Traditional Maasai songs, dance, sketch maps and mental maps are to be incorporated with digital video recordings, photography and satellite imagery in a pioneering new project at the University of Leicester.
The aim is to develop a new cultural mapping to help the Maasai represent their deep understanding of their land through ‘virtual eyes’.
The innovative research aims to draw on the environmental knowledge and pastoralist practices of the Maasai and combine it with the latest geographical information technology in order to inform community conservation and development initiatives and ecosystem management policies.
The study in the Department of Geography is relevant to indigenous peoples around the world who are being empowered with GPS and Geographical Information Systems to record their knowledge of wildlife and natural resources so that their lands, lifestyles and cultural values are respected whilst endangered environments are protected.
The research aims to incorporate alternative forms of spatial knowledge and representation into GIS in order that it can form the basis for a postcolonial GIS.
Postgraduate researcher Kate Moore, who is conducting the research, said her study would look for new ways for indigenous people, such as the Maasai, to communicate an understanding and fuller picture of how they see and use their environment.
She said: “The image of a tall, red-robed Maasai warrior herding cattle across the plains is an enigmatic symbol of East Africa. However, go to Kenya today and you might find the Maasai herder carrying a GPS, to record his wandering over the grasslands, as well as his spear.
“Conservation organisations and local communities are endeavouring to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with local livelihoods and are designing new means for effective ecosystem management.
“This research attempts to identify new ways in which indigenous knowledge of the environment can be recorded, understood and exchanged.
“Mapping technologies from sketch maps drawn in the soil, songs and performance to digital multimedia maps and virtual reality systems will be used together with satellite images and GPS tracks of wildlife movement to link concepts from different cultures.
“This will help researchers gain a deeper understanding of biologically and culturally sensitive areas through the expertise and awareness of indigenous people. In the future, conservationists, government officials and even ecotourists, will be able to experience and understand the practical, cultural and spiritual meanings of nature to the Maasai ‘through virtual eyes’. “
“Developed through generations of living with, and using, natural resources in their homelands, indigenous peoples, such as the Maasai, have their own deep understanding of their environment. This includes biological, geographical and spiritual knowledge about the plants and animals that share their lands and how to manage those resources for maintaining their survival.
“However, the traditional nomadic life of the Maasai, together with the future of the wildlife that shares the land is at risk from many factors including exclusion from conservation areas, enforced settlement, population growth and climate change.”
Kate believes her research will enhance the protection and monitoring of wildlife and natural resources by applying indigenous knowledge in a culturally appropriate manner.
The research is being presented to the public at the University of Leicester on June 29.
The Festival of Postgraduate Research introduces employers and the public to the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers, and gives postgraduate researchers the opportunity to explain the real world implications of their research to a wide ranging audience.
More information on the Festival of Postgraduate Research at: www.le.ac.uk/gradschool/festival
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