Post-colonial mapping

Pygmy
Image credit: John Nelson / Tropical Forest Trust via Reuter
This post is part of Blog Action Day for the environment.

Pygmies are using GPS to map their land in order to save sacred sites and ecologically sensitive areas. I find it an interesting and novel approach, but I’m a little apprehensive about one thing. Traditionally mapping has been the precursor to colonialism. Marking the territory precludes ownership. But given the arrogance of the Northern colonial powers to take whatever they think is theirs by right of power, then it’s nice to see the roles change. It remains to be seen if this will truly benefit the Pygmies, but anything to support their cause I’m all for. They have a right to their land, so perhaps for once the map can be the territory.

Congo pygmies use GPS to protect forest – World Environment – MSNBC.com:

“The sets have icons on them, so they don’t have to be able to read and write. They basically go out and say, ‘OK, click, here is a sacred site,’ and a GPS point is taken and links up to the satellite,” Poynton said.

“They can wander through the forest and map all of the areas — the tombs of their ancestors, hunting grounds, sacred areas, water holes, areas of medicinal plants — these are all captured on GPS points, all downloaded on the computer,” he added.

“And suddenly, you’ve got a map.”

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