Friday, June 12, 2009

Harnessing the internet for traditional PNG archives

Pacific Media Centre: UPNG

At the National Cultural Commission's Institute of Papua New Guinea Studies, a team of local researchers has the mountainous task of recording the traditional knowledge of PNG societies.

With some 814 distinct cultures, Ralph Wari, the institute's director, freely admits that they have hardly touched the surface of local language, customs, arts, and music. But with limited resources, the team must record and archive as much material as possible as well as disseminate it, in many cases to help ensure its survival.

While most of the collected materials are currently residing at the institute's Port Moresby base, Wari is hoping that the internet will prove a useful tool in making the vast stores of local knowledge more widely available.

The Institute of PNG Studies is one of several potential information providers taking part in a project coordinated by the University of Papua New Guinea's South Pacific Centre for Communication and Information in Development (SPCenCIID) and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as part of its Pan-Asia Networking (PAN) programme.

The project – named PAN Information Networking and Services Papua New Guinea (PINS-PNG) – will lead to an information server being established and encourage institutions to publish electronically. Similar PAN country-level information servers have been funded in the Philippines, Vietnam and Nepal by IDRC.

PINS-PNG aims to bring together some of the country's best sources of local content to build up a PNG presence on the internet, as well as provide training for relevant organisations, and encourage the distribution of research materials within the country.

With one of the largest pockets of biodiversity in the world, PNG has long been a focal point for researchers from all parts of the globe.

Unfortunately, the same enthusiasm given to collecting data is not extended to its dissemination within the country.

Big potential
John Evans, a lecturer and book publisher within SPCenCIID and project leader for PINS-PNG, says that much of the research is published outside of the country and often does not make it back.

When it does, it is often limited to one location and its availability is not known elsewhere, particularly in outlying areas where much of it originates. To counter this, Evans will coordinate efforts to make more research information available through the internet as a result of the project.

“People used to go off and write their report somewhere else and it never got back again,” he says.

“Now people might be more inclined to put summaries of their research on the net.”

Locally, there is certainly no shortage of information providers with an abundance of potential content.

For the project, seven organisations have been identified initially - the Institute of PNG Studies, the University of Papua New Guinea, the National Parliament Library, the Government Office of Information and Communications, the Small Business Development Corporation, the National Association of NGOs (NANGO), and the Melanesian Institute.

Papua New Guinea has itself only been connected to the internet since 1997. But since then there is a growing awareness of its potential and no shortage of ideas on how best to use it within the context of PNG resources.

Webbing new and traditonal knowledge

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