Mountain voices

Posted: 26 November 2001

The Panos Institute (London) has launched a unique online archive of in-depth interviews communicating the views and experiences of people living in mountain communities around the world.

Visitors to the website, www.mountainvoices.org, can search for these 'oral testimonies' by location and by themes, which include environmental knowledge, migration, education, social change, culture and custom, economics and identity.

"Good oral testimony records not just events and practices, but provides clues as to their meaning and significance for people. We hope readers of these interviews will gain insight, not just information," says Olivia Bennett, Director of the Panos Oral Testimony Programme.

Conducted by local people in local languages and translated into English, the unedited interviews draw on direct personal memory and experience. For many, this was an important opportunity to represent themselves in their own words, rather than have their lives interpreted by outsiders.

"Our community, Shimshal, was isolated for centuries from the rest of the world. Foreign people wrote about us and misrepresented us. Now is the time for us to tell the world about the reality of Shimshal," says Khalik, a community activist from the Karakorum mountains, Pakistan.

To date, some 200 interviews from communities in six countries have been uploaded on to the website: Nepal; Peru (the Andes); Kenya (Mount Elgon); the highlands of Ethiopia and Lesotho; and Poland (the Sudety mountains). By mid-2002, the International Year of Mountains, four other collections will also be online: India (the western Himalaya); Mexico (the Sierra Norte); southwest and northeast China; and Pakistan (the Karakorum mountains). The archive will eventually contain over 300 interviews from ten different mountain communities.

"Our aim is to make the "mountains" development debate more inclusive by highlighting the perspective of those experiencing development and change first-hand," says Olivia Bennett. "Each collection is a snapshot and doesn't claim to be representative of entire mountain groups. But a range of individual voices does provide a vivid picture of highland societies, full of personal detail, anecdote, information and accumulated experience and knowledge."

Related links:

Mountain Voices website

Panos Oral Testimony Programme