Community Engagement in Visualizing Prehistoric Oral Histories

Exhibitor Briefing
Hans van de Bunte, Sarawak Museum, Malaysia

Community engagement in visualising prehistoric Oral Histories.

Prehistoric times in Sarawak, Borneo ended quite recently, around 150 years ago with the first White Rajah, James Brooke installing a government administration from 1841 onward. Before that, the traditions, belief systems and history of the indigenous communities and their material culture was passed orally from generation to generation. Almost all their possessions – excluding the jars, brass ware and beads – were made from jungle (organic) materials which in the tropical moist climate disintegrates rapidly.

The oral traditions, Borneo’s climate and the early establishment of the Sarawak Museum – you could say in a way – created the challenges for our exhibition story line development today. Our reality is the weekly quest for objects, their significance and the oral histories carried in the memories of the oldest generations.
How to capture these in a systematic database, accurately and with the right context? How to make the connections between the large number of artefacts in the store and the often multilingual and personalised stories? Or would we be more successful if we would change our question around? And start with the oral histories leading the way to find the objects? Working with an organic approach in describing the story and finding the objects.

In my talk I will show our results through some digital exhibition designs, developed by bringing young digital design students and the communities together. Through consultation with researchers and community members we developed the narrative content further. Allowing the material culture visually to speak for itself, making the intangible heritage tangible.