Black sand stories: a polysemiotic and multimodal documentation of Paamese sand stories, a critically endangered tradition of Vanuatu
This project will deposit culturally enriched descriptions of the speech, gestures, and complex geometrical drawings of sand stories, a unique form of communication, practiced by only four elder storytellers on Paama, Vanuatu.
These important mnemonic devices for local histories, indigenous cosmologies, kinship systems, and scientific knowledge have been listed as Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO since 2008, but have never been documented in a systematic way.
The project aims at preserving these invaluable vectors of indigenous language and culture, by employing innovative techniques and providing dynamic datasets that capture the inherent polysemiotic and multimodal nature of Paamese sand storytelling.
The collection includes annotated audiovisual sand drawing performances (speech and gesture), motion capture visualizations of the drawings, annotated audiovisual meta-comments by cultural consultants, and an illustrated sand story book.
This data is collected by Simon Devylder, principal investigator of the project in close collaboration with the Paamese community and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.
Group represented The collection created within this project focuses on speakers of Paamese, living on the South-Pacific island of Paama, Vanuatu.
Paamese is an Oceanic language, spoken on the island of Paama in Vanuatu. There were 1364 Paamese speakers in 2009 (VNS office 2009:102), who represent 0.48% of the global Vanuatu population. The usage of Paamese undergoes substantial pressures by the three official languages of Vanuatu (Bislama, French, and English). In the present project, Paamese is documented via the cultural practice of sand drawings.
Vanuatu sand storytelling is a unique form of communication used in a few northern and central islands of Vanuatu that has been recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO in 2008. Sand storytelling consists of tracing complex geometrical patterns with a finger in the sand, while singing or telling a story. These stories are highly valued in Paamese society all the more than most have already been lost in the wake of the French-British colonization and of the intensive evangelization that forbade such practices considered to be witchcraft. There are only 4 sand storytellers left on Paama in 2018 and all are elder community members.
The bundles of this collection are split-screen audio-video recordings and motion capture (mocap) visualizations of sand drawing performances. There are also audio-video recordings of meta-comments from Paamese cultural consultants. The bundles can thus be broken down in two types:
- 10 hours of split screen videos (two camera views + mocap visualizations)
- 10 hours of audio-video cultural meta-comments
Acknowledgement and citation Devylder, Simon. 2019. Black sand stories: a polysemiotic and multimodal documentation of Paamese sand stories, a critically endangered tradition of Vanuatu. London: SOAS, Endangered Languages Archive. URL:[insert deposit page URL]. Accessed on [insert date here].