Community mapping

May 5, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Japan treeIn an earlier post, I highlighted the use of digital mapping software by Amazonian tribes who are mapping their forest homes and identifying areas threatened by deforestation due to logging. This post is an example of the opposite – indigenous communities being denied access to software and tools that would help them map their terrain and defend it from the onslaughts of greedy developers.

Tribes in South East Asia have been using a combination of navigation software, paints, yarn and cardboard to produce three-dimensional terrain models. Tribal elders record their mental maps of sacred territories and hunting grounds. As they gain expertise in mapping, the communities are introduced to Google Earth and GPS. This is clearly a mechanism for indigenous people to visualise and communicate their sense of space in community mapping projects.

Recently, the Higaunon people of the Philippines used cardboard and paints to build a 3D model of nearby Mount Kimangkil and this helped them to win an ancestral land title battle. And a Northern Philippines group built a model of another mountain and successfully petitioned Congress to have the area declared off limits to development.

But in a move that surely can only be an effort to deny the indigenous communities their land rights, the Philippines has done some legal fancy footwork and changed an existing law so that only officially recognised engineers can map and measure land. Anyone helping the tribes gets thrown into jail for 3 years.

By strange coincidence, the Government of Sarawak has followed suit. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, the Rumah Nor community used high-tech mapping techniques to win a court case against a paper company that was encroaching on its territory. Following the court ruling, the Sarawak government altered legislation so that no land survey is acceptable unless conducted by professionals. This of course wipes out any community-based efforts at mapping terrain.

Sarawak now requires people to have a license from the Government and to be registered with the Land Surveyor’s Board, otherwise a person can be charged for illegal map-making. Somehow I can’t imagine indigenous people rushing down to the Land Surveyor’s Board to be registered.

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Entry filed under: Cartography, Information visualisation, Social problems, Society.

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