The genesis of an oral archive in The Gambia- The RDD collection, its scope and challenges in the modern world
Alhaji Bakari Kebba Sidibe
The RDD oral archive (called the Bakari Sidibe Archive in this context) started life as the cultural archives in the 1970s with a mission to compliment the archive of written records started by the British. This came out of my desire and advocacy to revalorise the oral traditions of the Mande region which was the predominant mode of knowledge transmission before the arrival of the Europeans, and was greatly threatened by the forces of modernisation. As a young man I was always fascinated by the art of the griot, the repositories of history in our society who can recount hundreds of years of history from memory. This hereditary profession was undervalued for many years with European scholars casting aspersions to justify colonialism as a civilizing mission. The period immediately after independence provided the opportunity to tell our own story, including the interpretation of our own material culture which was displayed in European museums as exotica.
This paper traces the founding of the RDD Archive, examines its content and context in comparison to published European literature, and concludes with the challenges faced by the collection in efforts to make it more useful for research and education.
The RDD Oral Archives: From Early Days to Digitization,
Experiences and Challenges
Siaka Fadera and Mr. Lamin Yarbo, Research and Documentation Division, NCAC
Since the early 1950s, foreign researchers in The Gambia were required by regulation to deposit with government a copy of their research tapes and papers. This was the humble beginnings of what is today the 6000 tape collection of The Research and Documentation Division (RDD) oral archives of the NCAC. Government staff under the supervision of Alhaji Bakari Sidibe later expanded the scope and depth of the collection through various field research trips across The Gambia, Southern Senegal and Guinea Bissau.
This paper seeks to explore the origins and growth of the RDD archives paying attention to the research methodology used for data collection, data processing methods and medium of carriage which ranged from reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, CDs, VHS, transcribed and translated files and digital. The paper shall also discuss the bottlenecks associated with the current digitization project and how these could be addressed to ensure a user friendly archive for students and researchers.
Collecting Oral Testemonies toward the Contemporary History of Guinea-Bissau: Challenges and Prospects
Carlos Cardoso, INEP, Guinea Bissau
The liberation struggle led by the PAIGC placed Guinea-Bissau on the map of the countries that were most notable in the processes of conquest of African independence in the second half of the twentieth century. For this reason, one of the great challenges posed to the historians of post-independence was how to reconstitute this process, inserting it into a broader narrative that accounts for the country’s recent historiography. In order to respond to this challenge, the recently created Center of Studies on Contemporary History ofthe National Institute of Studies and Research (INEP) conceived and implements a Project for the Reconstitution of the National Liberation Struggle through the collection of oral testimonies of personalities who had participated in this struggle. The projecthad to face several methodological and epistemological challenges, as well as practical issues. This communication seeks to reconstitute what this process has been, highlighting its successes; It points the ups and downs and, above all, the perspectives that open (or not) to the achievement of such an objective.
Key Words: Oral testimonies, Contemporary history, struggle for African independence, national liberation struggle, INEP Project.
Traditional Songs, Religious Hymns and Poems from Oral to Digital: Do We Have A Strategy?
Ousman Mamakay Bojang
Traditional songs, religious hymns and poems manifest rich oral traditions that presently face danger of being wipe out in the cultural landscape of the Gambia. The repertoire and practice of singing in the Gambia is not only a verbal performance but is a tool to advancement and contribution to knowledge. They are stored in memory and passed down from generation to generation. They provide important information for historians of Africa and are rich sources of inspiration for modern African poets, novelists and dramatist. It is a fact that cultural and intellectual advancement will not be attained without promoting the intangible cultural heritage. What strategy can be employed to transform this intangible cultural heritage without destroying their purity? What strategy can be used in their storage, sharing and usage without destroying the cultural value? It is indeed complex to digitalize such vital aspects of our culture without considering who is entitled and shall enjoy the right to these creative thoughts. A vital component of digitalization is adequate resources and expertise in order to rediscover the cultural identity attached to songs, religious hymns and poems. This work shall endeavour to provide relevant dynamics that attest to the need to digitalize traditional songs, religious hymns and poems to better shape and determine the available information essential to life histories of Gambians.
Methodological aspects of multimedia recordings – examples from data collection on cultural knowledge in Djibonker, Senegal
SOAS, University of London
There have always been various methodological approaches of interdisciplinary data collection in human sciences, which have developed over time, alongside rapidly improving technological advances that can enhance the quality of the data collected. However, handling various electronic devices, with which researchers of the modern age constantly confront their participants, can also have an intimidating effect on participants and can influence data collection, which should be avoided as far as possible.
This presentation focuses on methods to collect oral cultural knowledge with examples of a case study from a sociolinguistic study in the highly multilingual and multicultural village of Djibonker, Senegal. In this setting, data is collected using a multidisciplinary approach where the collection of oral knowledge is advisable to comprehend peoples’ social lives, their interactions and values, which in turn influence their linguistic behaviour and languages in use. However, during data collection the researcher can face many difficulties, which will be elaborated and discussed. These range from ethical issues and social interactions, to finding the right people and asking accurate questions and training research assistants, to recording performances and translations. To overcome these obstacles, an interdisciplinary approach is essential and the researcher needs to respect and adapt to any given situation. This allows reorienting the nature of data collection from an objectification of the source towards observing the information delivered through a subject: that is, an individual with their own (social) experiences, perceptions and attitudes who interacts with their interlocutors. The diversity of methodological approaches in the collection of multimedia recordings is presented, which includes extensive preparations, sensitive data collection and follow-up processing. The data can therefore be archived, shared, (re-)analysed which ensures the preservation of cultural, historical and linguistic knowledge of a community or group, while providing as much background information as possible.
Introduction to the history of the Senegambia
Boubacar Barry, Universite Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal
Senegambia is a geographical and historical space constituted at the edge of West Africa. It is the synthesis of all interferences across their oral traditions, that is characterized by the apogee of Wagadu in the Empire of Gana, of Sundjata Keita in Mali, of Ndiagane Ndiaye in Jolof, of Koli Tenguela in Fuuta Toro, of Janke Wali in Kaabu, of El Hadj Umar Tall in Eastern Soudan. All of these traditions are shared by the peoples of Senegambia and signify the diversity of oral traditions, which must be safeguarded by the modern methods of digitization.
Digital Archiving within the Context of the Gambia
Poncelet O. Ileleji, Coordinator,
The Gambia YMCAs Computer Training Centre and Digital Studio
Archiving within a digital context in the Gambia, has been a slow and tedious process to achieve, despite the fact that through the British Museum Endangered Archive project supported by Arcadia in 1999, work was carried on a pilot project to archive “Social history of the Gambia: rescuing an endangered archive, police and court records”. This project classified under the serial number EAP231 in the British Museum takes a look at police and court records from 1820 to 1960 within the Gambia which where digital archived. This project it must be noted took place exactly a year after the Gambia launched its Internet Gateway to give access to Internet connectivity to its populace in August 1998 when the Internet can be said to have fully landed for public use in the Gambia. It will be noted also the oldest publication in the Gambia dates back to 1858 written by the British Explorer Mungo Park, “Travels in the Interior of Africa” a copy of this original publication is housed at the Gambian National Library. It’s noted that this oldest publication in the Gambia is not yet digitized and has suffered numerous wear and tear over the years.This paper presentation, will examine why the process of a digitized archiving have been slow and tedious process in the Gambia and the need to develop nationalized centre approach towards digitization in the Gambia’s. It will also look into the high risk in losing a lot of our natural documented heritage due to a lack of a National digitization policy nationally. The process of digitized archiving centre in the authors view should be spearheaded by the “National Council of Arts and Culture, The Gambia”, as the rightful custodian of our archiving records.
Leo Frobenius going digital – which images for whom?
Richard Kuba, Frobenius Institute, Frankfurt/Main
The pictorial archive of the Frobenius-Instiute consists of 60.000 photographs and 40.000 water colour paintings, pen-and-ink or charcoal drawings, displaying mainly African material culture and technology such as architecture, handcrafts, religious objects, clothing, hairstyles, etc. as well as rock art. Produced mainly during Leo Frobenius’ twelve expeditions to Africa between 1904 and 1935, the images constitute a unique body of visual representation during the early colonial period.
Some years ago most pictures have been accessed, digitized and published on the web. However, a number of questions concerning the contextualization of the images still have to be solved. How much information on the production of the images and the collections historical usage could or should be given along the database?
Trickier are ethical questions. This has been highlighted by a relative small collection within the archive: pictures from aboriginal Australia. There is a strong discourse among the indigenous communities about restricting access to visual representations of so called secret/sacred places, rituals and persons. How far are we with such discussions in Africa and were do we stand when conflicts arise between the ideal of free information and the need for censorship in order to protect minority rights – assuming somebody is mandated to define such rights?
One way of dealing with the images beyond their mere online publication would be, to take them serious as a shared Euro-African heritage. This means for example to design common research and exhibition projects with partner institutions in concerned countries and thus assure a continuous debate about the images and their value as historical sources.
Digitization of the Nigerian National Archives: Problems and Prospects
Prof. Olayemi Akinwumi Ph.D, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Nigeria
The National Archives in Nigeria housed many invaluable documents of our historical past. Scholars in the past have used these documents to write the history of many areas in the country. Indeed, there is no major history book in Nigeria that has not relied on these archival materials. Unfortunately, these documents, due to carelessness and greed of some of the employees, have been damaged and stolen. Upcoming scholars are finding it difficult to rely on the archives to reconstruct the past. It is in this light that digitization of the Archives in Nigeria become inevitable.
This paper addresses the problems associated with the digitization process. One major problem has to do with the government. The government apathy to the science of the past has affected the archives and all other related institutions. This paper will specifically discuss this issue and how the various governments can be lobbied to be interested in the digitization of the national archives in Nigeria. This paper will also focus on the prospects of the digitization of the archives. This paper concludes by identifying the advantages associated with the digitization of the archives in Nigeria, especially how it can protect the original historical documents from further deterioration and damage.
“The experience and challenges of the digitization of the National Archives of INEP in Guinea-Bissau”
Dr. Leopoldo Amado, INEP, Guinea Bissau
The Archive of INEP is the repository of all or almost all documentation relating to the colonial period of Guinea-Bissau. The Archive has been dearly cherished since the foundation of the National Institute of Studies and Research (INEP) and especially reinforced by the adoption of a law granting it legal custody of the colonial documentation and administration of the State of Guinea-Bissau.
In view of the increased difficulties of cataloging the abundance of documents in the National Archives, in addition to extreme difficulties in packaging and preservation, INEP chose to launch a bold program to gradually digitalize all existing collections. This has been normally progressing, despite the decay or even disappearance threats of important legacy given its exposure to high temperatures, excessive dust and extreme humidity.
Hence, our modest and short communication is not only to raise awareness of the contributory potential of INEP’s National Archive, as well the vastness of problems facing it, namely, conservation, cataloging and availability of the archives to the general public. Nonetheless and above all, it is to share our short experience with the gradual digitization program, specifically the challenges of typing, sorting and availability to the general public.
“The Future of Oral Traditions”: The PrecolonialSenegambian Past, Digital History and the Modern Historian
Dr. Assan Sarr, Ohio University
Research on various aspects of the Gambian past reveals that constructing a national archive of oral sources was an objective pursued by the Gambian government since regaining political independence from Britain in 1965. As noted by Alice Bellagamba, great work has been done in preserving many of the invaluable oral history materials since 1983 when Bakari Sidibe pioneered this work. The RDD (Gambia’s oral history archive) is one of the remarkable oral history repositories in the West African sub-region over thousands of oral history tapes from Radio Gambia and many collected by NCAC staff under the supervision of Sidibe and others that worked closely with him and afterwards. While the RDD had initiated many projects in the past to deal with issues of preservation, the challenges this institution face are many though not peculiar to NCAC. Preserving this archive have become all the more important. As eminent historian of the Gambia region, Donald Wright notes, there is increasingly a tendency for Gambian informants to present “written history” as oral history. This might privilege Eurocentric perspectives, ignoring Africans’ own way of conceptualizing or thinking about their past. The rapid changes in our societies –urbanization, Western education and migration –are also draining communities because they have resulted in some form of social dislocation even though Senegambian societies have witnessed massive economic growth and development over the past several decades. People who in the past, might have accumulated invaluable knowledge about their past are today unable to discuss their history in any meaningful way.
Given the above challenges, I argue in this paper that digital humanities present a new opportunity for preserving this rich collection of oral materials. Making oral histories accessible and preserving them are important. That is what many Digital Humanities projects promise. Digital humanities oral history projects can help with language training and preservation. The RDD collection is comprised of resources that capture the voices and experiences of ordinary men and women. In more than a half dozen Senegambian languages, these materials can be used for conducting historical research and to learn about many African cultures and languages. However, there are ethical issues surrounding permissions and ownership.
“Digital Democracy and Socio- Historical Preservation: An Afro-Centred Approach”
Marsha M. Hall
Information access and application of knowledge sharing via the internet and various global web-based technologies have improved significantly in recent years. Such development has facilitated innovative approaches towards integrated and interactive digital archiving, digital preservation and disseminating information resources. Although the World Wide Web is an open platform, there remains strong digital divide, disparities and dis-connectivity for effective transfer of appropriate digital tools to preserve national indigenous memory projects. This paper examines the rise and importance of digital archiving technology from an Afro-centred perspective. It focuses on effective systems for digital access/ preservation of African narratives, though not monolithic, in traditional and non-traditional spaces where technology is limited, controlled and in some cases viewed as disruptive. The paper analyses how inaccurate historical representation of African cultural oral aesthetics are constructed and consumed globally. This paradigm has contributed to the absence and marginalisation of institutions continued emergence from under the Western gaze as bodies of contestation. As a result, the paper highlights lacunae in digital empirical research and lack of ethnographic methodology suitable to the realities of subaltern voices negotiating digitised spaces. Furthermore, the paper addresses issues of under-representation of published and unpublished materials from Africa in digital spaces. The research methods combine content and discourse analysis and archival theory. Both content and discourse analysis explore scholarly and theoretical works, shifts in archival construct / practices and identification of counter-narratives. While archival theory presents an inquiry into the cultural role and significance of archives from the concept of decolonising institutions.
Key Words: Afro-centred, digital democracy, digital divide, digital archive, digital preservation, indigenous memory projects
“Ethical and Practical Considerations: Digitising Gambia’s Historical and Cultural Collections”
Dr. Bala Saho, The University of Oklahoma
In Africa, the last few years has seen a renewed interest in the digitization of intellectual properties and efforts to place these materials on the web. In 2004, in The Gambia, the drive towards digitization began with funds from the US Embassy to the National Centre for Arts and Culture’s oral history department. This was followed by The British Library Endangered Archive Funds for the National Archive spearheaded by Prof. Walter Hawthorne in 2011, and Dr. Toby Green’s digitization project for the oral history archive in 2013.
However, it is important to consider very carefully the relationship between digitization and resources (technology and funds) to achieve considerable outcomes. Central to this initiative are libraries, museums, and archives that are disposed to collect, describe, and create access to collections that can serve the needs of scholars and communities whose history they represent. This paper explores concerns, challenges in creating and presenting digital historical collections from The Gambia on the Internet. It will also discuss the need for such collections and why we created them. In other words, what does open access mean for struggling archives that rely on visitors to justify their existence? Is it in the best interest of African archivists to allow foreign institutions to fund the digitization and dissemination on the World Wide Web of their collections? What are the risks and potentials/benefits for African archives in placing their materials on the web? What are the challenges and opportunities for digitalization in places like The Gambia? What are the best practice methods in presenting or exhibiting these documents on the web?
“Digitization or deliquescence of Oral Archives”
Dr. Mamadou Tangara, United Nations
On the 24th of March 2017, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2347, “to protect Cultural Heritage as a symbol of understanding and respect for all religions, beliefs and civilisations.”
Prior to this resolution the Al Mahdi case served as an alarming call for the urgent preservation of archives in Africa and the world in general. Archives in Africa are faced with destructive threats from within and without. The menace can be summarized as follows:
1- Lack of adequate of adequate resources both human and financial to preserve the archives.
2- Action of primitive forces of stagnation wantonly destroying cultures, civilisations and religions from the very basis of their foundation.
The paper will look at the situation in 3 countries of the West African sub-region, namely Senegal, Guinea Bissau and The Gambia:
– Lethargy in Senegal
– “Cultural carnage” in Guinea Bissau
– “Gold mine” in danger
The conclusion will focus on the strong advocacy for the urgent digitization of oral archives and the need to foster closer and stronger collaboration within the West African sub-region and beyond with the view of promoting intercultural dialogues.
“Traditional Knowledge and Folklore in the Digital Age: Protecting Copyright and managing access rights to communal assets and rights in the era of globalisation”
Mr. Almamy F. Taal, UTG & President Collecting Society of The Gambia
The Gambia has both comparative and competitive advantages in Traditional Knowledge and Folklore. Data capture, data storage, data sharing and transfer is relatively easy now because of the phenomenal advances in Information Communication Technologies-ICTs. Traditional Knowledge and folklore-TKF by their nature are diffused kinds of rights belonging to a people/group/nation in-common and often of great antiquity therefore individual claims of the property rights in TKF may only be asserted in the terms of performances and displays at community ceremonies, which, can be easily recorded, edited and transmitted through multiple media at a very small cost to the individual with ‘smart’ devices connected to the internet.
This paper wish to explore the increasingly significant role of TKF in the IP discourse particularly in respect of traditional societies like the Gambia and the increasing acceptance of TKF concepts and ideas in the global IP regimes architecture. The paper will attempt to reconcile the dichotomy of a rich cultural heritage and the poor wages for cultural workers and TKF practitioners. The paper will further examine legal and regulatory framework for the protection and preservation of TKF: what are the main challenges to maintaining the integrity of TKF in the face accelerated globalisation.
The paper will conclude by making recommendations for systematising and standardising the archiving of TKF and propose Public-Private-People Partnerships for the preservation, protection and utilisation of TKF for the development of rural communities, youth and women using social media and ICTs.