My largest ongoing project is to design a digital repository for indigenous Amazonian cultural materials. This project rooted in my background in anthropology and language documentation. I have conducted nearly two years of fieldwork in Amazonia. During these fieldwork episodes, I have made over 100 hours of audio recordings, over 25 hours of video recordings, hundreds of photographs, and a plethora of textual materials including transcriptions and translations of indigenous myths. I now plan to make these materials available to the originating communities using an open source digital repository application.

During my first fieldwork in 1997–1998, I used analog audio, video, and photographic processes to document indigenous language and culture. From 2005 to 2009 I digitized all the analog media: audio cassettes, 8mm video cassettes, and photographic prints. I moved all the digital files to a hard drive, and in 2009 I repatriated all the recordings, donating the hard drive to the community where the recordings had been made.

Javier Ruedas hands a hard drive to an indigenous Amazonian man.

Above: I hand Alfredo Barbosa a hard drive containing all Marubo audiovisual materials then in my possession. May 2009.

The group of indigenous people that I worked with are called the Marubo. Numbering approximately one thousand, they live in the Javari River basin along the border between Peru and Brazil, on the Brazilian side. The Marubo have a rich corpus of sung myths called saiti. These myths range from short songs that take fifteen minutes to sing, to myths so long that they take days or even weeks to sing. The myths are known fully only by a few very old Marubo. In order to prevent the loss of this oral knowledge, I decided to carry out a language documentation project focused on the sung myths.

Elderly indigenous Amazonians sit on two parallel wooden benches inside a longhouse. One of the elders sings. In the background, young Marubo walk around the center of the longhouse. Bundles of bananas and plantains hang from the rafters.

Above: Marubo elders sit on the parallel benches. Cassimiro looks towards the interior of the longhouse, singing to the young men and women who walk around the center of the structure. Cassimiro is singing a myth. The youths echo his verses. June 2009.

With support from the Foundation for Endangered Languages and the German Foundation for Endangered Languages (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Sprachen, GBS), I traveled to the Javari River basin in 2009. From April to August, 2009, I worked with the Marubo to make 64 hours of audio recordings, including 47 sung myths totalling 31 hours in length. In addition, we transcribed 15 myths, digitized 43 typewritten and handwritten transcriptions, and translated 8 myths.

Unlike my first fieldwork episode, in 2009 all recordings were made digitally. I used an Edirol R-09 for audio recordings, a Sony high definition digital camcorder for video recordings, and a MacBook for transcriptions, translations, and to transfer recordings to backup drives. I used a portable solar energy system to power the digital devices. Since the recordings and texts were digital, they were all immediately shared with the language community through the donated hard drive, accessible through a community laptop.

A Mac laptop sits atop a wooden board that sits atop a plastic garbage can. The laptop receives power from a car battery through a yellow box. The car battery receives power from a cable that comes down from the roof. The laptop is connected to a hard drive.

Above: My office in the Marubo community of Maronal. A MacBook receives energy from a car battery charged by a solar panel on the roof outside. A hard drive connected to the laptop stores the larger files. An inverter (yellow) converts the battery power into AC power usable by the laptop and hard drive. My desk was a shutter on top of a garbage can.

Below: I work with Alfredo Barbosa to digitize one of his typewritten transcriptions.

Javier Ruedas and Alfredo Barbosa sit by a laptop. Alfredo Barbosa holds a sheaf of papers while Javier Ruedas types.

I now plan to build a digital repository for all the Marubo cultural materials currently in my possession. The repository will make these materials accessible to the Marubo, and be capable of receiving new submissions as needed. I hope to create sound long-term preservation and access conditions for these materials, and eventually turn the repository over fully to indigenous control.