Building intercultural bridges thanks to intangible cultural heritage and digital technologies

Climate change affects us all as its impact knows no border. However, some regions of the world are even more threatened than others, especially by some risks that are not always considered when it comes to environmental concerns: higher levels of migration, coupled with the impact on intangible cultural heritage. Such a situation is particularly witnessed in the Pacific islands, such as in the Republic of Palau.

Discover the Island Ark Project, an initiative that has decided to capitalize on digital technologies in order to safeguard the islands’ cultures, while giving the possibility to the islanders who have emigrated to maintain a strong bond with their homeland.

Dennis Redeker and Connie Ngirchemat tell us more about the project that he has co-founded back in 2015 and she joined in 2017.

 

Sea level rise erodes infrastructure and salt-water intrusion into fresh-water sources, threatens food production, such as of Taro, affecting the livelihood of many island nations. This is one of several main reasons for high rates of migration from the smaller Pacific island states to regional centers such as Guam, Fiji and Hawaii and the Pacific Rim states, notably Australia, New Zealand and the USA. As a result, such high levels of migration create challenges for passing on cultural heritage from one generation to another. Another fact is that while islanders integrate well into their new host societies, many feel a longing to connect to the culture and community of their home countries. Finally, at some point in the future, settlement in some island nations such as Kiribati - whose islands average 1.8 meters at their highest elevation - may not be longer possible. Undoubtedly, there are many elements at stakes when it comes to climate change in the Pacific islands.

 

In 2015, David Eichert and Dennis Redeker, while interning at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, thought about the uncertain future of island nations around the world - from the Caribbean to the Pacific - and they hoped that digital technologies could be an asset in safeguarding island cultures and communities. Out of these hopes, the Island Ark Project Foundation Inc. was founded to explore the ways in which the Internet can help preserve and foster cultural heritage by keeping people connected to each other. The focus of the NGO is on the development of tailor-made online platforms, in order to facilitate an intercultural dialogue promoting the islands culture as well as reinforcing the bond between the emigrants with their homelands.

 

These platforms aim at allowing islanders to discuss, curate and thus pass on their intangible cultural heritage and to continue to engage as a political and social unit. For now, these platforms represent a meeting place for islanders interested in sharing and learning about oral traditions and expressions, performing arts and social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe, traditional craftsmanship ... Individuals, civil society groups and government agencies can have access to specific features to upload pictures, videos, audios and texts. In the future, these platforms are thought to be able to handle more advanced technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and to serve as an environment for social exchange and political debate.

 

Early on, the Delegation of the Republic of Palau to UNESCO supported the Island Ark Project and asked them to make Palau their first island nation to go to. In Palau, the project connected with a number of groups interested in digital ways of safeguarding intangible culture. These groups range from the Belau National Museum, Sonsorol State Government, Palau Community College, the “Bai Project” and Palau Resource Institute.The Minister of Community & Cultural Affairs has been very supportive and so has the Bureau of Cultural and Historical Preservation of Palau.

 

Further expanding their team, the Island Ark Project reached out and connected with three more individuals equally engaged in emphasizing the importance of cultural safeguarding: Ingmar Sturm, pursuing a PhD in political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Rachel McAllister, studying Sociology at Brigham Young University with minors in International Development and Non-Profit Management, and Connie Ngirchemat, an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Cruz, studying Intensive Sociology with the emphasis in Global Information and Social Enterprise Studies (GISES).

 

Through careful planning, the Island Ark Project has organized a two-day workshop with their Palauan partners in late November 2017. Redeker, Sturm, and McAllister helped them to get familiar with the methodology and tools of ICHCAP, Centre for Intangible Cultural Heritage in the Asia-Pacific (a UNESCO category 2 centre), based in South Korea. The teams have been able to upload their own specific content onto templates created by ICHCAP, including videos, photos, and audio files. The overall goal of the workshop was to provide a digital solution to preserving and safeguarding intangible cultural heritage within the Palauan culture. The participants expressed a high appreciation of the workshop program. They expressed their appreciation when it came to learning how to use a website for digital safeguarding as well as they felt that templates represent be a relevant way to manage the protection of the culture through digital. In the future, the participants want to use these templates to make their digital content on intangible cultural heritage available to a broader audience on the islands and beyond.

 

The project is keen to add further partners in the Pacific and new team members from Pacific island countries. As the vision of the Island Ark Project continues to expand, all members of the NGO continue to donate their time and efforts into the project. While Island Ark Project keeps in touch with its Palauan partners for further cooperation, the NGO is starting to plan for similar workshops with other island nations, including the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, and Kiribati.

 

Would you like to know more about this initiative? Check out Island Ark Project official website and do not hesitate to get in touch with Dennis (dennis@islandarkproject.org) or Connie (connie@islandarkproject.org)!

Migration, traditions / The Pacific