Stories of reclamation — issue #33

Stories of reclamation — issue #33


I think about this question a lot. Growing up in hyper-urban Singapore, we don’t so much think about land as we do country. Land is perceived by many states as a resource first, even though it encompasses and offers much more than that—a primordial and more holistic sense of belonging, a connection to the humans and non-humans in our midst, and an eternal slate on which our histories are written. 

I’ve been driven by an urge in recent years to learn about the histories of my land. I don’t think I was exposed to enough of it in school. Studying abroad later on further made me realise how the stories we were told about non-Western cultures promoted a limited, colonial understanding of the world and just how much I had ingested from Eurocentrism. 

Long before colonialism and the advent of the nation state separated and subjugated peoples and nature, humans had a deeper, more sacred relationship with their environment. Today, indigenous people are among those who still cherish these natural threads. Despite extreme oppression and the continued plundering of their traditional homelands, indigenous communities are fighting to preserve the traditions that have long protected the Earth. 

To our loss, there remains a sore lack of stories about and by indigenous people in Asia. But we’re glad to be able to bring some of these stories to light, and learn about ourselves in the process! After all, place—or, in other words, land—determines who and what we are. 

If this issue speaks to you, don’t be shy to reach out to us at We’d love to hear from you.

Featured Story
Image of 3 indigenous individuals representing 3 different communities from Asia, staring up at the sky full of clouds, stars and swirls with hope.
Many people might remember human zoos as a dark, disturbing part of colonial history. But the rise of indigenous tourism begs an uncomfortable question: Do such tours perpetuate colonial narratives, or do they benefit indigenous communities? Let’s unravel the answers to these questions through our data story on the colonial roots of indigenous tourism in Asia.
Data-visualisation on the frequency of marketing words used in travel websites; particularly on indigenous tourism in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India.
In this word cloud, we showcased specific google queries on indigenous tourism in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and Thailand. The query string used to generate this visualisation was limited to “indigenous tours <Country>”. The word “indigenous” was occasionally switched around with “cultural”, “native”, and “tribal”.

A typical word cloud is not displayed in an orderly manner, which can be difficult for viewers to see which word is at the top of the hierarchy. Thus we arranged the words from the highest to lowest occurrence for faster visual understanding.
Data-visualisation of the different country boundaries in Asia, and their number of indigenous groups.
In the introduction of indigenous people in Asia, we visualised areas where these communities live in specific countries by highlighting concentrated areas or provinces. We created the slides using the Flourish story function.
We wanted to end the story with an impactful data viz, by using concentric circles to visually represent planet Earth. The quote on “10% of the world’s land legally recognised as belonging to indigenous communities” was purposefully separated from the data viz above as it would be confusing and inaccurate to combine both data.
...more from us
Rich in cultural and political symbolism, the history behind Asia’s traditional garments shows that they are more than just beach wraps.

How did Asian empires see themselves? Ignored in favour of Western maps, indigenous maps are an eye into the old, Asia-centric world.

“Yes, we’ll never be able to prevent misinformation, especially when it’s proving to be so useful for politics... But I do take heart from all the newer and better reporting and storytelling methods that have been emerging, where data is central to the stories.”


Stuff we love
How did colonial officials gather data to exploit native populations? Find out in this episode of Data Deep Dive. Swipe 


Might digital data collection be the new face of colonialism? This op-ed tells us why so. Read 
How can you tell if an indigenous handicraft is authentic? Journalists break it down in a series on Vancouver's souvenir industry. Investigate
What has Israeli settler-colonialism stolen from the Palestinian food basket? Visualising Palestine takes a look. See

Did you know?
Artist's rendition of Independence Monument in Cambodia; which was constructed in 1953 after gaining independence from the French.
New Khmer architecture combines modern and vernacular Cambodian architecture, breaking free from the French colonial style of the 1960s. The architects of this era were visionary in their use of modern construction materials while paying homage to Cambodian heritage. Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann once regarded the country as one made of “half-earth, half-water”. His designs paid tribute to the natural elements of water, air, and light.
Source: New Khmer Architecture
Illustration reference: Independent Monument