Meet African Digital Heritage Warrior, Tayiana Chao

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After following her passion for years, Tayiana Chao found herself in Glasgow studying Heritage Visualisation. Chao is a Heritage Warrior and a Computer Scientist literally breaking the glass ceiling for other young Kenyans. She is founder of Thee Agora, Save the Railway and African Digital Heritage. A lady of charisma fused with tenacity, Jumia Travel caught up with her in honor of World Heritage Day.

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1. Take us through your journey. How and when did you start?
I was always fascinated by history from a young age, I remember being intrigued by old books and my grandparents’ stories. As I grew older this love for history took on a more dynamic form and I began to research more on African history.

I also began to question more as I came to the realization that most of the history I was taught always seemed like an acute set of facts and dates, there was very little space for the individual and much fewer space for personal memories and stories. At this point I decided to start a history/ culture blog at www.theeagora.com. My motto was “Because human relations are worth recording”. By this time, I had just started an undergrad degree in Computer Science and as you can imagine, history and culture was the farthest thing from what I was studying. However, I stuck to it and would write over the weekends and research over the holidays.

Then came Save The Railway…

In 2013 after writing the blog for close to a year and seeing the immense reception it had. I was inspired to take on a larger and more tangible project, Save The Railway. I went from writing and researching to actively taking part in the documentation of a heritage that was disappearing. The project involved travelling round the country and documenting photos of the old, abandoned railway stations that were once centres of commerce, transport, and interaction in most towns in Kenya. I also begun to collect memories on the railway from hundreds of people who I met, interviewed, or interacted with online.

I continued writing the blog and carrying out the Save The Railway project till 2016 where I went on to hold my first exhibition showcasing photos from the trip which saw me document more than 70 railway stations around the country.

Voi Railway Station_copy

Voi Railway Station

Founding African Digital Heritage (ADH)

The idea for African Digital Heritage materialized soon after I finished my undergrad. Previously I had always felt that I had to choose between history and computing, fields which I was both passionate about. Then one day the idea sparked and I asked myself, “Why can’t I combine both”. And I started researching more on digital heritage and found out that there was a big drive for it in the West. Where many museums were beginning to embrace cutting edge technology to document, curate and preserve culture.

I decided to apply for an MSc. Heritage Visualization from Glasgow School of Art and was fortunately accepted. Since then I have been constantly refining the idea for ADH which I hope to turn into an organisation that offers digital solutions for heritage institutions, and provides new ways for people to engage technology and culture back home.

 

2. What Challenges have you faced while running these projects?
Institutional bureaucracies and policies made it challenging to kick start heritage projects.  It took me a long time to get permits and navigate my way through the web of respective authorities.

It was also quite difficult to find funding to carry out the project. In the initial stages of Save The Railway, I was supported mostly by my friends and family who offered me whatever little support that they could. Luckily in 2015, I met up with a private group that offered to provide some assistance to help me finish the remaining phase of project (Nairobi – Kisumu).

 

3. How is the Heritage World in Glasgow?
There is a lot more support available to organizations (both private and public) that want to start heritage projects at a community level. This allows the public to actively participate in the preservation of their own culture and find new ways to express themselves through contemporary arts and media.

It has also been interesting to visit museums and see all the interactive installations that cater for visitors of all ages, from school children to elderly people. This deconstructing of museum exhibits that go beyond the object itself allow visitors to gain personal perspectives and interact with history in new and exciting ways.

touring-edinburg-oldtown1

Chao touring Edinburgh Old Town, a World Heritage Site.

 

4. What you would love the African Heritage world to emulate from them?
I believe that culture plays an essential role in each and every society. Particularly within the African context, we are privileged to have such a rich, diverse, and unique variety of cultures that still exist to date. However, be it ancient or contemporary, these cultures are constantly at risk of disappearing if no efforts are geared towards their preservation.

While museums and archives are the institutional fore bearers of African heritage, the preservation of culture goes beyond institutional confines and lives within the hearts and expressions of individuals who hold these cultures dear.

I think we need to embrace new ways of cultural preservation, dissemination, and appreciation, as a way of engaging the younger generation and ensuring continuity. Be it through technology, arts & crafts, music and much more.  But most importantly we need to have our governments support such initiatives and pay greater attention to culture as a social and economic tool that brings together more than it divides.

 

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8 Comments

  1. Geoffrey Sendeu

    April 19, 2017 at 4:45 am

    Great work Chao. You managed to capture and document the old railway just in time before the new SGR takes over. Well done and keep it up.

  2. Billie

    April 21, 2017 at 12:25 am

    Great pictures, the colour and depth of the pictures are
    breath-taking, they attract you in as though you
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  3. Billie

    April 21, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Great pictures, the colour and depth of the pictures are breath-taking,
    they attract you in as though you are a component of the historical background.

  4. Domingo

    April 21, 2017 at 12:34 am

    Really tons of awesome info! http://properties-my.com/user/profile/2084

  5. Lynell

    April 28, 2017 at 12:34 pm

    Thank you for the write up. Very lovely article!

  6. Ashleigh

    April 30, 2017 at 10:32 am

    This is a topic that is near too my heart… Many thanks!
    Exactly where are your contact details though?
    I’ve been surfing online more than 3 hours today, yet I never found
    any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth it!
    Personally, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you
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  7. eebest8 fiverr

    June 17, 2018 at 2:22 am

    “Thank you, I have recently been searching for info about this topic for a long time and yours is the best I’ve discovered so far.

  8. Titus Naikuni

    December 27, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Great work Chao.How about the history of the Konza to Magadi line?I have a lot of info on it if you are interested in it.

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