National Recordal Systems: A solid way of documenting Africa’s indigenous knowledge systems
South Africa launched its National Recordal System on May 24 this year to catalogue its indigenous knowledge. This was a crucial step in its quest to protect its indigenous or traditional knowledge.
The National Recordal System (NRS) is an initiative of the South African Department of Science and Technology (CSIR) with the ultimate goal of creating opportunities “for benefits to flow back to the communities”, according to the CSIR. Benefits could include community recognition, sustainable livelihood, economic value and improved quality of life.
“Most of the traditional knowledge in South Africa is oral, passed down from one generation to the next, so that there was no record of it,” said Yonah Seneti, chief director of the National Indigenous Knowledge Systems Office (NIKSO).
Seneti goes on to say: “We had to find a way to take note of and record this traditional knowledge. One of the challenges of this oral tradition is that in most cases, older people are the owners of this knowledge and they are passing away so that it is a fragile vehicle, which could go away rapidly.
“We had to come up with a system able to take all sort of sources into account and make sure the knowledge could be attainable.”
The National Recordal System includes the establishment of indigenous knowledge networks, provincial Indigenous Knowledge Systems Documentation Centers (IKSDCs) and an Information Communication Technology (ICT) knowledge platform. The South African Department of Science and Technology considers that traditional knowledge should be part of the modern knowledge economy.
“One of the aims is to try to make those communities that hold this traditional knowledge, part of the mainstream economy. An important feature of the system is that it immediately allows access to information about the geographical location of the traditional knowledge owners. This is important as it increases the efficiency of prior art research. The system will also provide prior art information for intellectual property offices for patent applications examination purposes,” explained Seneti.
The data included in the NRS will be available to researchers and scientists, and it will be a source of knowledge about genetic resources, which could be useful for conservation purposes, he said.
Accordingly, countries within and across the African countries must embrace national recordal systems as an effective avenue to document indigenous knowledge systems. As asserted by Seneti, the national recordal systems must be interactive.
Setting national recordal systems for the documentation of indigenous knowledge is a noble idea but it comes with challenges. For instance, information should be available in English, French and Portuguese and African languages of respective nation states in the African continent.
The issue of data security is another challenge to the setting up of national recordal system. African countries must ensure the security of the data so that it not easily found and taken away, but rather accessible only by following a specific process.
South Africa faced these challenges and others. “Other challenges were finding communities who hold this knowledge,” Seneti said.
Therefore, African countries must establish social networks among community leaders if they want to effectively embrace national recordal systems and document indigenous knowledge systems. They should organise meetings and training sessions on what is intellectual property and they should clearly articulate the advantages for African communities to share their indigenous knowledge.
According to the CSIR, new technologies will be used to help the NRS to collect yet uncaptured traditional knowledge, which “will respect the cultural, traditional rules and etiquette of indigenous knowledge holders and communities while capturing, managing, storing, protecting and responsibly publishing IK information.”
Therefore, African countries must also invest heavily on new media technologies to effectively handle and document their traditional knowledge. African Governments need to put aside funds for the setting up the national recordal system, documentation and research on how indigenous knowledge can be recorded and applied for the benefit of the Africa and her citizenry.
More so, private organisations must support governments’ efforts by financing the process of setting up national recordal systems.
Library and information practitioners in countries within the great African continent should have the task of repackaging their cultural heritage in order to meet international standard. This is so because survival in the new global business market calls for improved productivity and increased competition. Importantly, the objectives of the national recordal systems should be to empower African communities and related stakeholders; building and supporting networks; and enabling the discovery, cataloguing and utilisation of the national indigenous traditional knowledge heritage.
Furthermore, the objectives should be to enable and maintain a secure, accessible national repository for the management, dissemination and promotion of indigenous knowledge; and achieving national intellectual property objectives for the protection of indigenous traditional knowledge.