"Not to know what happened before we were born is to remain perpetually a child. For what is the worth of human life unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?"

Totem regards the establishment of archives as one of our core activities and passions. At the heart of the Origins Centre is a remarkable archive that stores digitised images of rock art from all over southern Africa. This is the largest collection of its kind and is used by researchers all over the world. 

Creating a community archive is a very different challenge, but we have worked with communities like the Bafokeng and the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela to develop digital archives that are easy to access, integrating best practices and innovating new technology solutions to create a model that can be easily replicated. These archives are of an international standard for research, but are also meaningful and accessible to community members.



These images are drawn from an ethnographic archive held at the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. The Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela community was photographed by Isaac Schapera in the 1930s in Mochudi, Botswana. Totem Media is grateful to the Royal Anthropological Institute which has generously both provided access to these photographs and digitised the collection for the benefit of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela community.

Ideally an archive should:

  • collect, preserve, organise and provide access to material (in the form of information and objects) that represents the history and cultural heritage
    of communities;
  • have integrity and represent all voices in the community (even unpopular and marginalised voices);
  • have a digital interface that is easy to access
    and use;
  • narrow the digital divide;
  • have the potential to “talk to” other archives according to recognised international standards and cataloguing codes;
  • become the source or research base for the creation of media, including academic research, journalism, popular exhibitions, print and film;
  • play a role in heritage advocacy and promote careers in the heritage sector;
  • be a model that is replicable in other communities throughout southern Africa.
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