Oral tradition. The project
The father tells his daughter his youthful adventures, little stories that are not written anywhere but will be part of the girl's personal history. The grandmother shares with her grandson the recipe of that dessert that her immigrant ancestors had brought from across the seas, and that he loves so much. The old man sitting in the park tells —to anyone who may hear him— his own version of the revolutionary story in which he participated as a young man, a story that official texts tell according to their convenience, not always attached to the reality of the facts. The healer transmits to her apprentice the exact combination of bark and medicinal leaves necessary to make a remedy, a formula passed down through generations and not written down anywhere.
They are tiny fragments of a tradition that is (re)produced throughout the world, among indigenous peoples, peasants, university teachers, housewives or political leaders: oral tradition. The transmission of knowledge through the spoken word, the first —and sometimes the only— way we humans have to handle our language and to express (and therefore receive) ideas and knowledge.
Many times has oral tradition been considered as a subjective (and, consequently, unreliable) way of encoding information. However, if we consider that all written content depends on the (personal, ideological, socio-economic, political, ethnic) framework from which it is written... where is the objectivity? Beyond such considerations, an intrinsic value is recognized in orality: serving as a channel for the perpetuation of knowledge that would otherwise be lost — thus disappearing a significant amount of identities, memories, learning, successes and defeats.
This website works as an online oral tradition manual. It is aimed at rescuing ideas and experiences that serve as a basis for both reflection and the implementation of instruments and techniques for collecting and managing oral tradition. In particular, it recovers much of the author's direct field work, but also the valuable research and intellectual production of many experts in the topic. Although the contents have been elaborated from a particularly LIS (Library & Information Sciences) framework, they can be used by anyone interested in the subject.
The concepts and techniques included in these pages may allow the rescue of some small patch of knowledge, of the past, of life. In that case, writing them down will have been worth it.
My name is Edgardo Civallero, and I am an Argentine-born, Colombia-based librarian and knowledge manager. In my 20 years of professional experience I have specialized in the indigenous peoples of Latin America and their cultures and in the development of library / traditional knowledge management services for those societies (and other so-called "subordinate" groups). My work includes the management of oral tradition, social memory and threatened sounds (languages and music), and my research focuses on the relationship between libraries (in a broad sense), books and indigenous peoples at the international level, as well as in the development of didactic materials for managers of indigenous knowledge and in the design of recommendations and public policies related to libraries, archives, museums and the book and information industry. I work from a decolonialist position and from a grassroots development perspective.
I have been working on this "Oral Tradition" project since 2006, as part of a network of professional websites and blogs centered on my website Bibliotecario, and which includes the project Casas de palabras, the blog Palabra indígena and the platform Un Sur de sonidos.
You can contact me at edgardocivallero (at) gmail (dot) com, or through any of my social media (see navigation bar below).
Image: Equipment for recording oral tradition. In Science History [link].