“Pwoje mapou” a Web site on Haitian oral narratives: The preservation and presentation of problematic cultural materials
Daniella Olibrice, Teachers College, Columbia University, United States
Teachers College, Columbia University . Awarded
The development of a Web site, based on oral narratives rooted in Haitian Vodou folk beliefs, from Haitian immigrants living in New York, reveals a complex set of issues related to cultural representation that go beyond the application of multimedia technology for the purpose of cultural presentation and preservation. Issues related to language use and translation, transcription conventions, the selection and organization of the text and visual images, target audience, and potential uses of the Web site were considered. The designer's initial intent was for the Web site to be an archive of Haitian storytelling in support of the intergenerational communication of cultural heritage and identity. However, the aspect of Haitian culture represented in these narratives brought forth questions about the appropriateness of the Web as a medium for the exploration of these Haitian stories. While the type of stories represented in the collection is pervasive and widely circulated among Haitians in Haiti and in the diaspora, the beliefs espoused in them have been historically misunderstood and associated with problematic religious practice. Haitian American adults living in New York were asked to listen and respond to the stories on the Web site. They commented on their significance and authenticity in portraying the reality of life in Haiti. Given the nascent importance of the Web as a medium of communication in the Haitian community, the respondents offered few comments on the Web as medium for the display of this kind of material. Yet, the interviews supported the view that the value of stories lies not only in their telling, but in their retelling, and that stories are central to learning and education. While the effort to preserve and present cultural materials for the purpose of posterity is often assumed to be worthwhile and beneficial, undertaking this project forced the designer to examine the kinds of feelings associated with them from the community to whom they belong: fascination, ambivalence, indifference, and fear. This examination concludes that cultural preservation and representation can be complex because of such questions as: who is preserving what, for whom, how and for what purpose?
Olibrice, D. “Pwoje mapou” a Web site on Haitian oral narratives: The preservation and presentation of problematic cultural materials. Ph.D. thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University.
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