Safeguarding Sarawak's intangible cultural heritage: A knowledge management approach
The importance of indigenous knowledge is receiving increasing recognition. Some cultural institutions (CI) are responsible for safeguarding indigenous knowledge and they acquire, document, and record works and images of indigenous knowledge which are contained or embedded in the intangible cultural heritage (ICH) of their indigenous communities such as songs, rituals, arts, and medical wisdom. These items of ICH become ‘knowledge objects’ or ‘representations of knowledge’ when documented, which are unlikely to represent the indigenous people's knowledge holistically. Indigenous knowledge embedded in the ICH requires interpretations of the processes, rituals, experiences and practices from the indigenous communities. This interpretivist study, using a knowledge management (KM) lens, examined the knowledge sharing processes of the indigenous people of Sarawak, Malaysia, to understand the nature of indigenous knowledge and knowledge sharing from the perspectives of the indigenous people of Sarawak, in order to assist Sarawak’s cultural institutions in safeguarding their ICH. This research used narrative inquiry as a research methodology, acquiring stories from two clusters of participants, purposively selected from three ethnic groups and from cultural institutions in Sarawak’s Civil Service. This study used a knowledge management perspective in analysing the findings. The findings on the nature of indigenous people’s knowledge highlight a three-tiered knowledge system. The findings on the CIs’ safeguarding efforts elucidate the gap in the management of the CIs’ organizational knowledge on safeguarding. This study makes several important contributions. First, it contributes to the literature about the cultural protocol requirements of the indigenous people of Sarawak before they can share their knowledge. Secondly, this study elucidates the indigenous people’s knowledge as a three-tiered system which influences the people’s knowledge sharing ways. This system can be used to guide the CIs’ practices of safeguarding ICH. The third contribution of this study is that it expands our understanding of the complexity of indigenous knowledge, and creates a conceptual model to aid and guide this understanding. Fourth, this study also contributes towards a greater understanding of the importance of the CIs including the indigenous peoples in the safeguarding practices in order to avoid the decontextualization of the ICH. Thus, this study confirms the importance of the participation of the indigenous people in the CIs’ practice of safeguarding ICH. Another contribution of this study, based on its findings, is the adaptation of three elements of a KM spectrum (Binney, 2001) for the CIs’ KM approach in managing their organizational knowledge on safeguarding ICH.