eToro: Indigenous Botanical Knowledge Management System of Penans

Institute of Social Informatics and Technological Innovations (ISITI-CoERI), UNIMAS and the local community of Long Lamai, Sarawak.

[ 8 Votes ]


Organization Type: Academic sector | Category: Internet for Development

Project Summary

The eToro platform is a combination of ICTs and community's activities to support the Indigenous Botanical Knowledge (IBK) management of the Penan community of Long Lamai in Sarawak. The project goal is to preserve the IBK of the community, given that the older generation is slowly dying out, knowledge is not being transferred to the younger generation. Also, the young are not as interested in learning and retaining the traditional knowledge. The researchers worked together with the community representative team to explore the specific needs of the community, to design the cultural protocols and develop ICT tools for managing the indigenous botanical knowledge. To clarify the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholders, process flow diagrams for the project have been developed with active participation of community. Local facilitators are actively involved in data instrument design, collection, and analysis. The community involved is located in Long Lamai, a very remote and rural village in Malaysian Borneo, situated near the Kalimantan border.


eToro project is a collaboration of ISITI-coERI and Long Lamai community. The Long Lamai is a very remote and rural village in Malaysian Borneo, situated near the Kalimantan border. From the nearest city, the journey comprises a 10-hour 4-wheel drive journey over logging road, and an hours’ boat ride upriver. The community at Long Lamai consists of Penans, a small indigenous community which lives on subsistence farming. There are about 450 villagers [28]. There is no 24-hour electricity supply and no telecommunication service. Some families have generator sets to generate power, but few families can afford this. The Penans in Long Lamai were nomadic, but have settled down in the area for over 50 years. They still return to the forest to hunt and to gather jungle produce. There are still Penans in other villages who are nomadic, and depend totally on the forests for their livelihood.
Like other indigenous communities, the rapid change of the Penans’ way of life has largely accounted for the loss of their IK. Among other causes, elders were reluctant to transmit IK to younger generation who were not interested in learning and preserving the IK. Through a series of meetings with the community representatives, the problem on IK was confirmed.


This project nominated to the ISIF Asia award because…

The experiences with eToro have given rise to the concept of ICTs for Indigenised Development, in which the core characteristics of community-owned ICTs, lend themselves well to solution for many of the problems that the world’s indigenous people share. By empowering them to appropriate ICTs, they are able to put them to use within development activities of their own choice, as opposed to those that are imposed harmfully from outside and which often assume absorption of minority cultures into mainstream society.
The close engagement between the research team and the community has resulted in; i) project that is firmly embedded in the problems, aspirations and opportunities that the community itself identify; ii) community capacity the appropriating technologies; and iii) a trainable methodology for community based research.



The project objectives are:
• Designing possible mechanisms for securing the protection, and preservation of IK, through community initiatives.
• Maintaining and providing access to Digital Botanical IK for Long Lamai community in a usable form.
• Developing a sui generis database protection.
• Developing the capacity of Long Lamai community to record, control, access and use of IK by third parties.

Technical details and contribution to innovation

For data collection, we used Android based Tablet PCs and Open Data Kit (ODK). The Data collection form has been manually designed by the community so ODK is used to build function help in integrating the manual data collection form into the digital ODK survey form for mobile device.
After capturing the data, the Indigenous Content Management System (iCMS) is used for content management. The iCMS architecture is based on front-end and back-end distribution. The application runs on the main system in front-end while the data stores on the externally attached hard drive in back-end. As discussed earlier the iCMS deals with data which is transformed from IK during the documentation process so the system ensures to provide maximum level of protection and data governance facilities to IKM Manager or Data Steward.
To address the community requirements, the iCMS provides profile-based access rights to view or update information to users of the system. The collected information is protected and not available publicly. Once the rules have been created and implemented. the system accommodates the accountability mechanism of the user’s activities. The IK Manager can generate reports of user’s activities performed during login sessions. On the base of the activities the manager can make a decision to moderate the user role and activities.
In addition to the data protection, the data storage in web based or local repository is another inflicting factor of ICT-based IKMS. To give the feeling of maximum control, iCMS store the data on external hard drives with e-insitu approach. The e-insitu approach is the facility for the community to have the physical control of the data and storage device in addition to logical data pro-tection mechanisms. Under the e-insitu approach, hard drive is kept under custodianship of a community appointed member. The concept is based on the Penan nomadic assets ownership principle where a nomad can only own the assets which he can move along; if he left the things behind it is considered as “the common”. The community calls the hard drive kitong. The word kitong is adapted from the name of the box where a Penan family normally keeps the traditional herbs.


The community representatives and researchers discussed ways to capture and transfer the IBK from old to the young, and settled on the idea of using the concept of Toro. Toro is a joint activity of Penan family and it also works as an activity-based knowledge sharing and mentoring journey of the forest which links community elders to members of the younger generations in grooming future guardians of the rainforest.
The project formal activities are: (1) Designing Process Flow Diagrams: For under-standing processes, roles, actions & rights of stakeholders; (2) Developing Cultural Protocols (Free, Prior and Informed Consent agreement and guidelines): For community, researchers and data engagement. (3) Designing Data Instruments: For eliciting community needs and acquisition of IK management system. (4) Developing Prototypes for Indigenous Knowledge Management System: For digital data collection and indigenous content management; the formats of the data (text, video, sound, images) and (5) Capacity Building Program: For participatory digital data collection and processing.


A perceived benefit of eToro is to cover the knowledge gap between the young and old generations. The youths have ICT skills. Thus, they will be more confident in helping in the documentation process; ultimately, they will be a part of the learning cycle. The collected data, pictures and videos can also be used in tourism promotion activities. eToro can also help in training of young people so the community will have more trained human resource as guardians of the rainforest. According to Garen Jengan, a local champion from Long Lamai, “if you don’t know about the plants, you are not a Penan”.
In addition, the project produced a database of 50 plants, a data collection instruments and software, a secured content managment system and the cutural protocols and guidelines for ICT researchers.
The methodology that is developed for eTORO project is of value to others who work with indigenous knowledge domain in indigenous communities whose literacy, social, cultural, spiritual logic and values profoundly differ from others.

Publications and dissemination efforts

• Zaman, T., Yeo, A. W., & Kulathuramaiyer, N. (2013). Augmenting Indigenous Knowledge Management with Information and Communication Technology. International Journal of Services Technology and Management.
• Siew, S., Yeo, A.W., & Zaman, T. (2013). Participatory Action Research in Software Development: Indigenous Knowledge Management System Case Study. Proceedings of Human Computer Interaction International (21-26 July, Las Vegas, US) (Springer, Lecture Notes in Computer Science, ISI Indexed, Indexed in ACM Digital Library).
• Zaman, T., Yeo, A.W., & Kulathuramaiyer, N., (2012). Tools and Strategies for managing Penans’ Indigenous Botanical Knowledge. Borneo Research Council Conference 2012: Identities, Cultures and Environments 25-27 June 2012, Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Brunei.

Awards and distinctions

eToro won Gold Medal in the Internal UNIMAS R&D Expo 2013, featured in Asia Reserach News 2013 ( See on Page 38 "Charting Indigenous Knowledge in Malaysia". Other projects of ISITI-CoERI have received both international and national awards such as National APICTA Merit Award 2012, Gold Medal from CAPAM in 2006, eAsia Award 2004, IT Premier Award 2003 (presented by the Prime Minister of Malaysia) and Industry Innovator’s Award for Systems Development & Applications by SSPI Washington DC in 2002. The detail list of the awards can be accessed from Best Telecentre Innovation award winner in Spark13 conference (Granada, Spain) (


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Project Representative

Tariq Zaman

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