World of the Khwe Bushmen: Accessing Khwe Cultural Heritage Data by Means of a Digital Ontology Based on Owlnotator

Giuseppe Abrami (, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany und Gertrude Boden (, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany und Lisa Gleiß (, Goethe-University Frankfurt, Germany

Poster Abstract

The Khwe are a group of former hunter-gatherers living in Bwabwata National Park in northeast Namibia. They are one of the indigenous groups in Southern Africa known as “San” or “Bushmen”. The documentation of their language and cultural heritage was a mission of Oswin Köhler (1911-1996), a German scholar in African Studies.

Between 1959 and 1992 he built up an integral collection of written vernacular texts, audio files, photographs, video files, ethnographic objects, dried plants and drawings from the Khwe, currently housed in the Oswin Köhler Archive at the Goethe University Frankfurt. As his main oeuvre on the Khwe, Köhler had planned an encyclopedia on ideally every aspect of Khwe culture in vernacular texts with German translations, titled “The World of the Khwe Bushmen [Die Welt der Kxoé-Buschleute]”.

Four of twelve planned parts have been published in print so far (Kölher 1989, Köhler 1991, Köhler 1997). Köhler has supplemented, revised, split, merged and moved the texts for this encyclopedia from one part or from one section within a part to another over a time period of more than thirty years.

In order to identify and visualize these processes, a team of computer scientists and anthropologists/linguists has developed an OWL ontology for the semantic use of the Köhler encyclopedia. It maps the histories of individual texts and of their position in the overall structure of the encyclopedia but also the relations between Khwe terms, subject areas, text versions, versions of table of contents, footnotes to texts describing manipulations, codes for recurrent types of manipulations to the texts, object types, specific objects, video- and audio-files, photographs, drawings, people and places. It thus allows for a more holistic or integral understanding of Khwe concepts and cultural practices by presenting them in the multiple contexts where they occurred. At the same time it allows for retracing the formation of this cultural heritage documentation by revealing the impact of individual actors in changing and manipulating the documentation, with regards to content as well as numerically, e.g. the replacement of loan words for Khwe terms or attempts to standardize syntax. All this is done with the help of the so-called
OWLnotator (Abrami et al. 2012).

OWLnotator, as part of the eHumanities Desktop (Jussen, Mehler, Ernst 2007), is a flexible annotation system for annotating inter- and intramedial relations in multimedia corpora and can be used as an annotation platform for any project. By using OWL ontologies as an annotation scheme, arbitrary annotation tasks can be defined.

For this purpose, OWLnotator provides a generic graphical web interface that displays the available classes and properties of the underlying ontology and allows linking to arbitrary resources. These resources are provided by the integration of OWLnotator into the so-called
ResourceManager. ResourceManager is also part of the eHumanities Desktop and provides access to various types of resources as text documents, images, audio- and video-files, as well as their individual segments and more. In addition, the OWLnotator can also import data from CSV files, provided by the ResourceManager, and assign them to the corresponding ontologies. Furthermore, in this version of the OWLnotator


is used as the new database backend. The poster presents the challenges of understanding and designing the multiple relations between individual items within the ontology, of formally describing and transforming existing data and databases to render them readable or automatically importable, and of visualising the items and relations in the ontology. As a result, the poster will display selected Khwe concepts with all their relations. The analytical potential of the ontology will be exemplified by presenting the results of a number of queries visualization with help of OWLnotator.

Appendix A

  1. Abrami Giuseppe and Mehler Alexander and Pravida Dietmar (2015).
    Fusing text and image data with the help of the OWLnotator. In Sakae Yamamoto, editor, Human Interface and the Management of Information. Information and Knowledge Design, volume 9172 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pages 261–272. Springer International Publishing
  2. Jussen, Bernhard and Mehler, Alexander and Ernst, Alexandra (2007).
    A corpus management system for historical semantics. Sprache und Datenverarbeitung. International Journal for Language Data Processing, 31(1-2):81–89.
  3. Köhler, Oswin (1989).
    Die Welt der Kxoé-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika: eine Selbstdarstellung in ihrer eigenen Sprache. 1. Die Kxoé-Buschleute und ihre ethnische Umgebung. D. Reimer, Berlin, Germany.
  4. Köhler, Oswin (1991).
    Die Welt der Kxoé-Buschleute im süudlichen Afrika: eine Selbstdarstellung in ihrer eigenen Sprache. 2. Grundlagen des Lebens: Wasser, Sammeln und Jagd, Bodenbau und Tierhaltung. D. Reimer, Berlin, Germany.
  5. Köhler, Oswin (1997).
    Die Welt der Kxoé-Buschleute im Südlichen Afrika: Die Welt der Kxoe-Buschleute im südlichen Afrika. 3. Materialle Ausrüustung; Wohnplatz und Buschlager. D. Reimer, Berlin, Germany.

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