GEO Indigenous Hack4Covid: Namunyak is a Bridge for Communication Between Cultures

Namunyak Conservancy – A De Brazza Baraza. Image by The Kenyan Camper

As part of the GEO indigenous Hack4covid event, the Symbols Map Team submitted an ingenious entry, The Namunyak/blessed App, which was a runner-up at the event. 

The Symbols Map Team, which includes Lucandrea Mancini, Yoanna, Mirosława Alunowska, and Nicolas Marin, solved the challenge submitted by Titus Letaapo called The Namunyak/blessed App. This challenge aimed at developing an app allowing the Samburu Tribe of Northern Kenya to build their own culturally relevant map. The inspiration behind creating the app was the need to deliver a product that goes beyond an immediate crisis or time frame; many of the challenges are related to COVID 19. 

Described as a bridge for the communication between two different cultures, the app will use a set of culturally-relevant words that the community will choose themselves, which would be in the local language, and can also be expressed in symbols. The combination of these three words, or, in this case, three symbols, can be easily translated, later, into a geographic coordinate system, with which other stakeholders will be more familiar with. Consequently, the app will allow the user to know and subsequently give its location very accurately. Interestingly, the app also allows the community to delimitate places that are culturally important as well as ask decisionmakers for further protection or prevention of developments.

Illiteracy and internet connectivity barriers do not limit the app as it would be able to receive voice commands. They have fundamental voice interactions with the user, making it more accessible for the whole Samburu community, while also being less dependent on constant internet connectivity.

The app will allow the Samburu community to visualise and document their land in a dynamic, accessible, and culturally-relevant way while also being an educational tool as it will introduce and advance the use of maps within the Samburu community. Importantly, it will improve the communication between Samburu community members, the local park rangers, and policy-makers.

The locals of the Samburu community, being the beneficiaries of the app, will also have a say in the working of the app as active collaboration with them to develop a culturally relevant app is chief amongst the means of ensuring the sustainability of the app.  

The intimacy, privacy, and specificity of the app show that it was made with the Samburu community in mind. However, this specificity, intimacy, and privacy can be replicated with other communities as the app could be easily altered to tailor the needs of different communities around the world.

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