Indigenous knowledge production, digital media and academic libraries in Ghana.

Author:Plockey, Florence Dedzoe-Dzokoto


Media is an important tool that helps us to get better understanding and appreciation to understand our environment, what is going on, and act accordingly. The marginalization of African Indigenous Knowledge System (AIKS) as a result of colonial rule has led some people to question their authenticity and their value as knowledge, capable of collecting, processing, storing, and dissemination by the academic libraries in the 21st century. Libraries could use the media to change this perception.

Libraries and the information profession, particularly those in academic or other scholarly institutions, occupy an important position in relation to Indigenous Knowledge and information. As depositories, collectors, organisers, distributors and mediators of information, librarians play an enabling role to those who produce or who want to use Indigenous Knowledge and sources of information (Nakata, 2002).

The library is the site of knowledge production and this has been collaborated by Makhubela (1990) in Prah (1999: 25) as "... indeed, libraries and information centers have, without question, been regarded as the custodians of wealth of knowledge possessed by a given socially group. They are the mediators of texts, symbols and discourses and can also allow or deny voices the right to be heard". Information gathered in libraries speak of people's subjectivities, identities, power, and knowledge. The questions asked by anti-colonial/post-colonial theorists and which I want to add my voice is who speaks, for whom, under what conditions, and to what extent when examining collections at libraries.

The very nature of education as a social institution that plays a major role in the process of social reproduction of colonial policies, further facilitates the reproduction of institutions rooted in the tradition and history of former colonial powers whose control is perpetuated, and whose search for a permanent presence is actualised (N'Dri, 2006).

Hence, based on a literature review, observation, interviews and my own experience with African indigenous knowledge, this paper aims to make proposals for academic institutions and particularly academic libraries to make use of digital media to promote indigenous knowledge in other to change people's perceptions about it. The specific objectives of this paper will look at: The concept of Indigenous knowledge and the effect of colonization on AIK (African Indigenous Knowledge). It will further discuss digital media; and then deliberate how academic librarians can use digital media to change people's perceptions and understanding about AIK.

The Concept of Indigenous Knowledge

Claxton (2010) states that the term, 'indigenous,' means local or native to the country, the people or the society concerned. Indigenous thus refers to people or things originating from a particular place and native to the place. For example, we may have indigenous Africans, Americans or Australians who originally come from these places. Hunter (n.d) corroborating Claxton's definition, explains that the term indigenous, is used in international discourse to refer to the original people of a particular territory, namely the traditional ethnic grouping who are self-conscious of their pre-colonial use and occupation of the land. Clearly, Hunter (n.d) introduces a time dimension to the definition and that is the use of the term "pre-colonial," which is very critical.

That is to say before the colonial contact and encounter with their territories now dominated by colonizers such as the Europeans, the indigenous people had their own ways of learning and perceptions of their world and the things in and around them. Above all, this definition affirms the originator conditions, systems, values and ways of indigenous group without any pejorative underpinnings.

However, according to Claxton (2010), the term 'indigenous' gradually assumed a derogatory connotation shortly after the beginning of the European colonial adventure in Africa. In the view of Senah, Adusei and Akor (2001:1), the main objective of colonial contact and eventual domination of Africa was to: "Win territories, convert 'heathens' to Christendom and to trade in spices and precious metals. In the pursuit of these objectives, they found some aspects of traditional practices to be obstacles. Indigenous knowledge was viewed as 'inefficient, inferior, and an absolute impediment to development." What started as adventure and personal search for resources by the colonial rulers from the west was immediately turned into a mission of conversion, conquest and domination ideologically, economically and spiritually.

Also, over some time, the term 'indigenous' has been applied solely to non-European peoples, considered inferior to those of the European origins. This has been supported by Maison (2007), who asserts that one cannot read or hear of 'indigenous Englishman.' This assertion is very true of the English, who like other European stocks, are considered cultured and not of nature. Rather, it is common to find categorizations and classifications of indigenous people in terms that highlight their so-called primitivity such as the Australian aborigines, Canadian Indians and American natives.

Hence, the possession of an original quality or indigineity immediately places one in a position of inferiority. Being indigenous thus denotes a backward people from Africa or elsewhere in the Third World or even marginalized group of the First World such as the Roma of Europe and the Natives of the Americas and the Aborigines of Australia, considered under-developed by modernist or Western standards. This distorted usage of the term indigenous has been so systematic and persistent that most peoples in the South have subconsciously come to associate 'indigenous' with 'inferior'. Unfortunately, this cunning association of the term indigenous appears to have influenced our attitudes, our life styles and, more importantly, our choice of development techniques, policies, models, and strategies (Claxton, 2010:3).

The colonialists see indigenous people as a social and cultural identity distinct from the dominant society that makes them vulnerable by the development process. This perception of indigenous by the colonialists, missionaries and Eurocentric intellectuals has created the impression that IK is inferior, primitive, heathen, barbaric and not worthy of preserving. Senah, Adusei and Akor (2001) give the following examples of two European missionaries who as late as 1851 and 1852 made these comments about the people of Ghana formerly Gold Coast.

"They serve the fetish like all Negros in this area. The only remarkable thing about them is that on this mountain there are also a number of cheap harlots who cannot marry. The fetish, they say, has initiated them into this sinful life. The religion of the people is really nothing less than a devil's institution, a cover for all...

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