Interactive Maps Help Pygmy Tribes Fight Back – NewScientist – 21 February 2012
Online games and interactive maps could help pygmy tribes in Africa fight logging and poaching in their area.
Part of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) programme launched on Friday at University College London, the work builds on research from anthropologist Jerome Lewis into data collection in extreme environments. Lewis has been working with indigenous people in the Republic of Congo and Cameroon since 2005 to develop tools for use by non-literate people.
In 2009, Lewis developed an icon-based interface, in collaboration with hardware provider Helveta, that could intuitively be used by the tribes affected by logging and poaching in their forest home. Once familiar with the hand-held device, the hunter-gatherers could use it to geotag trees crucial to their way of life – for example, those trees from which they harvest a particularly delicious, and commodifiable, type of caterpillar. The information was then fed back to logging companies and policy holders to try and save crucial areas of forest.
Now Lewis is moving one step further, making use of developments in tablets and smartphones to enable forest communities to gather multimedia data and feed it into intelligent maps. The data can be displayed on the maps so that users can see how the forest has changed over time.
“As climate change starts to affect the rising and falling of water in the forest, animals become difficult to find and as is the predictability of the arrival of fruits and insects. This has been dramatically affected by climate change,” says Lewis.
“Mapping changes over time will allow the forest people to start to notice the regularities that might emerge as things change. In theory you can start to adapt your behaviour to take account of that”.
But one obstacle lies in the way – map illiteracy in the indigenous communities. To address this, Lewis is now collaborating with researchers from the ISI foundation in Italy, who have developed a platform for social games and experiments, Experimental Tribes, to teach the indigenous tribes how to read and interact with the maps they have been creating over the last few years.
Playing Blindate, a collaborative game that requires map-reading in order for two players to meet up, will encourage the tribe members to become familiar with locating themselves and places of interest on forest maps, says the project’s Vittorio Loreto of Rome’s Sapienza University in Italy.