Submissions/Indigenous knowledge for Wikipedia: Bending the rules?

From Wikimania 2013 • Hong Kong

This is an accepted submission for Wikimania 2013.

Presentation Media

Submission no.
Subject no.
Title of the submission
Indigenous knowledge for Wikipedia: Bending the rules?
Type of submission
Author of the submission
Peter Gallert (PG), Maja van der Velden (MV)
Country of origin
Namibia (PG), Norway (MV)
Polytechnic of Namibia (PG), University of Oslo (MV)
E-mail address (PG)
Pgallert (PG)
Personal homepage or blog

Indigenous communities' knowledge has to pass through a long series of transformations before Wikipedia accepts it. This is thanks to the Identifying Reliable Sources (IRS) guideline which excludes the normal source of such knowledge: Take for example a village elder telling tales. What he narrates at the fire is being noted down, translated, selected, abstracted from, commented on, edited, and finally published---Why do we regard such endless game of Chinese Whispers as reliable while denying that status to the very source of the information?

This presentation suggests to rethink the current restriction of reliable sources to those from cultures based on writing.

Detailed proposal

Can communities whose culture is not based on writing be the originator of reliable information? One tends to say yes, but Wikipedia's rules make it very difficult to utilise such knowledge for building an encyclopedia:

  • There is the challenge to use third-party sources: A village elder telling tales is by no interpretation an independent, third-party source of information, and a researcher writing down what was said is third-party only if she interprets and changes the meaning, for else it is still the village elder who is "the author" of the tale.
  • There is the challenge to provide verifiable facts: Not only is it impractical to verify facts by driving out to the village, sitting around a fire, and wait until the required story comes up again, it is for most people virtually impossible. They need to learn the language, they need to gain the trust of the community, and once all that is done, they are no longer an independent source. Uploading recorded tales to Commons is questionable from an ethical perspective, because the indigenous community loses most of their intellectual property rights in the process.
  • There is the challenge to use published material: Writing-based cultures use books and papers to codify, examine, and develop their knowledge. Indigenous communities have an analogous procedure: Tales and wisdom that are remembered by many, in more or less the same form, is reliable information. The only difference is that this widely disseminated knowledge has never been published in a written format.

To address these challenges, the current practice is to bend the rules. We treat anthropologists' accounts as reliable information, even if they are not fully fluent in the language and might have missed, misunderstood, or misinterpreted part or all of what was said. We take republished tales as third-party just because the publisher falls into that category, and no matter if it is still the original elder's account. We treat book content as a secondary source, even if there clearly was no attempt to abstract from the primary source.

The only step we are currently not willing to take is to cater for the oral equivalent of publishing: to tell and re-tell a story until many community members know it. In our view we need to acknowledge this equivalent if we hope to tap into the knowledge of peoples with an oral tradition.

  • Cultural and Education Outreach
Length of presentation/talk
25 Minutes
Language of presentation/talk
Will you attend Wikimania if your submission is not accepted?
Yes, I (PG) got a scholarship.
Slides or further information (optional)
This is a chapter summary of a book to be published mid-2014 on various facets of the presentation and preservation of indigenous knowledge with the aid of information technology.
Slides from the presentation (PDF)
Special requests

Interested attendees

If you are interested in attending this session, please sign with your username below. This will help reviewers to decide which sessions are of high interest. Sign with four tildes. (~~~~).

  1. Slashme (talk) 17:37, 7 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  2. Ijon (talk) 18:18, 7 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  3. 19:10, 7 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  4. Waldir (talk) 00:34, 8 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  5. អមីរ ឯ. អហរោណិ 07:34, 12 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  6. Man77 (talk) 20:06, 17 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  7. Béria Lima msg 01:18, 19 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  8. Daniel Mietchen (talk) 23:19, 22 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  9. Amqui (talk) 20:35, 25 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  10. Remain interested in this debate. CT Cooper · talk 23:47, 28 April 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  11. Flashback to my session about this a few years back! SarahStierch (talk) 15:06, 3 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  12. GastelEtzwane (talk) 15:26, 4 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  13. Superbellymonster (talk) 03:12, 8 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  14. Maor X (talk) 17:44, 13 May 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  15. --ProtoplasmaKid (talk) 16:41, 29 July 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  16. --Jduranboger (talk) 01:58, 31 July 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  17. --វ័ណថារិទ្ធ (Vantharith) (talk) 06:53, 11 August 2013 (UTC)[reply]
  18. AWang (WMF) (talk) 16:35, 24 April 2014 (UTC)[reply]