National, Technology

Indigenous Knowledge at your fingertips.


WINDHOEK, Aug. 24 – Imagine a world were innovators camp at the heart of a village – its settings compared to the city, possibly defined as primitive – and sit down with elders who more-often-than-not, have no idea what a tablet or iPhone is.

“Lets create an App for the tech-savvy city-wise youths!” is what they have come to inform the elders.

And as such, with Indigenous knowledge fast becoming rare and ignored by the modern generation, a contingent of programmers teamed up to create a ‘cultural knowledge preservation’ application, in collaboration with the people of Opuwo.

Spearheaded by Dr Heike Winschiers Theophilus, the team seeks to marry technology with the untampered traditions of indigenous people and reconnect them to the many young people that migrate to the city.

A set of applications are integrated together as one big tool: “Application 1” is the collection of media, entailing the Indigenous-Knowledge-Holder recording videos, audios, drawings, pictures then modeling a 3D (three dimensional) traditional world.

“If the villagers need specific models then they use our crowd-sourcing application, and order specifically modeled 3D models, so it’s separate applications but they all work together and eventually they also feed the national data base,” says Dr Theophilus.

She highlighted that cultural activists and indigenous people are the preservers of cultural heritage, hence the programming team has positioned them at the centre of the project.

The programming team started with the Ovaherero in 2008 and later migrated to the Himba, creating enthusiasm along the way and finding a way to keep dwindling aspects of culture relevant in the sphere of technology.

“All of them love it, they welcomed us, especially the elders, we work mostly with the elders and as we design the technology with them, they become the masters of it, so the interesting part is we keep the hierarchy within the village so when the youth come from town, they are only users,” she said.

As to be expected, elders of the village specify the features they would like based on what they view critical in tapping their vast knowledge, and share it with the programmers.

“When there is a specific plant that has a specific medicinal quality, these elders can take pictures and make videos or drawings on how they process that herb and this is stored on the tablet. The aim of all this is then to gather all that knowledge and curate it in a 3D environment which we call the Home Set Curator,” said the application developer Donovan Maasz.

According to Maasz, youth rural-urban migration combined with the elements of globalisation have divorced young people from rich knowledge of the past preserved in the cocoons of oral tradition. The technology comes in to bridge the gap between the modern world and the rich past.

“The youth are moving to the towns for jobs and study purposes, hence they get disconnected from their culture and tradition and all this knowledge passes on with the elderly because no technology is preserving it. Our inspiration basically becomes indigenous knowledge preservation,” he added.

Dr Theophilus submits that this ironically interesting and incisive marriage of the past with the modern world is the exciting feature which will likely make young people keen to embrace indigenous knowledge as they interact with technology.

“Young people have embraced technology much to the detriment of indigenous cultural aspects of our lives, hence bringing this indigenous knowledge right at the centre of the technology they use every day would allow them to reconnect with their roots.” – Jonsey Douglas