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The Web & Indigenous Cultures in Developing Countries

A few years ago the title of this post would have sounded bizarre, but its happening. From Fiji to Madagascar, we are observing the affect of web access on indigenous cultures. 99% of web access in these countries is by the wealthy few, but in some villages children walk hours to schools lucky enough to have a web connection. Village chiefs in Fiji often have mobile phones, and last month Vodafone Fiji starting offering iPhone. This will undoubtedly make web access in villages more prevalent.

Network television in these places is usually limited to a couple channels covering news, sports and shows from the 70s and 80s. With the web's ability to take a villager anywhere that interests her, where will she go? Based on my informal poll, popular subjects include American hip-hop culture, celebrities and sports (in Fiji, primarily Rugby.) I'll be interested to see how villages in Fiji and Madagascar evolve based on this exposure over a five to ten year period. I guess I have another excuse to return to two of my favorite locales.

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Comment by Daniel Leuck on October 12, 2009 at 9:09am
Hi Kurt - Thank you for the link to Evan's blog. His speed learning game for languages sounds interesting.

Hi Gabe - Thank you for the grant leads.
Comment by Kurt Sussman on October 12, 2009 at 5:45am
I met a guy at a conference who has a fantastic system for learning and teaching languages. Evan Gardner developed this system to preserve dying languages, and demonstrated it by teaching about 15 ASL signs in an hour, and I still remember all of them 8 months later!

On the travel front, check out Servas International; sign up a few hosts on those Pacific Islands and develop a culture primer for visitors, and watch the bonding begin. I joined Servas for my first trip to Europe, and met lots of fantastic people who taught me more about the culture than I would have gotten as a typical tourist.
Comment by Gabe Morris on October 8, 2009 at 5:21am
re: grants related to language/cultural preservation-

The Foundation for Endangered Languages has a very modest grants program:

You may also want to contact the Living Tongues Institute to find out more about any programs in the area:
Comment by Derek on October 6, 2009 at 10:24am
Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law is also embarking on a digital cultural preservation projects of some sort. Weʻre not using a social network, but rather developing a digital archive that will be accessible online. You can read more about it at

There are definitely ways of getting government grants, probably more so from those countries.

We should definitely get together and chat about it. Iʻd like to do that very much.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on October 5, 2009 at 2:04pm
Hi Kevin - Sounds interesting. I look forward to hearing how your project goes!

Hi Derek - Good questions. I've been interested in doing this for cultural preservation, including language preservation, of small pacific island countries for some time. I think it could be funded by a combination of government grants and corporate sponsorship. Next time we get together lets chat about it.
Comment by Derek on October 5, 2009 at 8:48am
I like the posting Dan, mahalo. Reading the thread, including Kevin Vaccarello's response, is there a way to balance bigger commercial interests with local interests? For example, could airline advertising pay for or subsidize the cost of a social network? I'm assuming the indigenous group do not have the resources to fly-in tourists.

How might indigenous values & concerns be maintained and balanced with economic development in an industry such as tourism?

I'm looking forward to reading more responses on this topic. Mahalo everyone.
Comment by Kevin Vaccarello on October 2, 2009 at 3:13pm
I'm working with a group that is focusing on this for island nations in the Pacific region. They're currently looking at leveraging web-based technologies to turn the tourism industry on its ear a bit, so that it's a more authentic, host-based experience. The hosts then get to be the primary recipients of the income on their own terms.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on October 1, 2009 at 8:13pm
Kostya: Surely indigenous people also have a lot to share with the world. Would love to see more blogs, forums, videos, etc, talking about ancient wisdoms, customs, traditions, stories and long forgotten tales :)

I agree. I think social networks could be a powerful tool for capturing language, traditions, stories and music in places where they are in danger of being lost. This could occur organically as people interact and contribute UGC. Small South Pacific island nations jump to mind as perfect candidates. I've been toying with the idea of designing a social network for this purpose. We just need to figure out a way to get someone to pay for it :-) I'll keep my eyes open for grants in this area.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on October 1, 2009 at 7:46pm
This is a very interesting subject, Dan, thanks for posting it. From my own travel experiences, mostly in South America, I would probably say that indigenous people have a lot to absorb from Internet exposure. Not surprisingly, first thing to encounter is the Internet 'hip-hop', possibly followed by an eye opening abundance of information, which could even touch upon things they did not know about in their own local communities.

It is quite interesting to know the actual percentages of indigenous people that are getting online, wondering how long it takes them to discover social networking, possibly even impacting TechHui in years to come :)

Surely indigenous people also have a lot to share with the world. Would love to see more blogs, forums, videos, etc, talking about ancient wisdoms, customs, traditions, stories and long forgotten tales :)

I also believe indigenous people possess a lot of information about their local environments, ancient medicines, food recipes, etc.. that, in good time, could be beneficial and in some cases even revolutionary to present state of being, including world peace, environmental practices, public education & economy.


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