them and how they could help reinforce the importance of the knowledge of the land, plants, animals and environment that people here have developed over generations. Once again, James’ long-term collaborator and informant, Porer Nombo, was the hub around which much of the necessary energy to bring people together and discuss the ideas was focused. In addition to the 3 templates we had prepared before coming, we co-designed with Porer, Pinbin and several others with a keen interest (such as Peter Nombo and Katak Pulu) another 4 different styles of notebook for a range of different themes and types of ‘stori’ that people wanted to record. Overall, 63 books were completed by around 42 people during the fortnight we stayed in the village. The major difference in this project was that, rather than taking the books away to scan and return, the portable scanner meant that we could scan everyone’s book in the village itself. Thus we could store a digital copy (and print out another if needed) and leave the original in its author’s hands in the village. This was an important step, partly to underscore that the books were by and for people in the village, not for us, and also to counter ideas that we might be taking knowledge away from the village to profit from selling it. For us, the digitisation of the books is a critical component for transmission to the future as it means that the unique books, which are hand written and drawn in by their authors, can be retrieved and printed again if lost or damaged. We explained this to everyone in several meetings – both smaller ones within the house we stayed in, and a larger public meeting about halfway through the project.
As in our previous experiment, we designed the front cover of each book to include a photograph of the author (which we took using digital cameras and our smartphones and printed out on the sticky-backed photo paper of the PoGo & LG Zink printers). As well as describing the general themes of the prompts inside each book, the cover also includes the simple statement that the author has been told about and understands the project, as well as statements (which they can cross out if they don’t agree to) that the book can be scanned onto computer, and shared online. As it turned out, the excitement that people’s work would appear on the internet was palpable and a significant impetus behind participation. Having something they had made, with their picture on it, on the internet had real value – suggesting that the knowledge they have could both be seen by others around the world and known about across PNG too.
What became one of the most important aspects of the fieldwork was the way that the local primary school (St Monica’s Reite) adopted the books wholesale and wove them directly into the curriculum around social science and environmental studies. We met up with Mr Jonathan Zorro, the school headmaster, in the first days of our trip (I had met him on my previous trip and James again last October) and he confirmed that he was very keen for the school to become involved. It turned out that the school has a desktop PC with a laser printer and scanner, so it became clear that not only could the school print out copies of the books on standard A4 paper, but they could scan them in and store them locally on the school computer. We agreed to spend a day at the school to introduce the project to all the students and then to do some practical book-making demonstrations and workshops with each class. James also agreed to give each of the Upper school classes (years 5-8) a short lecture on the importance of traditional knowledge and how it relates to environmental studies and preserving the community’s way of life. Mr Zorro organised for 290 books to be printed at the school, with one of the key emphases being that the students should use both the Tok Pisin versions and the English versions to improve their language and descriptive skills. Mr Zorro kindly shared with us the assessment criteria which he also developed for the students’ work : assessing their English language skills, their artwork (drawing), narrative ability, use of social science and environmental studies knowledge. Within a week of our first presentation at the school many of the students had submitted books of their own and we ended up digitising 55 of the best ones.
We had planned for a visit by to Reite by Catherine Sparks (who is based in Vanuatu) and Yat Paol (based in PNG) from the Christensen Fund’s Melanesian programme, but Cyclone Pam intervened and our own visit to the village was cut short by a few days (due to some health and security issues) so we have ended up completing our fieldwork from a base in Madang. There we presented the work completed to Yat Paol and were also able to arrange a meeting for him with the school headmaster plus Porer Nombo and Pinbin Sisau who have been our steadfast colleagues in this project. Now we have scanned the 118 books we have been indexing their contents and details of the authors to prepare a specially designed website to act as an online repository of library for Reite, and beginning to analyse and work with Porer and Pinbin on some indigenous classifications for the kinds of knowledge and experience that they contain. As our time here draws to a close we find that we have a wealth of stories to develop new parts of the toolkit from, and a clear sense of direction for the project’s second stage.
Towards the end of October 2012 I boarded a flight to Sydney on the first leg of a journey to Papua New Guinea, where I was to give a presentation about public authoring and the Shareables we have created over the past dozen and more years. Through my friend, the anthropologist James Leach, I had been invited to participate in a symposium at the University of Goroka in PNG’s Eastern Highlands to share my thoughts and experiences of using hybrid tools and technologies with different communities to record and share their knowledge, stories and experiences – a process we have called public authoring since developing our Urban Tapestries project back in 2003.
I first got to know James at the University of Cambridge at a symposium he, Lee Wilson and Robin Boast co-organised for CRASSH where I was an invited speaker. We then began collaborating in 2009 when two Reite villagers, Porer Nombo and Pinbin Sisau, came to the UK to participate in a project at the British Museum Ethnography Department. Porer and Pinbin were invited to help identify hundreds of objects from the Rai Coast area of PNG that the BM has in its collections, but about which very little was known. In addition to the audio recording and photography of the objects, James wanted to capture something about the process of encountering and engaging with the objects; he turned to me to explore using the Diffusion Notebooks format we had previously discussed. Over the week or so of Porer and Pinbin’s visit to the BM Ethnographic Store in an east London warehouse several notebooks were made and shared online (these are also browsable on bookleteer and downloadable – Melanesia Project Notebooks). This small project was a personal turning point in several ways and when the opportunity came to visit PNG and to travel to Reite village itself with James I had no hesitation in accepting.
The Saem Majnep Memorial Symposium on Traditional Environmental Knowledge took place from October 31st to 2nd November and featured both local as well as international researchers. James and Porer Nombo presented their book, Reite Plants, as a potential model for sharing local traditional knowledge. I gave a presentation about how we have used the Diffusion eBook format and bookleteer in our work with different communities to record and share their stories, experiences and other things that they value. Prior to visiting PNG James and I had spent a few days discussing and sketching up some possible notebooks to take to Reite village. I had also researched a waterproof paper stock that could both be printed on and written on using universally available pens (such as biro and also Sharpie pens) – which was crucial in the hot and humid climate of PNG where ordinary paper is highly susceptible to mould, damp and disintegration. Taking a small amount of this paper with me, and some test printed waterproof eNotebooks, we made our way via Madang to Reite village.Once in the village, we realised that the sketches for notebooks that we had planned before were not quite right and that there was a unique opportunity to co-design a simpler approach that reflected local sensitivities to knowledge sharing. Working with Porer and Pinbin again, we devised a new formulation for the wording of the notebooks about the kind of subject matter we would be asking participants to record and share, as well as the provenance of their knowledge. A key ingredient was the informed consent statement that appears on the front cover of each notebook below the space for the participant’s photograph, which was printed and stuck on using a Polaroid PoGo printer, and beneath which each participant wrote their name after reading and agreeing.
Having just a limited supply of materials I was able to create 16 notebooks – far less than the number of people who wanted to take part – which were all handmade and written out in the village itself. At a morning meeting, the aims of the project were explained to the participants by Porer and James whilst I took their photos and printed them out to stick on the cover of their notebooks. As a simple pilot, we asked the participants to write about just one thing in their environment about which they had specific knowledge – knowledge that was their’s to share (i.e. not taboo or magical knowledge, hap tok in Tok Pisin). It was important that everyone taking part understood exactly what we were doing and why – that this was intended and an experiment to explore new ways for their community to record what they know and to be able to pass in on to their descendants as well as to share with others.
By the end of our week in the village all 16 notebooks had been returned, filled with stories, drawings and information – the first time I have had a 100% return rate in any participation project! Disassembling each of the notebooks back into flat sheets, I used a cheap portable hand scanner to create our very first digital versions of the notebooks, which were saved as multi-page PDF files for immediate sharing. Once back in our London studio I was able to take more accurate scans on a desktop scanner, but the use of the portable scanner to capture and immediately share (via SD card) digital versions of the notebooks was another useful demonstration of the simplicity of the whole process for sharing in the field without access to mains electricity and the usual infrastructure required for file sharing.
James provided some English translations to the notebooks, which we then incorporated into new versions made and shared on bookleteer – all of which can be browsed online or downloaded as A4 PDFs for making into handmade books in this collection – Reite and Sarangama Notebooks. We also combined the 16 notebooks into three larger bookleteer books grouped together according to subject matter accompanied by a book written by us (in both Tok Pisin and English) browsable or downloadable (as A3 PDFs) in the collection – TEK Pilot 1. Two of these books were recently printed in a small run using bookleteer’s Short Run printing service and sent out to subscribers of the Periodical – read about them here. We are sending handmade versions of all the books and notebooks back to the participants in Reite and Saragama villages, laser printed on another waterproof paper stock for durability.
Our longer terms aims are to expand this process for simple tools and techniques for recording and sharing local traditional cultural and ecological knowledge into a toolkit that could be used in different contexts and situations, and which is, as far as possible, technology agnostic. To do this we plan to return to Reite in 2014 to continue our co-design and collaboration with the villagers there, and to then devise a basic toolkit which can be shared with other people and communities in PNG, then potentially further afield. I would love to hear from others working with traditional or remote communities who’d like to share ideas and perhaps experiment with the process and tools we’ve developed so far.
On the trip to PNG I kept a diary of my experiences for my then 8 year old daughter, which I digitised using bookleteer. It is personal and written with her in mind, yet it is probably the best way to communicate some of the intense experiences I had in the village – with a culture and society that is so very different to my own yet offered so much to me in generosity of welcome, food, gifts and in spirit.