Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reframing Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge systems in PNG embodies our way of life, our belief systems, our cultural practices and the very social political foundations that weld our relationships to one another.

To have a sense of what indigenous knowledge is we turn to a new PNG book: Reframing Indigenous Knowledge: Cultural Knowledge and Practices in Papua New Guinea. The book was released last month, even though it took five years to have it published after a conference organized by the Melanesian and Pacific Studies (MAPS) of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences , University of Papua New Guinea in 2004. The following people had their papers published in the book.

Peter Baki, then Secretary of the Department of Education opened the conference with his challenge on promoting indigenous education in Papua New Guinea. Baki discusses the reform school curriculum, which considers indigenous knowledge systems, and ways of doing things in Papua New Guinean. He challenges tertiary institutions to use indigenous knowledge systems and research methodologies to make decisions and policies to transform Papua New Guinea from the old to the new.

Dr. Linus Yamuna of the University of Goroka discusses the role of the Centre for Melanesian Studies. Institutional structures must be developed to enable the process of indigenous studies to be institutionalized. It also enables the institutions to become sites of indigenous knowledge repositories.

Julie Forster considers the challenges of operating as an indigenous scholar within dominant cultural boundaries. Forster attempts to situate the problematics of having to negotiate multiple identities in multiple sites of cultural contestations as the coordinator of the BA program in Aboriginal and Islander Studies at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. As an indigenous scholar with identities that are coexistent as an Aboriginal and Papua New Guinean, her struggles are often multiple, given the situation that negotiating all these identities are never that easy.

The late Paschal Waisi discusses the epistemological systems of the Lau’um people of Lumi district, in the West Sepik Province. Most people talk about knowledge as something that is already given. The question of how knowledge is produced must be addressed before other epistemic questions are considered. Waisi identifies the Lau’um term for wisdom called pingis and demonstrates how knowledge or wisdom is produced in the Lau’um society.

Sam Kaima discusses dispute settlement and avoiding retribution in the Wantoat area of Morobe province. Kaima draws from his own experiences and observations during the time he was able to move in and out of his own society.

Multiple ways of knowing and versions of ‘sik’ in Modilon General Hospital is the subject of Alice Street’s paper. Street, from Cambridge University, was at that time doing research in Madang. Street presented an anthropological account, which recognizes the multiple constitutions of reality in Madang General Hospital—that gives form to the image she began her paper with, without reducing it to a singular narrative.

Tom Hukahu, at that time a postgraduate student at UPNG, discusses traditional astronomy used by islanders in the East Sepik Province. Hukahu discusses the importance of learning the knowledge systems of a society through listening to stories told by elders and knowledge experts in a given indigenous community.

Sauka Pauka discusses his research on teaching of traditional scientific knowledge in high schools. The primary purpose of the research was to investigate the sources of explanations and understanding of natural phenomena in terms of their cultural and school science experiences.

A database on indigenous traditional medicine in Papua New Guinea was created in Papua New Guinea. The Pharmacy program of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea and the Department of Health were responsible for this project. Prem Rai and Simon Saulei discuss this development.

The inextricable link between language and environmental knowledge is the concern of Sakarepe Kamene. In his paper he discusses the interdependence and co-existence of language, culture, and environmental knowledge of the Zia of Morobe, Papua New Guinea. The discussions given by Kamene reflect his long term developmental research activities developed within in his own Waria society or the Zia language group of Morobe Province.
Linguistic research and development of community awareness in a Madang village is the subject of Catherine Levy, then from the Divine Word University. Levy discusses her involvement in developing information and community awareness program in the language group that she worked with in Madang. Indigenous communities can use their own knowledge systems to develop tools and skills they can use to understand the modern world.

Naomi Simet of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS) discusses traditional dances as a form of constructed knowledge. Dance is an important form of indigenous knowledge system embedded in the ethnic cultures of the indigenous peoples. This knowledge is owned by elders of a particular ethnic group and is passed on to the younger generation. This knowledge is maintained and manifested in dance performances. Simet discusses the Pikinamp dance of the Chambri people in the East Sepik Province.

Don Niles of the Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies (IPNGS) discusses his research on the study of chanted tales from the highlands of Papua New Guinea. In parts of Western Highlands, Enga, and Southern Highlands provinces, there are extraordinary poetic creations, sometimes referred to as “chanted tales”. These sung stories encapsulate many types of indigenous knowledge: history, people, environment, customs, and music.
Finally, Masio Nidung gave the framework in which to protect indigenous knowledge. She concludes: “The upshot of all this is that PNG needs to have a broader policy on all aspects of intellectual property rights taking into account emerging issues of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and folklore in a coordinated way that we have our own information and resources system set up for a better culturally oriented society.”

Librarians and subject masters in high schools and colleges must have this book in their libraries.

The book is now available at the UPNG Bookshop. To order a copy you can email me using the email address given below.
Email: sewinduo@gmail.com

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