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