Circular knowledge: How to meet on the same page

Kevin Murray

7 February 2021

Mana Fida with a copy of the article where she was featured

While images of idyllic villages are appealing, we should try to tell our stories as a form of dialogue rather than spectacle.

In Garland magazine, we feature important books written by anthropologists about Indigenous crafts. Where possible, we contact those makers who are profiled to notify them of the article and see how it might be useful to them. So the article by ann-elise lewallan on Ainu textiles also included a statement by the Ainu weaver Kaizawa Tamami as well as a greeting in her language.

Stories are often gathered from remote villages accompanied by idyllic photos. This can be very appealing to those living in artificial cities, but this doesn’t take into account the real-life experience of those who live there. After the publication of the article A social fabric: Tais weaving in Timor-Leste by Marian Reid and Emily Lush, a local centre printed a copy to give to a woman featured, Mana Fia. The image of her holding a copy of the article contains the promise of a circular knowledge. Given the difference of interests between urban and rural life, it is hard to imagine completing the circle, but this should not stop us from trying. We much “fail again, fail better” as Lenin said.

We hope to apply this ideal of circular knowledge to a project with the Mbya community of Yasy Porã in northern Argentina. The poet Andrea Ferrari has been working with them to oversee the translation of their sacred chant, Ayvu Rapyta. As well as seeking their permission to publish this text, we have discussed with them ways in which readers might be able to show appreciation for their story. While such a text adds to the corpus of world literature and offers a new perspective of how a particular culture might evolve with its place in nature, some consideration should be given to the circumstances of the knowledge keepers. Their hold on the land is growing precarious due to the encroachment of development and climate change. Their water comes from springs that pass through urbanised areas and is now polluted, so they need to build a new well to stay on the land.

Part of a circular knowledge is the acknowledgement of place as a key element in keeping stories alive. This is one of the reasons why Rio Tinto’s destruction of the rock shelter was so shocking. It was a living link to the stories that go back 46,000 years.

How we draw the circle will be an ongoing process of negotiation. While it will never be complete, the circle is an aspiration by which we can measure the arc of our progress.

For more on the concept of “circular knowledge”, see this Medium article. 


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