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How long will Ara Irititja last?
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How long will Ara Irititja last?

From the late 20th Century, Anangu have become overwhelmed by cultural globalisation through national and international media. This has caused widespread concern among the elders of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands about the transmission of culture and language under contemporary conditions. In 2018 this issue is critical. The senior Anangu who carry the culture are ageing and many are in failing health. When they are gone, the knowledge dies with them. Keeping Culture KMS software provides a means for this knowledge to be passed on through the use of contemporary technology. In addition, no central place or public institution exists, accessible to all Anangu, as a repository for APY cultural material. Keeping Culture KMS can provide this forever.

Safeguarding Intangible Cultural Heritage

The Ara Irititja project is about the conservation of memory in a culture based on oral tradition. This is memory that goes beyond most cultural imaginations, back before the invention of writing, and many centuries before the Christian era. Every Anangu elder carries a story — one that has been handed down through many generations. In 2018 many of these stories still exist, but many are barely sustained. And beyond sadness, some are not. They are forever lost.

Keeping Culture KMS not only conserves this knowledge — by photo, by video, by sound, by documentation — but also, by its nature it allows these stories to live. Most importantly, it allows them to live with the people to whom they belong. Anangu requested the development of culturally sensitive software and are the owners of their archive. The stories that Ara Irititja holds are knowledges that exist as a resource for continuing cultural life.

Keeping Culture KMS is an essential, accessible and proven tool for keeping what the UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage confirms as the knowledges and skills which are usually passed on, from generation to generation, only through action and word of mouth. For such skills and knowledges, safeguarding is now urgently necessary.

These are the cultural sources for the stories of land, of self, of the present, the past and the future. They provide for the celebration of cultural identity, and allow also for focus on family and kinship.

In the 24 years since the project started in 1994, over 200,000 items of cultural significance are now housed in the Ara Irititja archive. What is seen in Ara Irititja has sparked many requests by Anangu to find more historical and cultural items. This process is perpetual and results in an ongoing backlog of material to be digitised.

Materials held by private individuals are often at risk of being damaged or irretrievably lost. To date, a major focus of the Project has been to retrieve and secure this material for Anangu. The collection of oral histories and audio materials in APY languages is an integral part of Ara Irititja. Priority has been given to recording, transcribing and translating the stories of elderly Anangu. Time and time again, Anangu at meetings and forums reinforce this priority. In addition, the Ara Irititja digital archive holds extensive interviews with former missionaries, government employees and community workers. Today contemporary material is also kept in the archive, including material produced by Anangu. This includes photographs and multimedia school projects created by Anangu themselves, breaking the convention of their lives only being recorded by the eyes of outsiders.

Maintaining Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages

Ara Irititja helps to address the undermining of Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara languages, first languages for approximately 3000 people living on APY lands and many others who have moved to cities and towns. The relative strength of APY languages is undermined by:

  • the impact of English language television and other media;
  • lack of access to relevant language resources (both recordings and printed texts);
  • breakdown in the inter-generational transmission of language and culture;

Seven Sisters
Click the image to watch a reenactment of the Seven Sisters dreamtime story. EVTV video by Simon Tjiyangu and Pantjiti McKenzie/PY Media collection.

Numerous organisations have turned to Ara Irititja to satisfy their need to create language-based educational materials and publications relevant to APY people. Anangu also recognise the need to promote deeper understanding of their lives and culture to the broader Australian and international community. A Centenary of Federation grant enabled Ara Irititja to design an educational interactive program, Ara Winki, which showcases traditional and contemporary life and language of Anangu. See Ara Winki Brochure (PDF, 232KB) for more information.



Indigenous moral rights and intellectual property

For many years, little regard has been given to the intellectual property and moral rights of Aboriginal people. In many instances Anangu have been badly treated by publications of unauthorised and, in some cases, very sensitive material. Ara Irititja has policies and protocols in place to ensure respect for the intellectual and moral rights of the material. We advocate for the respect for ownership of stories, cultural techniques and protection against unauthorised use. This has extended to our direct participation in the development of protocols and awareness programs in several major Australian collecting institutions. See Partnerships for more information.

Our project has been invited to make numerous presentations on these issues at conferences and workshops. See Conferences for more information.

Continue the quest all over the country and collect all material about us people from everyone.

Yanyi Baker, Chairperson NPY Women's Council, March 2006

I’m not only talking about Anangu, but whitefellas as well. Whitefellas keep their history strong. The parents teach their children about it. Today we are looking at old stories, Anangu stories, as well as city dwellers’ and whitefellas’ stories. We are looking and speaking together about how to look after these stories. Perhaps people will think about Anangu history and learn how to look after it. And their culture and our culture will both become strong. OK?

Alec Minutjukur, Chairperson Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Education Committee,
August 1988