*Bangalore Mirror : "Not just the written word"*

*Bangalore-based Wikipedians are spearheading an experimental initiative,
the Oral Citations Project to overcome the lack of published material in
emerging languages on the online encyclopedia initiative, the Oral Citations
Project to overcome the lack of published material in emerging languages on
the online encyclopedia*
*There is more Wikipedia in India but it would be interesting if there could
be more India in Wikipedia...or more South Africa for that matter” — this
view put forth by researcher and Wikipedian Achal Prabhala in the film
People are Knowledge, probably sums up the need for capturing simple things
that we know and do in forms other than the published material. *
*And taking this thought forward is the Oral Citations Project, a pilot
project which explores alternative methods of citation that could be
employed on Wikipedia. Funded through a grant by the Wikimedia Foundation,
the essence of how this project was undertaken is captured quite lyrically
in the short 40-minute film. *
*“For most of our learning, a majority of us are trained to look at
something that comes in the published form because the written word is
considered sacrosanct. That way, we become prisoners of a system of
hierarchy of knowledge. But there are so many things that we know and do in
our everyday lives that are not documented in the written form or any other
form for that matter. Recording these things in some form would add to the
vast knowledge base,” says Bangalore-based Achal Prabhala who is also member
of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board and makes South Africa his home
for three months in a year.         *
*Achal adds that the nature of the project is experimental as nothing like
this has ever been done in Wikipedia before and if it finally gets
implemented, it would be a path-breaking venture.   *
*The idea behind this project was this — Wikipedia privileges printed
knowledge (books, journals, magazines, newspapers and more) as authentic
sources of citable material. Restricting citation sources makes the
enterprise workable. But books and printed words generally are closely
correlated to rich economies: Europe, North America, and a small section of
*“Just to give an example — in 2005, 161,000 books were produced for a
population of  60 million people, while in South Africa there were 6,100
books for 48 million people and in India for a population of 1100 million
people, only 97,000 books were published. What this means for indigenous
language Wikipedias from India and South Africa is that there is very little
citable, printed material to rely on in those languages; in turn, it means
that it is very difficult for any of those languages to grow on Wikipedia,”
adds Achal. *
*The project was done with three Wikipedia languages — Malayalam, Hindi and
Sepedi (a South African language) and the subjects chosen to be documented
through audio interviews were two games Sur and Gillidanda in Hindi,
Naaliyar Bhagavathi Theyyam, a temple ritual and Dappa Kali, a folk game,
both from Kerala in Malayalam and in Sepedi, Mokgope, a country liquor made
from the marula fruit, and two games played in Limpopo in South Africa,
Kgati and Tsere Tsere. Collaborators for the project are Bangalore-based IT
professional Shiju Alex and Mayur, Mohau Monaledi of South Africa and Achal
Prabhala, with additional help from Vijayakumar Blathur.    *
*“We wanted to take up languages that were varied in terms of number of
people who spoke them and the kind of media market they reperesent. Sepedi
is a South African language spoken by just 5 million people with hardly any
media market or any published material in that language. The fact that these
language Wikipedias had active editors also helped. The common thread for
picking these topics was that there is hardly any written material on them
and whatever exists cannot be accessed,” says Shiju, a Malayalam Wikipedia
editor, who travelled along with Achal to witness and document Dappa Kali
and Naaliyar Bhagavathi. Achal also travelled to Johannesberg and Limpopo to
collaborate with Mohau, who recorded audio interviews with women who made
the liquor and played the age-old games. *
*In the long run, Shiju feels that this project will help in capturing for
posterity traditional symbols of Indian society that may get lost to the
coming generations. “Nobody plays Dappa Kali these days. Kids in Kerala are
more interested in cricket,” he rues. The project will be presented at the
forthcoming Wikimania to be held in Israel.*
*The film People are Knowledge was shot and directed by Priya Sen with
additional assistance from Zen Marie and Achal Prabhala and was completed
this month. It includes interviews with noted experts in the field of
language, anthropology and women studies such as Jon Soske, a scholar of
Indo-African history, Urvashi Butalia, a pioneering feminist publisher and
writer, Isabel Hofmeyr from the University of the Witwatersrand and also
various people who were directly involved in the project. It records the
process of audio interviews done through internet telephony and documents
discussions held with a priest in a remote village in Kannur district, women
making liquor from marula and playing their native games and children
playing folk games in remote Kerala villages.  *

Tinu Cherian
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