Among the many attempts aiming at a comprehensive overview of the complex system known as ‘Africa’, trying to convey an overall picture on African culture is probably the most fragmented and disparate endeavor. This is not only due to the complexity of the subject matter, but above all to the eternal yet ephemeral nature through which African civilization manifests itself, conditioned by the volatile oral tradition on which it is often based and on the massive expatriation of its artifacts.
Yet, the efforts to fixate and document the phenomenon of African cultural expression have been manifold: publications – from scholarly treaties to lavish coffee table books, collections, exhibitions and conferences, films and TV documentaries, websites and cable TV formats – all have highlighted countless facets of this vibrant corpus of self-expression. Yet, what is lacking is one great unifying endeavor which brings these many efforts to a single converging point - a platform where major and varied information concerning any major African cultural topic could be brought at one's fingertip to an instant merger of every aspect related to this topic.
It is all about essence! For instance, if a user is keen to experience the specifics of a certain tribe, how wonderful it would be if they were also able to instantly learn about its myths of origin, see its dances, learn about its rituals, hear its music, listen to the transcribed wisdom of its elders, explore the style of and the whereabouts of its masks and art, be directed to specific collections - not necessarily in a google-like search mode manner, but more in the style of a sophisticated web application which would convey the quintessence of one's field of interest in a well-edited and concentrated form, less research tool than sensual compendium.
A lot of the relevant information has already been recorded or preserved in one form or another, in private or public collections and archives or on the internet. One can therefore distinguish between three forms of legacies of African cultural heritage – each one remaining relatively intangible in its own way:
- The ‘dormant heritage’ which resides, though well preserved, but completely dispersed and often not readily accessible and documented in private or public collections all over the world, still widely unavailable.
- The ‘virtual heritage’ which consists in the galaxy of images and texts which have been recorded on various supports and media which are available either in archives or in cyberspace through the internet, but stored in an inhomogeneous, scattered manner.
- The ‘volatile living heritage’, consisting of the vast ensemble of living, but fast-vanishing ceremonies, initiation and transitional rites, as well as the traditional wisdom which is contained in the rich personal memories and experience of the elders - often conveyed in the form of traditional oral legacy still transmitted from generation to generation by word of mouth.
It would appear most desirable, that all elements constituting these different repositories of information about African heritage could be organized in a converging manner, allowing to instantaneously call up and interconnect the quintessence distilled from all these sources from a single, unified platform amounting to what could be coined as a PAN AFRICAN CULTURAL CYBER ENCYCLOPEDIA (PACCE) - a huge, dynamic and extremely flexible database/platform, providing a bird's eye overview on the vast extents of African civilization.
In its initial phase this multimedia-platform under the name ‘AFRICA INTERACTIVE’, would aim at inviting those who are or have been in the process of creating top quality audiovisual and textual content on traditional African culture to contribute to a compilation which is conceived to broaden knowledge, extend the horizon, convey the beauty of Africa's rich heritage, as well as helping to break down preconceived barriers and prejudices related to traditional values and customs. Top photographers, collectors, editors, scholars, museums, and academic institutions, even travel organizers and individual tourists with great photographic skills would be called upon to participate in this primarily non-commercial venture.
In conjunction with these, those wise men and women who are still carrying the profound ancient wisdom and history of their tribes in their memory would be invited to bear living testimony to their patrimony. Priests, grillots, storytellers, oracle-readers and soothsayers, medicine men, Marabouts, heads of secret mask societies, magicians, sorcerers, but also local kings and their advisors. Their precious testimonies would be recorded and, besides being archived in their original form, could be translated, edited and compressed into the audiovisual building blocks of a comprehensive system which would facilitate their modular combinability according to the rules of an optimized conveyance of African cultural content.
Each of these modules would become, so to say, a small building block, the digital equivalent of an ‘African Glass Bead’ combinable into innumerable meaningful patterns of knowledge within an endless array of virtual facets and possible combinations, depicting the complexities of African Cultural heritage at different levels of complexity and from various angles.
How to go about generating this kind of modular content without major support and financing? The process could be set in motion most effectively by launching a number of ‘micro-projects’, leading next to the establishment of a vast ALL AFRICAN CULTURAL IMAGE DATABASE (AACID) combined with small audiovisual modules and a carefully balanced selection of compact articles which will generate ever increasing amounts of coherent content.
One of the key concepts of such a platform would be to ensure that it does not remain limited to the academic environment or to aficionados of African art and culture, but that it finds its way into the daily visual vocabulary and communication patterns of the young generation. A generation which is otherwise easily prone to the temptations of ‘easy viewing’ and digital fast food such as it is increasingly imposed on the market by major Western and Asian media conglomerates. It is of essential importance that the traditional wisdom of the elders of Africa gets channeled through new media to the hearts and minds of young people. It is therefore suggested to implement this platform not only on a freely available basis for the educational system, but to also encourage and promote its distribution by young people. For instance by pre-installing it for free on any newly sold portable device such as smart phones, tablets or ipads.
Setting up a project like ‘Africa Interactive’ could constitute a first step towards the establishment of a larger Pan African entity concerned with matters relating to the continent's cultural heritage - an effort to deal in a concerted way with the preservation and propagation of the rich African Cultural Heritage. Such an effort could be kick-started by, an ALL AFRICAN CULTURAL PARLIAMENT (AACP), conceived on the model of the ECP, the European Cultural Parliament, and constitute a politically independent framework in charge of helping to steer matters of cultural relevance. Led primarily by African specialists in fields as varied as art, science and anthropology, one would imagine the dissemination in a non-exploitive manner of its rich cultural heritage and without foreign interference.