Information and Knowledge Transfer in the rural community of Macha, Zambia

Information and Knowledge Transfer in the rural community of Macha, Zambia

Gertjan van Stam

Science is using methodologies to study behavior. These methodologies are socially constructed, culture specific, and deeply affected by North American and Western language.

African cultures feature empathic processes fueled by compassion and the desire for co-existence. It operates on communal, often primary oral, cultures and uses mostly oral tradition in its presentations. Oral traditions process knowledge and verbalize data specifically.

This case of long term research in which Information and Communications Technology is introduced in a highly oral and rural culture shows that using constructs available in primary oral culture can create outcomes that are a useful function within oral tradition circumstances. Analysis of methodologies used during the eleven-year case study suggest that outcomes benefit from interactions that are aligned within oral-culture formats. The case study follows 'the flow of science' - analyzing, interpreting, clarifying, constructing - primarily in the oral tradition. Outcomes appear fruitful in oral traditions.

This long term and unique approach opens the door to new ways of understanding in rural Africa, and recognition that literacy and orality exist side by side.


Introductions of scientifically correct 'solutions' to 'problems' in rural areas of Africa have reported mixed results. A range of reasons is offered as hampering local adoption of technology. Many projects show neither capabilities of sustainability nor properties of scaling up. With the exception of anthropology, little research seems to venture into study and incorporation of aspects of context. This includes omission of assessment of philosophical and practical aspects, including, for instance, issues of orality versus literacy. There is not much evidence recorded on the modalities of long term local adoption and respectful integration of technologies in rural areas in Africa. This affects and hampers mutual understanding, for instance in engineering.

This paper is based upon eleven-year action research which has been ongoing since 2000 in rural Zimbabwe, and since 2003 in rural Zambia. The goal of research included identifying and inspiring local talent, introducing Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) and participatory oral research methodology, in order to build the necessary capacity and intent for community-led activities to yield sustainable human development outcomes. The research is part of the quest for identifying a logical framework designating dynamics of change in rural African communities and engendering leadership capable of inspiring, initiating, implementing, operating, and scaling up of sustainable progress in the local community. Sustainable progress is defined as improved life conditions for all people in this world and progress not only in economic terms but also in terms of intellectual growth, culture, and social well-being. Engineering and technological sciences play a major role in achieving sustainable progress (van Oortmerssen, 2007).

This paper deals with contextual observations with respect to primacy of orality during the research period. It strives to provide tangible input in light of the idea that “development must also be conducted on the terms of those being developed” (Sheneberger & van Stam, 2011). The paper does not address issues of change within and between orality and literacy.


The research prioritizes usefulness of observations, interactions, assessments, interventions, and its feedback to distill thesis of reality-of-universals within the context of the local, rural community. Activities strive to discern formats to communicate analysis, interpretation, and clarification suitable for local use, and national and international interaction. The methodology interacts with oral tradition, where empirical and factual data and their measuring-up reside within oral culture. Assessment of system choices involves oral processing of data. This processing is an analogy as processing within data networks, for e.g, social networks, and does result in useful outcomes applicable in the local community and, consecutively, the nation.

The common cultures in the rural areas under review are oral and word-oriented rather than object-oriented. Although some writing occurs, the research strives to unearth relevant entities of interaction while introducing high-technologies. The study was thoroughly immersed in local culture, utilizing oral culture in as many aspects of the work as possible, involving aspects of action research, participatory research, and can be seen as an oral analogy of grounded theory, with complex adaptive system assessments.


The work takes place in rural communities of Macha, Zambia, with the control located in Murambinda, Zimbabwe. The environment is typical resource-limited rural Africa, with community members living a subsistence lifestyle in scattered homesteads with very little infrastructure. Macha chiefdom contains approximately 21,300 residents in an area of 20 x 30 km. The central area contains health and education institutes that retain a small establishment of medical and education professionals. The vibrant local culture can be characterized within the classical African concept of Ubuntu.

Desmond Tutu said that “a person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished.” (Tutu, 1999). Ubuntu runs counter to the creed of individualism.

On a literacy scale, Macha shows itself as a mixed environment, with medical, agricultural, educational and juridical entities that (partially) utilize writing, embedded in a large area with community members having little exposure to texts and living primarily in orality. As such, it is a highly residual oral society.

Although the official language of Zambia is English – which is used in official communication - indigenous languages are commonly spoken. These languages are part of the Bantu group of languages and include Lamba, Kaonde, Tumbuka, Ngoni, Ila, Senga, Chewa, Chibemba, Nsenga Chinyanja, Lunda, Chitonga, Kaonde, Silozi, Nkoya, and Luvale. Estimates of the total number of languages spoken in Zambia vary from 43 to 70, depending on whether some dialects are counted as languages in their own right. Urban dwellers sometimes differentiate between urban and rural dialects of the same language by prefixing the rural languages with 'deep'. In the capital of Lusaka, most people speak Nyanja or Bemba.

Chitonga – or, shorter, Tonga - is the primary language in the Macha area. Although the language is written, like most of the more than 6,000 languages spoken in the world today, Tonga has no literature base. Consequently, many people in the community do not use any writings, nor are they in contact with written words, and expect orality to be used in daily affairs. Non-discursive practices are hampered by this cultural precept and aggravated by material disadvantages like the unavailability of reading materials, paper and pens. Further, the older generation, who provide for community leadership, insists on the primacy of orality in Tonga culture.

Internet has been available for use in Macha since mid-2004. In its early stages, the limited local reach of the local area network only allowed communications with users outside of the continent. Until the arrival of (mobile) phone service in late 2006, the only means of local interaction was by face-to-face meetings or carrying notes around.

Related Work

In his book Orality and Literature, Walter Ong expands on differences in managing knowledge and verbalization in primary oral cultures versus chirographic cultures. Ong notes that for those acquainted with literate culture, thought and its expression in oral culture appear strange and, at times, bizarre (Ong, 1982). Much of Ong's observations are diachronic, that is, viewed through history, although in recent work he hints that further research on the differences between orality and literacy might produce new and interesting insights in interpretations of these differences in academics (Bingham, nd).

There seem to be no (multi)disciplinary models for science on the interaction with, and integration of, technologies in societies utilizing orality as their main means of interaction. Only some evidence is presented on the challenges that exist in doing the research itself (Brewer et al., 2006).

Although there is a persistent tendency among scholars to believe that writing is the basic form of language, Ferdinand de Saussure notes both aspects of usefulness and shortcomings and dangers (Waterman, 1956). There are descriptions and analyses of changes in mental and social structures accredited to the use of writing, e.g. Jack Goody (Goody, 1968). Plato, too, expressed serious reservations in the Phaedrus and his Seventh Letter about writing. He depicted writing as a mechanical, inhuman way of processing knowledge, a way that is unresponsive to questions and destructive of memory (Ong, 1982).

Research reports show the complexity and vast schism between oral and literate culture. Obviously colored by conventional wisdom, and North American and Western European intellectual hegemony, orality is explicitly or implicitly attributed with a lack of introspection, of analytical prowess, and of concern with the will (Ong, 1982). On the other hand, in a previous work on aspects of the relational dimension of resource allocation, Scheneberger and van Stam assert that “though the average individual in a community is unable to make large changes in the overall norms and values that define what is possible in the relationship market, certain individuals of high standing are. In the same way, a government may institute price controls that violate the normal equilibriums of a market, a socially significant actor—such as a chief or headman in the rural area—is able to mandate realities within relationship.” (Sheneberger & van Stam, 2011).

Sayed observes that “adaptation of technology and the becoming of a person are not separable conceptually from the evolution of the complex system that the community is.” (Sayed, Singh, Saad-Sulonen, & Diaz, 2011). However, even complex adaptive system studies do not often take into account a measure of orality as a context-sensitive constraint.

Problem Statement

Studying, debating and communicating about the evidence from deep rural areas evokes feelings of both frustration and excitement. Discoveries and additional knowledge are difficult to align with - or relate to – extant literature and other research. Prescribed execution paths of disciplined methodologies do not fit context-respectful research involving technologies within oral traditions. There appears little guidance in either cross- or multi-disciplinary literature, or examples that deal with these issues especially in the context of rural Africa. In general, disciplinary science aims for models, described in scientifically accepted ways, into which realities are presented for dissection and scrutiny. In rural Africa, tensions witnessed in daily interactions show clearly how current science floats on post-modern paradigms, heavily influenced by western adagio insisting on self-interest as the guiding hand of society. Further tension confronts the scientific precept that information can only be validated when it exists in written form. Such guidance does not make sense in the communal, oral tradition of rural Africa. Such thought masks comprehension of the holistic rural African reality and omits the existence of oral interaction formats like sensitization by, and appropriation through, participatory community discussions, formal community meeting (Tonga: muswangano), sketches (chisobano), musical lamentations (kuyabila), singing, dance (kutazula), and multimedia (second orality) representations.

Scientific methodologies invariably consist of transformation of the many relationships and operations of existing reality into a deconstructed, disciplinary, dissected format, and in Western, written language – to transform from one domain to another domain as if it is a mathematical Laplace transform operation. Further, after formulating findings in the transformed and disciplinary deconstructed, disciplinary format, these transformed representations are expanded upon (Trochim, 2006). Because the research occurred in a part of the world where people operate within a different, indigenous system, such an approach appeared foreign and even offensive, being part of a culture that the people in rural areas do not share. Furthermore, people, who operate outside current scientific worldviews and do not value vogue scientific methods, are labeled as uncomprehending of reality and deficient to participate.

There appears considerable anecdotal agreement among researchers in various fields that use of software, paper, rational methods, etc – that textualisation is mandatory for good scientific research. Other methods of interaction, data storage, processing and studying are severely criticized and the research findings are often rejected. These prohibitions weigh heavily on local and national African researchers and result in an exclusion of local practices from what is understood as 'good scientific research'. Valuable information is consequently lost - for instance, somatic components - while resulting scientific expressions remain foreign to the local community.

In contrast with social and health sciences, there are hardly any longitudinal studies in formal or applied sciences in the rural areas of Africa. Reports mostly involve short periods of observation, often in a rural-urban setting rather than in a 'deep rural' setting. When using the results of such research and discussing them with people in rural areas, findings are not readily understood nor recognized. One could even take the position that there is little evidence that use of software, paper and other tools has been useful in engendering human agency in rural Africa. The non-discursive expressions of scientific knowledge when reduced to abstractions in English texts seem to have little discernible effect on - or even defacto prohibits the inclusion of - oral societies. If the end product of foreign academic research is a take-away text written in academic English, then the foreign academic appropriates local culture for private and foreign profit, leaving the local community objectified and exploited.

I postulate that the above calls for a research process aligned within the traditions, primarily oral, so as to link the research more in the environment and maximize the chance of the research yielding applicable and adaptable results. Perhaps an alternative way to research can be described as doing research the 'Ubuntu way’ which would facilitate acceptance of results in the local, Ubuntu environment (Khoza, 2005). Such research would endeavor to assess the expansive, constantly changing, complex, inter-related communal realities and culture, and exposes evidence of that reality. As such, this paper builds upon the assertion that oral thinking in intelligent people is sophisticated and reflective.

Of course, all this poses large sets of trans-disciplinary logistic, methodological and conceptual challenges for research. Logistically, this calls for long-term ethnographic commitments in a local setting in order to gain an understanding from the community. Methodological challenges deal with issues of local relevance, and conceptual challenges deal with how to describe the research in a literal format.


My family and I have been fully immersed in the rural communities of Zimbabwe (2000-2002) and Zambia (2003-2012). As a result, the local, oral culture has been experienced firsthand (van Stam, 2011). I do not speak any of the local languages and had to resort to an intermediate, second language that is English to communicate. All parts of my life – private and public – were regarded as integral part of the community interactions, which is congruent with the totalizing of experiences as per oral culture.

From mid-2003 in rural Zimbabwe and mid 2010 in rural Zambia, I withdrew from daily operational activities to observe the progress in the rural communities and validate from a more distant vantage point. At that time, my relationships with academics intensified in attempt to develop harmonizing theories explaining my observations. A framework of collaborative academic papers was embarked upon from within the rural area itself, explaining the setting up of ICT in Macha (Matthee, Mweemba, Pais, Van Stam, & Rijken, 2007), observations in economics (Sheneberger & van Stam, 2011), engineering feats and users' behavior (Johnson, Pejovic, Belding, & Van Stam, 2011)⁠, and aggregation in a Macha Works' interactions model (van Stam & van Oortmerssen, 2010). Debate on the activities in Macha intensified, as reported observations were scrutinized by academics through public and online debate.

Although the main theme was the introduction of ICT in rural Africa, with sub-themes of how to engender appropriate leadership and embed sustainable progress, data-gathering was done explicitly endeavoring to line up with the verbal, word-attentive, and person-interactive context, instead of settling for a quantifying, object orientation. I did interact directly and indirectly with all stakeholders in the communities. All data that was gathered was extensively scrutinized, discussed, studied, and validated in an ongoing interaction with 'local talent' and selected community stakeholders. Interactions took place during long, careful conversations with community members and stakeholders, on local, regional and national levels. Questions with respect to the environment and circumstances as they existed at that time of interaction were carefully posed, and there was instant feedback of emerging knowledge and deductions. Facts were gathered as statements of human beings describing the actuality and the environment in which they exist.

The proceedings tried to remain in line with theories and interactive loops of action research, heavily resting on methods of appreciative inquiry. Written derivatives were produced in formats allowing for community records only, for instance, in the form of online blog posts. These were just additional to the oral, culturally-stored information.


On Data Gathering
The research period was filled with a large amount of observation, participation, and lengthy, often unstructured, interviews with people. Most of these interactions took place ‘on the fly’ and ‘happened when they happened'. On certain days, more than ten meetings took place; this assured that information on the contents of the verbal exchanges was shared as quickly as possible, and distortions were minimized.

Data thus collected was stored in an 'oral manner', that is, residing in the minds of people. This information, spoken words, can be recalled, especially when relating them to an event. The data not only contains the record of evanescent sound, but also contains all non-verbal communication such as the season, place, sun position, mental state of the people present, the seating arrangement, and somatic information such as gestures and facial expressions.

Interaction with a specific stakeholder was instantly followed up with interaction with all stakeholders, assuring quick dissemination of information and a level playing field for all involved. Only at a later stage, when the research and interventions were established, did interactions become more individual. This was possible as at that time roles and authorities were firmly established. Only early in 2011 did the author feel grounded enough to attempt an enquiry in written format, through an online survey on the use of Web 2.0 tools.

Community members mention that one of the advantages of verbal communication is its efficiency. Information exchange takes place faster than the speed of writing/reading (possibly ten times faster (Chafe, 1982)). Verbal interaction is instant and offers the ability to assess comprehension and effect. However, information requests per se are mostly interpreted as agonistic. A resulting exchange can be charged, and has relational effects for all participants in the verbal exchange.

Memories of oral people are formidable. The manner in which data is stored can be designated as 'remembrance of the meeting as it transpired'. The existence of data was regularly tested by interviewing the persons to retrieve and re-assess the information.

On writing
Due to the existence of barriers to data collection in rural settings the use of writing and paper was avoided. Objections received from the community were:

1) Writing instills uncertainty and is unclear. Community members commented that “texts allow for word play.” Verbal communications were regarded as particularly clear. Verbal communication assures certainty on: a) who knows what is being said, and b) non-verbal information like the somatic setting and expressions. Especially valuable is the idea that whoever is present will know the information ‘as is communicated’.

2) Writing allows those who were not present at the moment of verbal communication to take part in the discussion by reading what was said. This interaction with the information and subsequent effects on existing and new relationships in the community are difficult to control and thus pose significant cultural challenges.

It was observed that carrying written texts, or even paper, into a meeting would completely change the atmosphere of the encounter. Even writings on the (contents of the) meetings posed difficulties, with apprehension about acknowleding a written text as a representation of that meeting. The latter appeared also related to experiences of written texts being used 'to shame people'. This reportedly occurs when ‘mistakes,’ grammatical or otherwise, are pointed out in the texts, thus bringing shame to either the writer or the person referred to in the text. Writings thus appear to be seen as a potent means of exercising control.

3) The written text valued by the community mainly addresses administrative matters of policy or procedures, presumably in line with pre-emptive and imperialistic use of texts in history. Other writings follow aggregative thought lines, composing on paper how the words would flow in an oral format, mostly void of any form of abstraction.

On Data Processing
Processing of the orally stored information was done in an oral equivalent of 'social networks'. Networks of community members and stakeholders validated the orally stored data and processed it through meetings and discussions. That way aggregation and abstraction of information was recognizable, and output was evident in various modes of communications. Tangible outcomes in change processes are expressions of measures of acceptance of change by a sufficient majority of the community (large numbers of people affirming their support of the change within existing cultural realities, and individual community members displaying explicit comprehension of change and its benefits, each testifying about having a hand in the change). This happens through various formats like stories, songs, and human interactions. The social networks change with membership and existence, are inclusive and in constant flux, assuring relevance and efficiency, and leading to outcomes that empower individuals with the necessary authority to embed the change.

The first social networks were local, involving community leaders and stakeholders only. Slowly the networks incorporated a wider representation of the community. Then, in the same way, the networks became national. Over the course of time, networks expanded to become international. The format/presentation of the social networks did vary. They did occur in the form of physical meetings or went on during other events like cultural meetings, weddings or funerals. It all depended on available physical abilities, reach of ICT – telephone, internet, radio and travel constraints. Research throughput was considerably enhanced by the introduction of an airplane which expanded geographical scope, safety and efficiency. This facilitated the availability and sharing of data, and acceptance of outcomes on national and international levels.

During the data processing stage, which takes place during in-person conversations with leaders, groups of people, or other social networks, the community discusses the designation or effect of the matter at hand. Often discussions are linked to phenomena. The tangible expression of the result is the one that most easily transfers orally through the community. Oral culture heavily restricts experimentation or adding new information without communities’ consent, and the whole process of 'processing new information' by itself is a tool for community acceptance. Conceptualization of the information emerges naturally through the process of verbalization, often incorporating aspects of the immediate, familiar environment. As such, the 'new world' is assimilated into the 'old world'. All high-technology interventions, like the introduction of ICT or an airplane, are described in a context of events involving people, like a medical doctor sourcing a car on the internet, a local farmer finding information on a potential new cash crop, and key stakeholders flying on the first airplane ride. This correlates with the fact that oral culture does not use or count, statistics or linear facts, but, rather, keeps track of activity or activities in which humans are involved.


I posit that as the people involved are mostly intelligent, they are keen masters of mental processes. The use of all verbal communications as per oral cultures is a valuable and valid means of research. Local culture primarily validates evidence through oral processing, not through written representation. In practice, oral information can be verified. Validation of written communications is deemed impossible as its contents are not registered, nor are the writings secured.

It was found that the assessment of the data incorporated aspects of “being together” and other contents that in reductionism are mostly overlooked. While assessing the data, it is always asked “who was present?”, and “what was the disposition of the inter-actors?” All circumstantial data has been acknowledged and has been incorporated. Further moral issues were included in the balancing of the data. Also, input from the environment was taken into account. For instance, information collected from within cities is valued differently and not necessarily recognized as part of the rural environment.

While storing and assessing data in oral cultural formats, assessments of causation include all aspects of the data, including intangibles like character and authority. Ironically, what was a simple deduction for the oral person was often a complex assessment for the researcher. I often found himself overlooking a relevant aspect as soon as I turned to documenting my findings and theories. Further, the process was recognized as highly hermeneutic, searching for meaning and inter-relational messages in the data, incorporating systems and methodologies involving traditional experience, knowledge and wisdom from history.

It was found that the vernacular language, as part of the Bantu group of languages, transmits information on interactions, not items. The language deals with the “World of Humans” instead of the “World of Things”. Through verbalization, the community describes the (degree of) interaction with items and developments. This in itself constitutes a means of identification with the development. For observers from other cultures, inherent to language and cultural barriers, this difference in nature and subject of communications is not directly obvious. However, its effects are clearly witnessed, especially during times of difficulties. Communications homeostatically deal with 'today', so are highly efficient and relevant for purpose in everyday life in resource-limited environments.

Further, the environment does not necessitate work with formal deductive procedures, nor in purely logical forms, but with a more practical thought pattern. It depends on 'who talks' to see what is true, not only for the data processing stage, but also during acceptance phases. It is witnessed that even the most experienced people – those who work with ICT on a daily basis - describe technology in terms of its operations, and assess its benefits mainly in the operational context.

Lastly, interventions or activities were never readily accepted. Much time is needed for new occurrences to mature and to be incorporated in the community and culture. When an intervention occurs more or less unexpectedly, the community default is to 'wait and see which way the cat jumps', or go back to 'the default'.


My background in engineering, strategy and entrepreneurship played a role in interactions with stakeholders. The inclusive culture of the local community does not allow interactions as an observer only. The local culture demands interchange for information sharing, either by 'being together' or in exchange of information. Reactively, the effect that my presence has on the phenomena under investigation is significant. Due to the inclusiveness of local culture, this reactivity can be seen as data (Chenitz & Swanson, 1986). Further, my presence and subsequent inclusion in the local community provided  ‘space’ for local talent to emerge and interventions to mature (Bets et al., 2012).

This paper proposes a complementary view on adherence to scientific rigor, with data, processing, theorizing and dissemination being done within the oral tradition. These distinct phases have uniquely taken place within the culture that exists. Further, the study drew considerably from day-to-day observations, and some documents of analysis of separate studies done in Macha by Macha Research Trust and others. Involving these multiple sources of data enhances the validity of the research (Kirk & Miller, 1985).

In rural Macha, social interactions are most important. The methodology can be recognized as a mix of action research and 'partial' grounded theory, in which data is collected and then theorized upon, applying scientific research criteria like significance, theory-observation compatibility, generalizability, reproducibility, precision, rigor, and verification. My experience and exposure, and continual communications with scientists around the world, satisfies the Glaser and Strauss (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) requirement for theoretical sensitivity. It is characterized by involving the researcher's personal and temperamental activities in order to have theoretical insight into the area of research, to be able to make something out of it. Of course, there is always the possibility of the author forcing insights that do not correlate with observations. Backstopping is provided through expansive social networking with peers, facilitating personal peer-review and mentoring during every step in the process.

It appears that the data gathering, data processing, and data dissemination depend on the reaction of the receiver, the mood or the occasion, in short, social and psychological factors. Although idiosyncrasy will occur, the themes (and formulae) remain. New materials are not introduced, but evidence is presented, fitted to each unique situation. I was often astounded and humbled by the recollection of the details of events, including dates and specific words said, during the testing of recollection of various people.

This research yields trans-disciplinary results. It shows that, in the rural African setting, the process of interaction with the specific cultural environment is most important, as it indicates the attainability and sustainability of outcomes, and the ability of the research to be replicated.

Findings correlate with particular observations. For instance, written Do-It-Yourself manuals do not deliver expected results. During the study period, a written document was shown only a few times in response to an information request. Occasions of documentation being used to search for, or reference to, information, were fewer even when documents were available in the vicinity.

Skills are taught through apprenticeship, focused on seeing with little need for explanation. Leaders emerged after observation and practice. Skill is recognized in people directly, not through abstract, measurable assessments.

Tonga people say “Mwana utambaulwi takomeni” which means “a child never talked about, never grows”. The community confirmed, in retrospect, that the process of implementation, acceptance and appropriation of high-technology and infrastructures have evolved the same way: by being talked about. Also, in the wider geographical contexts of people in other chiefdoms, the benefits of technologies have become incorporated. This finding was news to the community itself. It led to a new, progressive community name: 'New Macha'. All this allowed for recognition and permission for talented young people to emerge as new leaders in the community and take charge of high-technology implementations and operations.

Although research has been an integral part of the Macha environment, the activities of foreign academic researchers, based upon alien academic constructs, are often not understood locally. It is questionable if a rigid sequential process of research problem definition, data gathering, assessment, intervention design, and implementation will lead to the necessary community acceptance at a certain stage. My observations are that most researchers find the exercise in understanding local culture a difficult and time-consuming task. Time pressure mostly cuts trials short. Disassociation of texts from research is psychologically threatening as current scientists' control over research is closely tied to the handling of texts. However, this paper shows that focus on texts can mask the local culture, and its way of interaction.

Non-reflective chirographic-typographic mentality apparently blocks comprehension of the complex oral societies, impeding research into how to implement technologies like ICT in rural areas in Africa. There is a clear need to incorporate processes that are enshrined in oral cultures as to enhance relevance of research and assure its usability. Misses, failures of many systems of intervention, projects that do not scale (up), and technologies whose functions start to deteriorate right after implementation; all indicate the need for a fresh approach. The limited number of publications from non-western authors also show that (other) cultures seem unaligned andunable to incorporate current scientific methods and/or paradigms (Gitau, Plantinga, & Diga, 2010).

Observations of cross cultural expressions show that, in general, much of written language functions to establish subtlety and formality; Western oral communication disposes of this in favor of direct, clear transmission of ideas. However, Macha's oral traditions do not reject such subtleties. The tradition communicates orally with content full of subtext and diplomacy to maintain the delicate balance of social norms.

Ong postulates that “Oral cultures produce powerful and complex verbal performances of high human worth, and can process data which are possibly no longer even possible once 'western practices' has taken possession of the psyche.” He deduces that “without writing, human consciousness cannot achieve its fuller potential, cannot produce other beautiful and powerful creations.” which includes, “development of science, history, philosophy, etc” (Ong, 1982, page 14). These statements might be true when the research aims for applied outcome resulting in an operational earth orbiting satellite, but they are not necessarily true when the outcomes focus on applications in rural settings.

Acts of rhetoric are necessary as it is the communities' measuring up of the strength of an intervention. Activities are tested in the arena of verbal and somatic maneuverings. It was found that changes in current sayings and expressions are indicators of change in the local community.

Involving many aspects of oral culture is beneficial also in view of the issues of sustainability. Even when people are trained in 'a western way', taught skills do not necessary remain or are appropriated. A person often refers to situational, existential thinking instead of categorical, essentialist thinking, referring to the way it was, especially when under pressure (Luria, 1976). It is questionable if sustainability of intervention can be secured when underlying research processes are not in tune with local culture.

There appears little study in the scholastic world of the possible benefits of using oral characteristics in research. Findings in primary oral cultures could be relevant to the second orality, instigated through pervasive computing, omnipresent telephones and emerging video cultures. Of course, there also exist real, large draw backs for using oral culture. For instance, there is real complexity of processes. However, applicability of results and ethical alignment are considerably enhanced by appropriate use of orality.

There is much room for research reviewing the effects of cultural specific social constructions like science and technologies, literacy and languages, and research methodologies themselves, in light of existing and diverse cultural realities. Such studies are much needed now that internet and travel connect societies at an ever-increasing pace. Insights will be enhanced through conceptualization of interactions, also through assessment of the fast growing transcribed multimedia repository of electronic data like podcasts or videos created by focus groups and community radio, produced in transparent ways whilst leaving community records.


This paper substantiates the use of orality in research methodology. It shows how adherence to methodological research using orality is taking place in the rural community of Macha. It was found that the cultural specificity of text-based, English-language and overly-rational methodologies are ill-suited for interpreting realities in rural Macha, while significant benefits are shown when data is kept in the oral, traditional realm. Also, it was found that processing of the data done in oral-culture equivalents produces worthwhile outcomes.

This paper makes the case for the excitatory potential of oral data, and its usefulness, and offers assertions that point to the existence of entities of data that currently are mostly omitted or even excluded in (multi)disciplinary science. Even during transition periods, the role of orality remains significant. As oral cultures have a different way of assimilating technology, this fact must be taken into account in the design of sustainable technological and other interventions in rural Africa.


The author is grateful to the rural community of Macha which includes him and his family in their society. Their patience and willingness to withstand all the questions, probing, and conceptualizations are true witness to the strength of community.

Gratitude to Sally Green, Joseph Mutale, Fred Mweetwa, Gerard van Oortmerssen, Veljko Pejovic, and Tony Roberts, for valuable comments, observations and editing remarks during the process of producing this document.

So I wrote.


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The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441