Multimedia Research and Documentation of African Oral Genres: Connecting Diasporas and Local Audiences 2010-2013

The project Multimedia Research and Documentation of African Oral Genres: Connecting Diasporas and Local Audiences (Director: D.Merolla) focuses on multimedia as technology that allows scholars to share documentation and scientific knowledge with the cultural owners of the collected oral genres. The present project builds on the experience and results of the previous three-year program (see previous project African oral literatures, new media and technologies: challenges for research and documentation).

Reassessing the scope of the previous project, a series of conferences and workshops will be organized to discuss and implement two distinct but correlated topics:

a) the use of electronic tools to reach and to ‘activate’ larger audiences, in particular African diasporas and local publics, and

b) the theoretical reflection on partnership (scholars, storytellers, technicians, and amateur/activist documentarians) in documentation and research.

The previous partners have confirmed their participation: Leiden University, the University of Hamburg, the Institut National des Langues et Civilizations Orientales INALCO (Paris), the University of Naples L’Orientale, and the School of African and Oriental Studies SOAS (London). New institutional contacts have been established with African universities and researchers: the Language Centre of the University of Ghana (Accra, Ghana), the School of Languages of Rhodes University (South Africa), and the University of Bamako (Mali). Another valuable addition to the network is the participation of The World Oral Project (director: Dr. M. Turin, Cambridge University GB) that will strengthen the comparative aspects of the academic collaboration. The World Oral Literature Project supports video documentation of orality worldwide with the interactive website



The Network Final Conference was held at Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (FLSH) - University Mohammed V, Agdal, Rabat on 13-14 December, 2013. The conference investigated ‘sharing’ video documents and scientific knowledge on oral heritage with the people who feel represented by it. The choice to hold the final conference in Rabat (Morocco) was coherent with the goals of this internationalization project, aiming at connecting researchers from Europe and Africa with cultural stakeholders in Africa, and added the surplus value of the wonderful participation of Moroccan students and Amazigh (Berber) cultural organizations. The participation of students and members of local Amazigh cultural organizations was indeed overwhelming, and their questions and comments were challenging and inspiring for the speakers.

The scope of the conference theme was well illustrated by the two keynote lectures at the first morning; they covered issues from aesthetics and perception to rights and other formal social and legal concerns. Abdellah Bounfour proposed to use the concept ‘vocalité’ for organizing issues of the significance of the aesthetic in oral texts with a comparable – but not similar - analytical agenda as the concept of ‘literature’ does this for written texts. Such an approach, Bounfour argued, will optimally explore the wide range of aspects of a performance that can be recorded and represented by new technologies and new media.

Mark Turin elaborated on issues of repatriation and noted a shift away from legal definitions and assumptions about repatriation to more inclusive notions of digital return and community stewardship: repatriation is an increasingly complex sociological phenomenon. While noting that it is often assumed that the digital object - as a surrogate - somehow replaces the physical object, Turin argued that communities may feel marginalized by these scholarly practices. On the other hand digitized oral heritage may also be the source of linguistic or cultural revival, and new cultural forms or popular products and artistic creations. These effects must be taken into account in combination with the ethical questions of return when in reality digital surrogates rather than the objects themselves are at stake.

Jan Jansen, Felix Ameka, Fatima Boukhris, Peter Wasamba, Anne-Marie Dauphin-Tinturier, Charles Muiru Ngugi, and Mechthild Reh presented a fine set of recent case-studies in which a form of sharing was sidestepped, achieved, or attempted to be achieved among researchers and local public.

Jan Jansen discussed the ‘free use’ (in research and in the classroom) of cultural heritage - through Youtube for example - from countries that lack the institutional or economic power to defend against insufficient recognition of the artist’s rights and the copyright holder’s rights. Felix Ameka explored how Ewe origins and identity are constructed by different (but all powerful) players at home and abroad in different media. He studied three versions of the ‘migration’ story of the Ewes (Ghana) in three different media. He noted that the three versions have however very similar claims, strategies and arguments, and that these versions are used by local groups to socio-political aims that tend to incorporate/manipulate academic research and video recordings. Fatima Boukhris gave a detailed description of an Amazigh dance performance and illustrates that the researcher’s interference in a particular dimension of a performance has an impact on the processes of remembering the performance. Peter Wasamba focused on ‘preservation of access; for Kenya he noted a very limited structured engagement between collectors and archivists. He sees mistrust of each other’s work as the cause of this. Wasamba calls for more collaboration between archivists and researchers, and he emphasized that a researcher’s attention for this relationship may be better than trying to make a kind of work that attempted to optimally meet desires and norms of groups among which the recordings were made. Anne-Marie Dauphin-Tinturier analyzed step-by-step the making of a museum exhibit on African oral tradition. She notes a confusing polyphony among the conservators who worked on this exhibit, and observes that the visitors were often facing a fragmented and rather clueless, open-ended impression of the spoken word in Africa. Charles Muiru Ngugi gave a rich description of the rapidly changing field of multimedia consumption, and he emphasized the importance of educating well those who are responsible for recording the material. Mechthild Reh (Ghanaians in Hamburg: Interest in and consumption of Akan-related cultural multimedia material) introduced a new sub-field of studies that she has been working on for the last five years and that illuminates perfectly the conference theme: Reh’s starting point is the diasporic community and she explored trends in interest and consumption, which appeared to be related to ‘education’ and ‘generation-since-migration’.

Khadija Mouhsine and El Houssaïn El Moujahid gave an overview of the problems and challenges that researchers in Amazigh studies have faced during documenting oral heritage and making it available to different audiences. Khadija Mouhsine focused on the relationship between oral and written sources, while El Houssaïn El Moujahid included the description of a history of the Institute of Amazigh Culture from a perspective of the level of digitization that has been achieved, with an emphasis on issues of archiving.

The last panel discussed Le support digital dans le partage du patrimoine oral par l’école et les associations culturelles. Brigitte Rasoloniaina (showed parts of a documentary she made in Madagascar and illustrated the double role of informants who are often at the same time both producer and receiver/(critical) consumer of a (recording of a) performance. Kofi Dorvlo discussed the festival called Hogbetsotso, during which the Anlo-Ewe celebrate the migration from captivity to their present homeland. He presented the rituals of the festival, and discusses how these rituals are associated with the festival to make them relevant and beneficial to the Anlo State and the Ewe people in general in a globalised world with competing cultural contacts and influences. He also proposed an agenda to increase the societal impact of this festival. Hachem Jarmouni and Daniela Merolla treated the concepts of ‘sharing’, ‘repatriation’ and ‘reusability ‘ and the question as to whether and how we can respond to the differentiated (or competing) needs of the local communities, and (primary and secondary) schools. They also raised questions on the ‘competing demands’ among local communities, researchers, and other institutions. The issues of ‘reutilisability’ were illustrated with examples from the two scholars’ research projects on Amazigh oral literature.

A roundtable was organized at the Rabat National Library. This session was attended by ca. forty participants – fifteen of them intervened with an example or an argument.



Conference Papers:


  • Abdellah Bounfour (INALCO/CRB), La voix et l’oral. Vers une poétique de la vocalité (avec polycopiés en anglais)

  • Mark Turin (Université de Cambridge / Université de Yale), Indigitisation: The afterlives of collected orality (avec polycopiés en français)

  • Jan Jansen (Université de Leyde), Au-delà des archives – Peut-on utiliser YouTube pour documenter l’héritage immatérielle de l’Afrique ?(Fair-y Tales – Practicing fair use of African intangible heritage accessed on YouTube)

  • Fatima Boukhris (Université de Rabat), L'art chorégraphique amazighe : de la scénisation à la mémorisation

  • Felix Ameka (Université de Leyde), Constructions of Ewe origins and identity in new media at home and abroad (avec polycopiés en français)

  • Peter A.O. Wasamba (Université de Nairobi), Going beyond data collection in oral literature research: Options for bridging the gap between collectors and archivists (avec polycopiés en français)

  • Anne-Marie Dauphin-Tinturier (Lacan, Paris), Paroles d’Afrique - Visite virtuelle d’une exposition sur la ‘parole africaine’ (avec polycopiés en anglais)

  • Charles Muiru Ngugi (Université de Nairobi), Consumption of cultural multimedia material in Kenya: Trends, policies, opportunities and challenges (avec polycopiés en français)

  • El Houssaïn El Moujahid (Université de Rabat), La littérature orale amazighe et les enjeux de la numérisation (avec polycopiés en anglais)
    Mechthild Reh (Université de Hambourg), Ghanaians in Hamburg: Interest in and consumption of Akan-related cultural multimedia material (avec polycopiés en français)

  • Khadija Mouhsine (Université de Rabat), La littérature amazighe et la problématique de la médiatisation (avec polycopiés en anglais)

  • Brigitte Rasoloniaina (INALCO, Paris), Film, Webdocumentaire... quels problèmes de réception de la population locale? (avec polycopiés en anglais)

  • Kofi Dorvlo (Université de Ghana), Preserving Ewe heritage material and sharing with people in the diaspora (avec polycopiés en français)

  • Hachem Jarmouni (Université de Saïs-Fés) / Daniela Merolla (Université de Leyde), La notion de ‘réutilisabilité’ de la documentation audio-vidéo et la littérature orale amazighe : des projets de recherche et de partage (avec polycopiés en anglais)

Roundtable :


Location : Rabat National Library. La technologie au service du partage de la documentation et des connaissances de l’héritage immateriel. Daniela Merolla and Khadija Mouhsine (short introduction and chair) ; Participants: Fatima Boukhris (Université de Rabat), Maarten Mous (Leiden University), Abdellah Bounfour (INALCO / CRB), Jan Jansen (Leiden University), Kamal Naït-Zerrad (INALCO / CRB) and speakers from other universities and local cultural organizations.

Last Modified: 30-01-2015