Incorporating Indigenous Toponymy within Spatial Information Systems

Iaean J. Cranwell
Spatial Information Research Centre, Department of Information Science, Te Whare Wananga o Otago, P.O. Box 56, Otepoti Aotearoa

"The scholarly discipline allied to mapping which draws on the related disciplines of history geography and linguistics is known as toponymy" (Atchinson, 1978).

This paper deals with matters relating to toponymy. Toponymy is a specific branch of Onomastics the scientific study of the place names of a country district or society. The study of place names is generally known as a science with many branches. There are however especially two aspects upon which research workers concentrate namely the linguistic aspect and the one from the point of view of cultural history. Some place names shed light on the earlier state of a language since nomenclature is usually the part of a decayed language which is kept alive the longest or furnishes valuable information about the cultural history of a country and its original people.

Place names not only serve as spatial reference points to identify locate and describe where people are on the land but are also important signposts of the historical and cultural influences and values of the people that name them. Indigenous names relate and reflect every aspect of the influences on and the activities of the early ancestors and the environment that governed their way of life.

The concept of indigenous place names is discussed with particular emphasis on the indigenous place names of New Zealand. A view is presented based on empirical evidence, that current processes for the official recording of names are detrimental to a fair and reasonable representation of indigenous names. Research is outlined as to what can be done to examine and redress this situation.

This paper also deals with the necessity of involving Indigenous peoples in the design implementation and maintenance phases of a place naming information system. A proposition is tendered whereby names can be recorded via a process using spatial information system (SIS) techniques which is people based and not government based. Research matters surrounding this concept are discussed. It is appropriate to create a name recording process that is cognitive of and in resonance with cultural matters. It could be argued that several place names databases already exist in the form of gazetteers - these do exist and are either paper based textual records or digital gazetteers derived from a particular scale national mapping program. Any new systems or process could embrace current or emerging technology. This would include SIS temporal databases and in the future muti-media systems. The aim is to incorporate the user participatory methodologies into the prototype information system. Data Modelling and the Data Dictionary is developed to incorporate the functions required to record all aspects of Indigenous knowledge of Place Names. The opinions comments ideas reactions and thoughts of Indigenous peoples' and the ways of evaluating the system will be discussed.