In November I attended a presentation at San Francisco State University by Dr. Sonia Vax Borges, a researcher and educator from Guinea Bissau. Her research was on the linkages between revolutionary struggle and education as developed by Amilcar Cabral and the liberation movement of the PAIGC (Guinea-Bissau/Cape Verde). In her talk she paid specific focus on her concept of “The Walking Archives” which afterwards made me question and re-imagine how I had previously see as archives and archiving.
Part of Dr. Borges research is on the ways that the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) educated the people of Guinea Bissau during the liberation struggle against the Portuguese. Much of this education was conducted in areas liberated from the Portuguese yet often still affected by the fighting. These schools were hidden in the forest (to protect student from bombings), organized and staffed entirely by local people and guerrillas and specifically focused on developing the literacy needed to mentally, socially and politically break from colonialism.
During her attempts to find primary sources and the stories of the students, Dr. Borges ran into some issues trying to access the archives. Firstly, she found that some of the archives had been damaged in transport from one location to another; had been lost or destroyed during a civil war in the late 1980s or were held in Portugal, the former colonizer of Guinea Bissau, making them incredibly difficult to access. When some of the archives were put online for a limited time – Borges extracted as much information from these archives as she could and then headed to Cape Verde with a handful of names to begin her search for the students from the schools.
One thing led to the next and Borges ended up with 20 interviews with former school students. Though the physical archives had been destroyed, she found that there were still archives all around her – the archives were the still living people. This is how she came up with the concept of the Walking Archives – information is not static and it is never located in just one place. Focusing on the masses of people who made up the liberation struggle, in this case the students, rather than only on the leadership of Amilcar Cabral has allowed her to emphasize the importance of collective struggle and uplifted the education front as integrally important as the military front in the PAIGC struggle.
In the process of conducting her research, Borges had to rethink the way she saw archives. We often seem to think that knowledge is only held in traditional archives (permanent buildings) and the information in these archives is considered unchanging. Engaging the ideas and work of The Walking Archive opened up my mind to the fact that everywhere we go there are people that are in-of-themselves living archives, full of information, you may just have to inquire. Especially concerning history that occurred within 50-60 years ago is still alive and well within our reach, from people who have personally experienced this history.
In my last post linked here you can read about how I had the opportunity to work with the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. After learning about the walking archives and inspired, I looked to engage with the walking archives around me. I began my journey by picking the brains of two great organizers of with the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC). Its especially important in the Bay Area to access our walking archives of past social movements because they are everywhere! Check out some of what I learned in upcoming blog posts.