“Nonliterate Tribe in Congo Basin Saves Sacred and Medicinal Trees”
While the world’s indigenous people are estimated at only around 370 million, or about 5 percent of the global population, they reportedly speak 95 percent of the world’s languages. Yet they remain virtually unrepresented both politically and economically. Often, their lives and livelihoods are under threat from the competing economic needs of others living within their countries. But with increased attention from the United Nations, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer groups, greater awareness and understanding of the rights of indigenous people have emerged at the international level, providing them with some legal standing.
Photo : With their territory mapped, the Mbendjele tribe can protect treasured trees from being cut down by logging companies. (Photo courtesy of Gill Conquest.)
Challenges to Mapping Indigenous Territories
Since 1994, Lewis has worked as an anthropologist with the Mbendjele, a nonliterate group of indigenous hunting and gathering people living in the Republic of the Congo.
“Logging has been imposed over the lands of indigenous people across the region,” said Lewis. “The legal system hardly recognizes the rights of local people.”
One of the local logging companies, Congolaise Industrielle des Bois, chose in 2006 to become Forest Stewardship Council certified, which identifies the company as environmentally and socially sustainable in its forestry operations. Part of the certification requires that the company respect the rights and resources of indigenous and local forest people.
An Intuitive Mapping Application
To help clear up these communication issues, Lewis developed an icon-driven mapping application that the Mbendjele could use to map their key resources and protect them from logging-induced damage. While this application worked for several years, by 2013 the software and hardware were outdated. So Lewis and Haklay founded the ExCiteS team to create more durable mapping solutions for the Mbendjele and other indigenous peoples.