Tribe of Colours

Together with Professor Graham Stewart, I presented a paper on the Encyclopaedia of South African Arts, Culture and Heritage at the recent Art and Social Justice Conference held at the Durban University of Technology.

“ …straight ahead
the memory beckons from the future
you and I a tribe of colours
this song that dance
godlike rhythms to birth
footsteps of memory
the very soul aspires to.”
(Keorapetse Kgositsile, “Origins”, 1969:3)

Now in the second year of its development, the Encyclopaedia of South African Arts, Culture and Heritage (ESAACH) is both traditional encyclopaedia and hypertext web. Published volumes will emerge from the collaborative writing space provided within the wiki database. “You and I a tribe of colours” – by tapping into the collaborative spirit of social networking, ESAACH is emerging as a communal knowledge base that is far more than the sum of its parts.

ESAACH is intended as a work of reclamation scholarship to address the dearth of reference material in South African arts, culture and heritage studies, and flights a number of concepts of importance in knowledge production for social transformation – notions that represent a fundamental shift in perspective: “panoramic, inclusive, democratic, and non-canonical”.

An encyclopaedia, by its very nature, can never be complete. An online encyclopaedia never needs to be complete. Users can continually add entries or edit existing ones while an open-source community, (e.g. Media wiki) is continually improving and developing the management framework. An active community that has bought into ownership of the encyclopaedia, and has an interest in maintaining and growing its content, ensures its sustainability.

This paper reports on work in progress, outlining the founding principles of the encyclopaedia and presenting the current state of the development and usage of the Verbal Arts section of the wiki. Later phases of the project include the Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Heritage.


Graham Stewart is Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Design, and Associate Professor at the Durban University of Technology. His research interests encompass both Southern African literature and digital technologies. He has published in the fields of literary criticism and education, while web-based teaching and learning have influenced his work in academic development. He has a long-standing interest in bringing South African literary and cultural heritage into a networked digital domain and by so doing, making these resources widely accessible to readers, researchers and learners. Together with Prof Johan van Wyk, he compiled an electronic encyclopaedia of Southern African literature in the late 1990s and subsequently joined Prof Lindy Stiebel’s KwaZulu-Natal Literary Tourism Project team.

He holds an MA from the University of Natal; and D.Litt from the University of Durban-Westville.

Niall McNulty is an online media and content specialist, focused on the digitisation of culture and heritage collections. He has been instrumental in setting up KZN Literary Tourism’s online literature archive, the Encyclopaedia of South African Art, Culture and Heritage’s website and the eThekwini Municipality’s indigenous knowledge management programme. He is currently involved with media and resource development for the Centre for Critical Research on Race Identity.

In 2005 he was awarded his Masters in English from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.


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