As we move into the third phase of the Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship, we interviewed mentors of three different hubs to share their journey over the last couple of months. Sinegugu, Samwel and Magella share personal experiences as mentors of the Amadiba (South Africa), OLM-T (Tanzania) and Gurapau (Kenya) hubs, respectively.
The local mentors are community changemakers who have been supporting the Fellows since the beginning of the programme, ensuring that local cultural protocols are respected. Their expertise and wisdom complement the training, encouraging fellows to engage their communities in participatory video (PV) projects that focus on critical issues identified by the whole community.
“My journey as a mentor has been empowering.”
– Sinegugu Zukulu, Amadiba hub mentor.
When asked about the potential they see in PV and the Fellowship for Indigenous youth and their communities, mentors shared stories about how the Fellows reconnect with their Indigenous roots and how the entire process prevents the youth from adopting Western values. On top of that, mentors are delighted to see how PV strengthens community links to document traditional knowledge that could potentially be lost. Such valuable information is usually passed orally from generation to generation. In their words, PV is a social change tool that brings hope to the community, a shield the youth can use to advocate for Indigenous rights. Even the elders see value in PV and the Fellowship because the youth are acquiring beneficial skills for the community. They see Fellows documenting cultural processes, interviewing community members and critically asking questions that have not even been asked before.
In terms of specific issues PV could address in their communities, mentors consider that the connection between the past and the present is paramount. By looking back and reflecting on past experiences, Fellows can move forward and propose solutions to the community challenges, such as culture erosion and global challenges, like climate change. PV also facilitates reaching agreements between the community, government and stakeholders, particularly when they both have different visions of what the community as a whole wants and needs.
Although the mentors recognised that it is a bit early to say to what extent there has been a change in the communities during this process, they agreed that the Fellows are moving in the right direction. The positive impacts of the Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship go beyond Fellows acquiring video and editing skills, as the programme’s ultimate goal is to facilitate the creation of sustainable Indigenous hubs that develop strong links with the community. This goal, however, requires time and patience to occur. So far, mentors have seen small but significant changes right after the hubs’ first community screening, such as developing healthier eating habits, community trust-building and promoting the importance of education.
The mentors’ journey has been significantly enriched by learning first-hand from their Fellows. Although this was the first time some mentors managed large groups of people, their roles becoming clearer as time went on. It is interesting to see the different approaches taken by mentors in terms of accompaniment, as some hubs worked more independently than others. Mentors were excited about the online learning approach because it provided opportunities to exchange ideas, feedback and knowledge with other hubs across Africa (see map below).
The Mentors Interview
1) For you, what has been the most exciting moment of the Fellowship so far?
Sinegugu: What PV has done in my community has been very special to me. We are using technology to enable the passing of ancient wisdom from the elders to the youth.
Samwel: So far, the most exciting thing about the Fellowship is seeing how the community has recognised the Fellows and how they are using video to document various cultural processes. When we started Oltoilo Le Maa Tanzania, we had a problem with cameras in our community. People did not want to see cameras. Our community elders were afraid that somebody must be behind because they know cameras normally belong to the white people, belongs to the recording crews who come into the community with a specific purpose but not coming to stay. Our cameras belong to the community, so that recognition is already a change because they’re offering to tell the good news about our culture; they’re offering to talk of stories that have never been spoken about.
Magella: To see my Fellows working together as a team with lots of vision. That means they are self-driven people who do not need too much supervision, and I am very excited about that.
2) What has been the biggest challenge so far, and how did you manage it?
Sinegugu: As a mentor, the biggest challenge is travelling up and down due to the distances between the villages. It takes me an hour to drive from home to get there, and the roads are in terrible condition! There is no public transport that the Fellows could use. That is the biggest challenge for us, but we do it because that is how this programme can continue.
Samwel: There was a problem with female Fellows engaging with some community members, especially visiting the Sacred sites or attending specific meetings. As time went by, they got more experienced and built the necessary confidence to engage and talk to Maasai elders.
Photo: Nailandei Dominic Posyo (left), female Fellow from OLM-Tanzania hub, putting filming skills into practice.
3) What potential do you see in PV and the Fellowship for Indigenous youth and their communities?
Sinegugu: PV will enable young people to grow and be proud of the origin of the Indigenous people they come from, instead of aspiring to the Western culture or the city’s bright lights. PV will enable them to open their eyes to see the value of the land, people, culture, and Indigenous ways. The value of our heritage as Indigenous people is and will be enhanced by PV.
Samwel: Now that the cameras are in the hands of Indigenous people, PV is a social change tool in our community. For the youth, having the skills and knowledge to do professional filming and communicating what our community wants to do can make them more capable changemakers. The youth have gone to school, but PV has a substantial value now that communities face challenges with cultures being lost and (traditional) knowledge disappearing. So PV can bridge that gap and keep what is relevant and needed for the future, which is helpful, mainly because our knowledge is not written. PV could be an appropriate way to document Indigenous Knowledge because films can last and bring hope to the community.
One elder said, “We now see that modern education is becoming something useful in our community” because sometimes we do fundraising to help the youth go to university. After that, they disappear to cities, working for other people. Everything changes when you see your girl or boy busy engaging with elders, doing interviews, documenting cultural processes and ceremonies, critically asking questions that have not been asked before. For the community, this means liberation.
Magella: PV is a very useful tool, like a shield, and Indigenous youth can defend their community using PV. When you are doing PV and advocating your rights, you can overcome the challenges because there is evidence of what you are doing and the work that you provide. Therefore, the youth and community collaborate together and fight for their rights as one entity, as an Indigenous community.
Photo: Amadiba Hub celebration ceremony at the end of Phase 1. Fellows are proud of their culture and use PV to document Indigenous knowledge that is usually passed orally from generation to generation.
4) What issues do you think PV could address in your community?
Sinegugu: Right now, we are addressing nutrition and sustainable consumption, but there are many other issues that PV could address. It’s a matter of looking, digging into our Indigenous culture, and seeing what we can learn and how can we adapt to move forward, making sure that the young people are involved because we have amazing things, but they still don’t even know about them. I think that by bringing up those issues, we will preserve some of the Indigenous knowledge to shape a better future for the land and the people.
Samwel: There are plenty of issues that PV can address. One is bringing communities closer, the connection between the past and present, and some predictions about the future. We see the gap between the past and the present is becoming wider because traditional knowledge is disappearing. For instance, the Maasai community struggles to bring people together through the traditional ritual passages because of the modern education system. Suddenly, the youth find no time to stay with their elders.
PV can address connectedness between the environment and us, which is a critical issue today. For example, we’re all experiencing the effects of climate change because of irresponsible use. I think PV can bring that hope and wisdom, the voices of elders, to the next generation. So one of the major issues that PV will address in the long run is bridging that gap.
Also, challenging the narratives! We have experienced a lot of fake news and narratives. PV will be able to put the record straight, and people will be able to speak instead of asking outsiders to film or cover media issues. On the whole idea of narratives, PV has the role of connecting us with other Indigenous families across the planet because, as we stand, traditional media hasn’t been able to do that appropriately. They only document issues of conflict, but they hardly celebrate our resilience. So PV will bring that element of celebration, feeling proud of what we’ve been able to become as a community. In that matter, PV facilitates engagement between community, government, stakeholders, as well as networking and collaboration with other Indigenous groups and other like-minded societies on this planet.
Magella: PV has enabled cooperation between tribes in the area, so we want to address the insecurity issue that’s becoming more challenging collectively. We can also use PV to advocate for the community priorities so that if there’s any NGO or any governmental programme, they keep the community interests at heart.
Photo: Agostino Lekapana, Fellow from GuraPau hub (Kenya) mentored by Magella. In an interview at the end of Phase 2, Agostino shared that he’s proud of his achievements and aims to use video to be” the eyes of his community”.
5) Have there been any changes in your community during this process?
Sinegugu: The interaction and the discussion have been very empowering as young people gathered together. We are changing eating habits with the films, developing value and love for new nutritious food in our community. So I’m sure as we continue making new films, we are definitely going to move in the right direction in changing minds, changing hearts, changing the way people do things.
Samwel: The elders, men and women, and the youth in the community are now feeling like they have something to learn. The youth in the video were very interested to see the traditional schooling system and some of them were asking the elders, “how can you leave us the knowledge you’ve been using to run this Emanyatta or traditional training camps? How do you develop the program for three years, and yet you’re not writing”. So such an interest is a change. And also, elders, willing to share and give us more details about how they’ve been doing it is a noteworthy change. So to sum up, trust-building is quite a big change for Oltoilo Le Maa Tanzania.
Magella: We are using the film that we made about education because the next month, many children are going back to school. People in the community are getting the information with the help of our film, so one significant change is that PV is attracting children to education.
6) Is there anything you have learnt through being a mentor of this process?
Sinegugu: There’s a lot that I’m learning as a mentor. The whole PV concept it’s something new that I’ve learned. But also learning about the other cultures, with the learning exchanges that we have done online; looking at each other films and the discussions we’ve had with other people. We appreciated our exchange with the Amava Oluntu hub from Cape Town. Some young people that come from Cape Town to our community are smokers or drinkers, but none of our fellows in Amadiba is drinking or smoking. That was a big shock for the guys from the city! Also, another eye-opener for our guys was to see the number of people migrating from the cities and the LGBT+ communities. It’s the reality of our times, the freedom of expression allowed by our constitution. That has been an enormous learning curve for our people. So these learning exchanges have been precious not just for me but also for our Fellows.
Samwel: Oh, yeah, being a mentor hasn’t been easy. I learned that capacity building processes like what we’re doing here are exciting because when we started, the fellows themselves were not having any trust in-between. But as we went along, the trust started building within themselves, and my role as a mentor became clearer. I also realised that youth are very much interested in the technology-related training like the one we are doing. Learning more about the camera, videos and watching different films from other places has a lot of value for them.
Magella: I’ve learned so many things as a mentor. This is the first time I was mentoring a big group, so this was a challenge for me. My leadership skills improved by leading the team and bringing them together – that was really demanding! I put more effort into ensuring that the whole PV process wouldn’t fail, so I had to make sure that all we learned during the Fellowship was put into practice. I also tried to keep their morale high and make sure they are aware of the impact they can make in the community.
7) In one word, how would you describe your journey as a mentor?
Magella: I can describe my journey as a wonderful experience because it is a task put on me, and I am doing it in a good way.
Sinegugu: My journey has been empowering. Thank you.
-End of the interview-
About the Mentors
Sinegugu Zukulu is the mentor for the Amadiba, South Africa Hub.
Sinegugu is an Indigenous Peoples human rights champion. A conservationist by profession, he spent decades fighting for the rights of the AmaMpondo people. He leads bottom-up, people-inspired development initiatives which include Agroecology, Eco-Tourism development, and documentation of Indigenous knowledge systems of AmaMpondo people.
As a mentor, Sinegugu wants to take young people back to the future! Sinegugu believes that through the fellowship young people can learn more about their land and culture, acquire wisdom from Indigenous Elders about sustainable Indigenous knowledge systems, and see the value in who they are.
Samwel Nangiria is the mentor for the Oltoilo Le Maa Tanzania Hub.
Samwel is a Maasai human rights activist from Northern Tanzania and the founding director of Oltoilo Le Maa. He began using participatory video to defend Maasai territories from land grabs and forced evictions of Maasai pastoralists, and in 2017 he was acclaimed as Tanzania’s Rural Human Rights Defender of the Year.
Samwel also uses participatory video as a tool for preserving Maasai culture and redressing colonial narratives of Indigenous Peoples in western or globalist institutions. He spearheaded the Living Cultures movement which dismantles colonial narratives within museums by empowering Indigenous Peoples to curate their own narratives. As a mentor, Samwel wants to transfer his knowledge to the next generationof activists.
Magella Lenatiyama is the mentor for the Gurapau/Lake Turkana Kenya Hub.
Magella is an El-Molo who lives at the shores of Lake Turkana in Marsabit county. Ever since he was young, Magella has had a passion for education and filming, which is why he for long dreamt of purchasing a video camera.
Despite some challenges, Magella managed to complete his school education and he now works as a pre-primary school teacher, nourishing the lives of young children for them to grow up taking care of our Mother Earth.
After purchasing a video camera, Magella frequently practised his filmmaking skills. This passion paved the way for him to become a participatory video practitioner. He now uses PV to support El Molo youth and to preserve the endangered El Molo culture and language through video dictionaries.
About the Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship
With the support of the Bertha Foundation and the Staples Trust, InsightShare has launched the Living Cultures Indigenous Fellowship. This groundbreaking strategy delivers remote training to Indigenous Peoples wishing to harness participatory media as a tool for engaging and mobilising their communities.
In 2021 InsightShare is training 38 young indigenous leaders based in 6 hubs across Africa and supporting them to use communication technologies safely for self-determination, self-representation and positive local action.