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Indigenous Knowledge Conference

Indigenous Knowledge Conference preserves African perspectives

African universities must be used as spaces to reclaim African identity, and to aid in decolonising the mind-sets of Africans, if we are to preserve the indigenous knowledge accumulated during the course of the continent's history.

That was the message delivered at the 4th International Conference of the Science and Indigenous Knowledge Systems Project, hosted by the University of the Western Cape (UWC) from 29 to 31 October 2013.

The conference – themed Harnessing Indigenous Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Development – aimed to address the growing worldwide outcry to learn from indigenous peoples about how they preserved human health and knowledge, and how they occupied and made use of their environments for centuries without damaging them to the extent that heavily industrialised societies have.

The conference brought together experts from a variety of fields who engaged in an intensive and engaging scholarly discourse, providing useful insights into the deeper issues surrounding indigenous knowledge and its relevance in the 21st century.

Topics discussed included such matters as integrating medicines into public health systems, integrating science with indigenous knowledge, and investigating indigenous knowledge for sustainable development.

Prof George Sefa Dei of the University of Toronto said that African universities must build capacity locally for the development of an indigenous knowledge-based school curriculum.

Such an indigenous curriculum would be reframed to prioritise the critical interests of Africans, and be aimed at solving Africa's problems (rather than prioritising questions that others find important) and re-evaluating the goals of the curriculum and the content in terms of the indigenous knowledge of Africans.

“We must unmask hegemonic worldviews and knowledge systems masquerading as neutral, universal or singular, and provide students with tools to analyse where African knowledge is incompatible with other knowledge systems,” he said.

He warned, however, that this would require a precise and careful definition of this indigenous knowledge, so that it is not simply imagined in response to, in reaction to, or in opposition to other knowledge systems (especially hegemonic European knowledges systems).

Prof Sefa Dei added that the current direction of post-colonial education in Africa should be fully understood as a large part of the problem of education. “We have become extremely adept at mimicking Western and Eurocentric theories and methodologies, which hardly speak to African realities,” he said.

UWC's Prof Meshach Ogunniyi echoed these sentiments, arguing that the science curricula adopted by many African countries were transplants which were not suitable for African indigenous soil (so to speak), and carried with them the baggage of imperialism.

Prof Ogunniyi said that an inclusive science/indigenous knowledge curriculum is foundational to learners' understanding of the relationship between school science and the worlds they inhabit in their lives outside of school.

“A science/indigenous knowledge curriculum taught in inclusive ways tends to encourage cross-cultural interactions among all learners, and to enhance the development of social identity, especially among learners from marginalised indigenous communities,” he noted.

This, he explained, promotes economic progress and social justice, in that no worldview is suppressed on account of science.