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Searching for Sharing

Daniela Merolla
Mark Turin


Daniela Merolla

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  • 1 The date of 1492 symbolically signals the starting point of the expansion of European empires and (...)
  • 2 For example, see Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS) (2016) for the first ai (...)
  • 3 This volume derives from the project “Multimedia Research and Documentation of African Oral Genres (...)

1The unbalanced accumulation of knowledge and material goods since the so-called European expansion1 prompted contemporary African studies to reflect on concepts such as sharing, partnership, restitution, and (re)appropriation.2 The chapters in this volume focus on the specific articulation of such notions when relating to research on oral literature. The researchers engage with multimedia documents that were initially produced within an academic context, challenging their abilities and willingness to think in terms of sharing their work with local communities, organizations, and storytellers. This sharing is significant, as these communities and storytellers were the scholars’ partners in audio-visual research on African oral literatures. We refer to local communities and diasporas who speak the language of the studied genres of folktales, mythical and epic narratives, love poems, funeral lamentations, ritual incantations, urban songs and popular theater, among many others, whether the compositions are faithfully transmitted, renovated, changed, or newly created. The present volume also explores sharing as a method for constructing representative multimedia documents, whether the impetus lies with researchers, artists, or other cultural stakeholders.3

  • 4 See, for example, “Dakar Declaration of Open Access” in CODESRIA (2015); “Debating Open Access” in (...)

2The experiences of “sharing” located in the scientific literature, including those presented in this volume, demonstrate a panorama that is both complex and experiencing rapid development. Sharing data and results among researchers, as well as between researchers and their various publics, is an active field of reflection and discussion. An example of this is the increasing phenomenon of open source publications that offer analyses and data that can be freely accessed.4 In parallel, the issue of copyright – including a debate among the stakeholders of the documented verbal arts about how “rights” are distributed (or not distributed) among them – has become central to discussion of dissemination. For those who work with oral genres, this issue has developed to include an appreciation of “copy-debts”, as Jan Jansen writes (2012). This is an idea intended to convey “the debt that the scholar owes to the community for the work that has been cooperatively produced” (quoted by Shelter in this volume: 33).

  • 5 Lamarque (2016); Scheinman (2014); Stoller (1992: 170–173); Henley (2010: 310–336); Ruby (1991).

3Sharing documents on “cultural heritage” with the concerned communities has taken a multimedia dimension since the 1960s. The idea of “shared anthropology” was advanced by the film director and ethnologist Jean Rouch who arranged projections of his films in the villages where he had made them. He also sometimes filmed at the request of documentary protagonists, taking their opinions into account. The reaction of the villagers to their images being included in the final product enriched the documentary by providing multiple perspectives. Nevertheless, such a practice is predicated on a unilateral decision by a film director who decides when and to whom to show the film and how to include people’s reactions in the film’s final version.5 Though an innovative form of ethical restitution, “shared anthropology” still confirmed the power imbalance between the film maker and those being filmed.

4The aspiration to “share” documented images was similarly expressed by David McDougall (2003 [1975]: 125) in his “participatory cinema”, which, in the 1970s, called for opening up the process of filmmaking by taking the responses of its “subjects”, i.e. the local participants, into consideration. McDougall argued that, in the end result, this process would improve documentaries:

  • 6 In the masculine form, as still used in the 1970s.
  • 7 In “Beyond Observational Cinema”, an article that was published in 1975 and reprinted in the 2003 (...)

By giving them [the participants] access to the film, he [the filmmaker]6 makes possible the correction, addition, and illuminations that only their responses to the material can elicit. Through such an exchange a film can begin to reflect the ways in which its subjects perceive the world (McDougall 2003 [1975]: 125).7

  • 8 Youé (2007). See also Sara Baartman. Between Worlds. Voyagers to Britain 1700–1850, Exhibition 8 M (...)

5A persuasive movement emerged in the 1990s when the notion of “repatriation” became diffused in the field of museums and archives. As indicated by Bell, Christen and Turin (2013), “repatriation” initially focused on the demand for restitution of hundreds of skeletons and bones that were, and sometimes still are, kept in anthropological museums worldwide. Native American, Australian, and African communities requested to have their ancestors’ skeletal remains returned in order to celebrate funerals. Two strikingly painful African examples became known worldwide at the beginning of 2000. Sarah Baartman, a San woman, was repatriated and then buried at Hankey (South Africa) in 2002 after her cast and skeleton had been exposed at the Musée de L’Homme (Paris) until 1974. The so-called “El Negro”, a San man, was buried in the Tsolofelo Park of Gaborone (Botswana) in 2000, after his stuffed remains had been exposed in the Darder Museum of Banyoles (Spain) until the late 1990s.8

  • 9 “Return” is considered a term less loaded with the sense of legal pursuits than “repatriation”, se (...)

6Over the past few years, the notion of repatriation has evolved to include a much broader project of restitution, sharing, and appropriation, which currently involves “digital return”.9 The latter term signifies the practice of giving digitalized copies of materials and documentation to local museums and to the communities, families, and individuals that are concerned. Again, this practice incites new questions and criticism concerning those who possess the institutional and individual power of retaining the “originals” and returning the digital “surrogates” (Bell, Christen and Turin 2013: 5, 8).

7In the case of audio-video recordings of verbal art, it appears to be less appropriate to speak of the repatriation of “surrogates”, as the copies are near-originals: they all give material form to the performance, or at least to its sounds and visual elements. Digitalization indeed offers a relatively simple way for the researchers to record performances, interviews, and other fieldwork moments, to share such recorded performances, and subsequently to return the digital copies to the concerned individuals by making them accessible online and/or in digital formats (CD-roms, DVDs, SDS cards etc.). In this case, however, other theoretical and ethical issues are encountered alongside many practical problems (see in this volume Shetler: 23 and Camara, Counsel and Jansen: 81). The issues lie not so much in the “original versus copy” conundrum (as in the case of human remains and material objects) but into what type of document the recorded performance is transformed into (see Camara, Counsel and Jansen, this volume: 81; Rasolonaina and Rakotomalala, this volume: 123) and then in the legal, social, and affective relationships that are created (see the contributions by Shetler: 23; Kaschula: 41; Dorvlo: 61; Vydrin: 109 in this volume).

8Bauman writes that audio recordings are able “to overcome the ephemerality of the human voice, to capture and fix an utterance […] endowing it with the qualities of an object: autonomy, durability, and even materiality” (2011: 1). At the same time, audio-video recordings create “mirages” of performances because selection and (even when involuntary) manipulation are employed in whatever technique of recording is used, e.g. analogue or digital, audio, visual, or multimedia. As McDougall aptly writes: “The viewfinder […] frames an image for preservation, thereby annihilating the surrounding multitude of images which could have been formed. […] [The image] also becomes, through the denial of all other possible images, a reflection of thought” (2003 [1975]: 123). When a performance is materialized and made autonomous, durable, and object-like by framing and selecting it while capturing it on video, an “object” that can be “shared” or “returned” is created. However, what type of object is this? Do researchers create a reference model or a kind of literary standard from a snapshot? Do they create a “tradition” from the recorded oral genre that, when returned, will be transmitted and revitalized, excluding the versions and genres that are not recorded? Do they participate in the “heritagization” (a term we may derive from “patrimonalisation” in French) of performances becoming museum pieces or tourist objects more than living social interactions? Delving deeper into the issue of selection, do researchers need to collect all that is possible: are all songs and stories or each piece of music equally important/relevant? What is the role of random and non-predictable elements in audio-video recordings?

9If participatory documentation of verbal arts – to paraphrase McDougall – offers a first solution, the narrative power inscribed in the editing control of the researcher still pervades the recordings (see discussion in Camara, Counsel and Jansen, this volume: 81). On the other hand, the editing control can also be “shared” by forms of partnerships and cooperation (see Shetler: 23 and Vydrin: 109), and the essays in this volume demonstrate how fruitful and innovative it is when local users, students, and artists decide to employ it in their own activities (see Kaschula: 41, Rasolonaina and Rakotomalala: 123). The crux of the issue is that the “object-like” performance of multimedia documentation is embedded in the knowledge which is constructed on/through such materials. As the chapters in this volume illustrate, multimedia documentation is inscribed with the research goals and approaches of the scholars who produce it, which again incites the question of what is being “shared”. This issue clearly extends beyond audio-visual documentation, as illustrated in African studies through the classic example of the legacy of Marcel Griaule and his team’s research on Dogon mythology. Griaule’s scholarly legacy includes many published studies, archived fieldwork papers, collections of photos and objects, and documentary films, and has acquired substantial authority over time. Griaule created “the” authorized tradition of Dogon myths, which is now appropriated in Malian tourist circuits and cultural associations (Van Beek and Schmidt 2012; Jolly 2001–2002). Taking into account the controversy in the way fieldwork data was collected and interpreted (Van Beek 1991; Van Beek and Jansen 2000), it can be questioned what is and can be “returned” to Mali, to whom it can be returned, and by whom it can be returned:

  • 10 “Although the temptation is great to see them [the archived data] as ‘records’ and therefore as ob (...)

Bien que la tentation soit grande de les considérer comme des “enregistrements” et donc comme des témoignages objectifs, les données ainsi archivées ont été sélectionnées, organisées, retravaillés par M. Griaule et ses collègues en fonction de leurs présupposés théoriques, de leurs méthodes et de leurs objectifs de recherche. […] Il ne faut donc pas se tromper d’objectif: ces archives ethnographiques – qui appartiennent aux ethnologues qui les ont produites – n’ont pas à être “rendues” au Mali, mais d’un point de vue scientifique, il serait souhaitable qu’elles soient davantage accessibles aux chercheurs maliens (Jolly 2001–2002 : 24, 27).10

  • 11 “Spoken words, embodied in ordinary speech, may be ephemeral physical processes. But they become t (...)

10The notion of “reusability” can be beneficial in this aspect. The concept of reusability is developed from the perspective of evaluating “how to implement” both the opening of data and the results of the research by utilizing electronic databases. Barwick and Thieberger (2005: 141). write that the concept of reuse derives from the fields of ecology and computer programming (reduce, reuse, recycle), and that it invites researchers “to work with field recordings in a way that allows their further use as archival objects”, i.e. objects that are thus available to multiple audiences.11 Reusability refers primarily to a “technique” of organizing the recorded material. The first step is to provide metadata “since the ability to find and reuse video materials may depend a great deal on how the metadata and annotations associated with it are defined and structured” (Whyte 2009: 15). This would imply that the aim is to archive video material with maximum contextual information (see Dauphin-Tinturier 2012). The second step is the segmentation of videos and the cataloguing of the video fragments’ content. This step is essential because it allows users to know what is recorded in different sequences. An initial step to sharing complex research multimedia documentation is, therefore, making it “reusable”, with the metadata making the criteria of selection and interpretative framework as explicit as possible. Such a form of reusability, however, involves an enormous investment of time and effort, which is one of the constraints noted by the contributors to this volume and often observed by those working with the “return” of video materials.

  • 12 Competing interests may also concern recordings of a sensitive nature because of their personal or (...)
  • 13 On unevenly distributed cognition and knowledge, see Romney, Weller and Batchelder (1987).

11Examining the legal, social, and affective relationships that audiovisual documentation create, competing interests between different “actors” emerge. An often-mentioned case concerns recordings that film activities reserved to specific groups, for example to only men, women or the elderly population. Community members wish to recover the right to make decisions regarding their cultural heritage and to grant access only to specific groups and individuals, while the researchers’ universities, museums, and sometimes the researchers themselves often wish to ensure ongoing and wider data access, continuity, and maintenance of the collections.12 The practice of meetings between archivists, researchers, and the “representatives” of the community is certainly laudable, and it has provided beneficial results. A current “sharing” protocol is that the collected materials become accessible and reusable only by “authorized” groups and individuals in accordance with the local norms. In this manner, archivists, researchers, and community members hope to respect the idea that knowledge is widespread in a community, but not everyone knows everything.13

12On the other hand, the question remains whether, by accepting such limits, social systems and groups are considered to be static. According to Schultz (1997: 457), men and women not belonging to the original families of “griots”, a class of oral bards well-diffused in Western Africa, could “democratize” the previous monopoly over knowledge, history, and the legitimization of power by learning from cassettes and radio. In such a case, technology allows the “new” griots to go beyond the rigid social divides of knowledge. Authorization to access recordings following restrictions based on age, sex, and social group may thus no longer meet the expectations of, for example, young people and women who do not accept being excluded from certain rituals and forms of knowledge. The concept of representatives in the “authorization system” is similarly at stake. As indicated by Shetler in this volume (23), scholars and archivists are usually in contact with so-called community gatekeepers “without questioning the dynamics behind their authority” (35). However, researchers must ask: who represents whom? Do the members of the (men’s) assembly represent all the village? Do the representatives of political parties or the members of ritual societies or cultural or economic organizations represent it as well? It is likely that there will always be someone who is not represented.

13A second issue concerns how groups and individuals within the community perceive the oral genres, and what they want of them. Do all community members appreciate and desire the researcher’s documentation of oral performances? This question is not rhetorical. In this volume, Rasoloniaina and Rakotomalala (123) cite Glowczewski (2005: 14) asserting that what people demand “back” is “the right to talk with authority on the knowledge that is theirs” and not the recordings of verbal arts. An explicit case in point is offered by the scholar Mingzong Ha, who reported the skeptical reaction of a young man during a project to record family histories of migration of the Mongghul Ha Clan (China). While members of the older generation considered it important to have their words and memories recorded, the young man was dubious about the project because this type of information and documentation “did not enhance skills learnt at school and was not helpful in finding employment” (Mingzong, Mingzhu and Stuart 2013: 146). Another intriguing example is provided by Volume 4 of the Verba Africana Series which explores whether multimedia documentation of oral genres should take into account that the “sharing” of research recordings online can sustain individuals’ and sub-groups’ mythmaking for specific political and religious purposes (Merolla, Ameka and Dorvlo 2010).

14As “sharing” linked to participation is fruitful, one can advocate integrating the research on verbal arts with interviews and questionnaires to determine what results, documents, and “discourse” are interesting for various members and groups of the community and to what ends they are significant. Interviews and questionnaires, for example, could be addressed to those who are employed in primary and secondary schools and their pupils, to university students and teachers, to cultural and economic organizations, to elders and other members of rural communities, and to individual storytellers and poets. Once again, a huge investment of time and work is required in such a form of “sharing” which, therefore, might prove to be difficult in practice.

  • 14 “The nomenclature of ‘return’ more honestly names the power and ultimate ownership in the transact (...)

15In conclusion, the concepts of sharing, repatriation, return, restitution, and reusability refer to groups and individuals retaining physical/verbal materials and knowledge that were shared (voluntarily or not) with the researchers and that are made accessible once again to the first stakeholders.14 At the same time, all of these terms convey the sense that the researchers hold possession of the object-like “product”, i.e. the scientific knowledge produced by their intellectual efforts ― often constituted in dialogue with the cultural stakeholders ― including but also extending beyond the materials/documentation/knowledge on which it is based. Repatriation, restitution, and return, focusing on the former aspect, make explicit the legal and ethical imperative to return what was taken away. Sharing, as a concept, is less explicit about the power imbalance between who is giving and who is taking, but takes into account the research/scientific knowledge developed on/from the documentation. In this sense, we could think of using “partnership” – the term utilized by the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) – and “reusability” as seen above, to include all users as stakeholders whether they are members of communities, researchers, institutional actors, or various online and offline publics. Whatever terms one decides to use, they refer not only to physical/verbal materials but also to the knowledge constructed on or by such materials, which complicates and blurs the terms of the exchange.

16Do the issues mentioned above indicate that it would be best to dismiss the enterprise of partaking in verbal arts research documentation altogether? The chapters included in this volume demonstrate that this is not the case. The contributions of Shetler (23) and Camara, Counsel and Jansen (81) discuss at length and offer (some) answers to the questions of representativeness, “authorization”, and copyright, while the chapters by Kaschula (41), Dorvlo (61) and Rasoloniaina and Rakotomalala (123) address how local intellectuals and artists re-use research and documentation of oral genres in educational environments.

17In the first chapter, “The Mara Cultural Heritage Digital Library: The Implications of the Digital Return of Oral Tradition” (23), Jan Bender Shetler reflects on her digital library that acts as a repository for recordings and research regarding oral tradition and historical memory in the Mara Region (Tanzania). This digital library responds to the researcher’s desire to “share”, as well as to the desire of her network in the Mara Region to hear the recordings of their grandparents and elders who had been interviewed since the mid-1990s. Shetler initially examines both the pros and cons of sharing research in a book format, through multimedia, and online. Technical decisions play a role in relationship to the “ethical and political dilemmas” as online facilities should allow community members to make decisions about Open Access, access by request, or other forms of protocols. However, the core issue concerns who has “rights” to the documentation, who is entitled to access what information, and how they are able to do so. Shetler very aptly traces the international debate on copyrights and clarifies how the reflection on ownership led her to implement a “fair-use” agreement, envisaging a release of copyrights from the scholar to the community. The intention was to provide community members the rights and control over the library, and to provide interested individuals (youth and local/international scholars) the opportunity to contribute to it. An important point is that the recordings are in local languages, a fact that “naturally limits who can use it and makes it an important source of material for language preservation” (34). Whatever interest the digital library will incite in the Mara region, Shetler sensibly concludes that preservation and vitality of the culture is, and remains in, the hands of the community itself.

18Russell Kaschula’s chapter, “Technauriture as a Platform to Create an Inclusive Environment for the Sharing of Research” (41), focuses on the specific case of South African oral literature research that “has fed back into the community from an educational perspective”. The chapter first discusses “technauriture” as the conceptualization of verbal arts in the context of a technologized world and subsequently presents three case studies that are part of educational projects in isiXhosa. Such projects include the participation of local researchers and of community members as research assistants and interpreters to assist non-local students/academics. They recorded an extensive number of interviews, conversations, storytelling, and traditional court cases as well as diviners’ songs, village choirs, women’s traditional songs, initiation songs, and children’s games in, respectively, the Mankosi area and the town of Keiskammahoek (Eastern Cape Province of South Africa). The research output consists of recordings of performances and a written translation, as well as videos of the interviewers/researchers watching, listening to, and translating the recordings into English. Recordings, videos, and translations were analyzed by students and academics and disseminated back in digital form to the community, in part due to the facilities offered by the International Library for African Music (ILAM). Another project discussed in the chapter is the Broster Beadwork Collection, which includes the narratives and songs linked to beadwork. This utilizes postgraduate students “to further document the beadwork, the role of beadwork in society and the societal value of the specific beads at hand” (56). The chapter concludes by suggesting that participatory research and digital return as well as endorsing novel links between research and the various partners (external researchers and community researchers) could feasibly have a circular effect on the technologizing of performances, i. e. the “technauriture” in them.

19In the chapter “From Restitution to Redistribution of Ewe Heritage: Challenges and Prospects” (61), Kofi Dorvlo introduces the readers to the complexity of the Hogbetsotso, a yearly festival that has been celebrated in the Ewe area of Southern-eastern Ghana since the Anlo Ewe instituted it in the early 1960s. The celebrations aim at physically and spiritually cleansing the community. Rituals also support reconciliation among all community members as well as among community leaders such as the Awomefia (the King of Anlo), his military and administrative officers, the Field Marshall, and the Chiefs of the Right, Left, and Central wings. A central moment of the festival is the re-enactment of the migration stories narrating the journey of the Ewes from present-day Benin to present-day Ghana and Togo where they settled in the early seventeenth century after various displacements and subdivisions. Dorvlo explains that there is a growing “industry” of recording and selling rituals, including the Hogbetsotso, by local/national radios, TVs, video agencies, and cameramen, and that many videos are also available on social media. A significant number of recordings, nevertheless, is not sufficient for safeguarding cultural heritage. Fieldwork shows that in Anloga, the capital of the Anlo Ewe, the common knowledge on the organization and various meanings of the celebration is simplistic and influenced by the oppositional attitude of the Christian charismatic faith. The chapter concludes with the suggestion of pressuring the authorities to place topics on the Hogbetsotso and other rituals in the school curriculum, to introduce a heritage week, and to archive the research results and materials in local museums. This would allow preservation and sharing, as well as making the materials “relevant and beneficial to the Anlo State and the Ewe people in a globalized world with competing cultural contacts and influences” (62).

20Brahima Camara, Graeme Counsel and Jan Jansen reflect on video research and the use of social media for educational aims in “YouTube in Academic Teaching: A Multimedia Documentation of Siramori Diabaté’s Song ‘Nanyuman’” (81). This contribution unveils the “backstage” of the research, informing the readers on all of the steps, starting from Graeme Counsel contacting Jan Jansen, who then contacted Brahima Camara, to develop a multimedia teaching tool: a YouTube video with accompanying text of the great Malian singer Siramori’s hit “Nanyuman”. The chapter discusses two main ethical/legal problems. The first one concerns the informal acquisition process of the copy of the video during Counsel’s archival research at the Radio Télévision Guinée (RTG), and the researcher’s decision about his “moral community”. The second one involves the intricate issue of copyrights, as indicated by Shetler in this volume (23), which is further complicated by the accessibility through YouTube. The three authors write that they were unable to determine whether the copyrights are owned by “the performer, her inheritors, the griots of Kela [where Siramori grew up and received her artistic training], the ORTM, YouTube, or a combination of these stakeholders” (86). The impossibility to establish ownership and a representative community in a context where rights are “multi-layered and often situational”, as well as the documentary importance of the video led the three scholars to make the decision to share the product of their research. However, they remain cognizant that this form of sharing offers documentary reputation and memory, but does not bring local artists economic profit.

21The question as to whether groups and individuals within the community are interested in a researcher’s documentation emerges from Valentin Vydrin’s contribution “New Electronic Resources for Texts in Manding Languages” (109). Vydrin collected a huge amount of books and booklets in Manding languages, which are now digitized and available online through the “Bambara Electronic Library” and the “Bambara Reference Corpus”, together with materials made available by the Académie Malienne des Langues and other Malian and international researchers. The idea is to have a substantial amount of open source “written documentation” for both researchers and the interested public, whether the texts are published in limited local editions, out of print, or belong to international series. Valentin Vydrin and his collaborators also hope to sustain the circulation of literacy in Manding languages, which are often considered as being only “oral languages” by the speakers and their environment in Mali and Guinea. Although the documentation collected by Vydrin is written and does not include audio-visual materials at the moment, it is highly relevant. It shows that the local interest varies among classes of individuals: the writing in Nko has a much broader appeal, while literacy in Bambara, written in the Latin alphabet, seems to remain limited to the intellectual elite and the urban middle class.

22The volume concludes with the reflection on the “return” of oral literature research in Madagascar. In “Questioning ‘Restitution’: Oral Literature in Madagascar” (123), Brigitte Rasoloniaina and Andriamanivohasina Rakotomalala present three generations of local intellectuals, colonial researchers and missionaries, showing that the numerous transcriptions of oral genres in Malagasy constitute one viable form of restitution. Under the reign of King Ramana I in the 1820s, the Latin script was introduced alongside a rapid literacy campaign, leading to the constitution of local intellectuals who began to collect oral tales. The impetus provided to the collection of oral literature and book publishing in the Malagasy language, with and without translation in English and French, continued during the colonial period. The “return” is effected, in this case, by the written-oral circulation of the tales. The first example introduced is European tales translated into Malagasy, which, widely used in schoolbooks together with local stories, were already known orally among illiterates at the end of the nineteenth century. Other examples include Malagasy tales and myths circulating widely as modified plots or motifs within textbooks. Conversely, the “return” of contemporary video recordings and documentaries, which may be believed as more viable in an oral context, is much less effective. Documentaries attract national and international attention, but are hardly known in the countryside because of the serious restriction of facilities such as cinemas/theaters and the internet. The Malagasy case exhibits the pivotal role played by local intellectuals and “traditionalists” who take documentation, diffusion, and restitution into their own hands, and maintain that their production “must also be part of an exchange where the ‘indigenous’ (in the words of the old folklorists) aren’t subsumed into an interpretative work, but become actors in this work” (138).

23The contributions of this volume aptly explore the idea of sharing oral genres, and of “partnering” to enter into dialogue about the cultural stakeholders’ expectations and about what they can produce and offer through new media.



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1 The date of 1492 symbolically signals the starting point of the expansion of European empires and their colonisation of many peoples and regions in Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.

2 For example, see Africa-Europe Group for Interdisciplinary Studies (AEGIS) (2016) for the first aim of AEGIS, and the multiple references to strategic partnership in the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Strategic Plan in CODESRIA (2015). See also Hountondji (2009); Bates, Mudimbe and O’Barr (1993).

3 This volume derives from the project “Multimedia Research and Documentation of African Oral Genres: Connecting Diasporas and Local Audiences” funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO), Leiden University (NL), the University of Hamburg (Asia-Africa Institute), the University of Naples for Oriental Studies (IUO), the Institut National des Langues et Civilizations Orientales (INALCO) in Paris, the Centre of African Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, the World Oral Literature Project (Cambridge) and co-organized by the University of Bamako (Mali), the Language Centre of the University of Ghana (Accra, Ghana), and the School of Languages of Rhodes University (South Africa). We would like to thank all the colleagues involved and in particular Abdellah Bounfour (INALCO, Paris) and Khadija Mouhsine (University Mohammed V, Rabat) for their friendly cooperation in the organization of the final conference of the project in December 2013.

4 See, for example, “Dakar Declaration of Open Access” in CODESRIA (2015); “Debating Open Access” in British Academy for the Humanities and Social Sciences (2013); Hoorn and Graaf (2006).

5 Lamarque (2016); Scheinman (2014); Stoller (1992: 170–173); Henley (2010: 310–336); Ruby (1991).

6 In the masculine form, as still used in the 1970s.

7 In “Beyond Observational Cinema”, an article that was published in 1975 and reprinted in the 2003 version used here.

8 Youé (2007). See also Sara Baartman. Between Worlds. Voyagers to Britain 1700–1850, Exhibition 8 March17 June 2007, National Portrait Gallery at; Davies (2003); Gewald (2001); Africa Resource (2015). A link should be drawn between these two cases of brutal body/bones exposition and the racist categorization presenting the San “as the most wretched and degraded of all ‘savages’” (Hudson 2004: 308). See also Fauvelle-Aymar (2002).

9 “Return” is considered a term less loaded with the sense of legal pursuits than “repatriation”, see Shetler in this volume.

10 “Although the temptation is great to see them [the archived data] as ‘records’ and therefore as objective testimony, such archived data has been selected, organized, and reworked by Griaule and his colleagues according to their theoretical positions, their methods and their research objectives. […] One must make no mistake about the aim: the ethnographic archives – belonging to ethnologists that produced them – do not have to be ‘returned’ to Mali but, from a scientific point of view, it would be strongly advisable that they are accessible to Malian researchers” [editor’s translation].

11 “Spoken words, embodied in ordinary speech, may be ephemeral physical processes. But they become things when they appear on paper, on artefacts or when they are recorded in magnetic or digital codes on tapes or disks, or in film or videotape” (Cruikshank 1992 in Laszlo 2006: 301).

12 Competing interests may also concern recordings of a sensitive nature because of their personal or political content. Compare on such issues the “Principles for Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History” of the Oral History Association adopted in 2009 and available at and

13 On unevenly distributed cognition and knowledge, see Romney, Weller and Batchelder (1987).

14 “The nomenclature of ‘return’ more honestly names the power and ultimate ownership in the transaction” (Geismar 2013: 257 cited by Shetler in this volume: 25).


Professor in Berber Literature and Art at the Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), Sorbonne Paris-Cité, and member of the research group LACNAD (Langues et Cultures du Nord de l’Afrique et Diasporas). She taught and researched African Literatures and Media at Leiden University from 2003 to 2015. She obtained her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature with a dissertation on the interaction of oral and written genres in the construction of identity (Kabylia, Algeria) from Leiden University and the French “habilitation à diriger des recherches” with a work on the Berber/Amazigh multilingual literary space from Aix-Marseille University. Her research focuses on African oral literary productions (Berber/Amazigh) as well as written literatures in African and European languages. Her publications include: Multimedia Research and Documentation of Oral Genres in Africa – The Step Forward (2012) (edited with J. Jansen and K. Naït-Zerrad); Transcultural Modernities: Narrating Africa in Europe (2009) (edited with E. Bekers and S. Helff); De l’art de la narration tamazight (berbère) (2006). Email:


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