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Creating an Archive System for Africa’s Rites and Rituals

The Bagisu people of eastern Uganda boast of special places where they gather to perform cultural rites, among them imbalu, a male circumcision ritual. These sacred spaces can exist in the form of groves, rivers, thickets or even playgrounds. Although some of these places were made sacred through the consensus of elders, their existence is also attributed to supernatural beings. These sites participate in showcasing and transmitting these ceremonies and their music and dances to those who come to witness events. The sites thus act as archives for the community. For over three decades now, ethnomusicologists have called for rethinking the meaning of the archive and of archiving. They argue that an archive should not only be seen as a physical building or digital vault. Instead the meaning of the archive should be extended to include cultural mechanisms through which material can be safeguarded for access and use in future. This demands that we even consider songs or paintings as mechanisms through which artists put their ideas for retrieval and use in future; an archive. The idea that archiving can only be done by societies with technologies of repetition such as audio recorders or cameras is shallow. People who rely on oral tradition have ways of ensuring that what they have is safeguarded and kept for others in future.