Ka Mua, Ka Muri: Walking Backwards into the Future. SignDNA (an abbreviation of Sign Language Deaf National Archive) is intended first and foremost as a taonga (treasure) for the Aotearoa New Zealand Deaf community. It is a place to celebrate who we are, see how far we have come despite great odds, and to remember those that have helped and been a part of this journey.
SignDNA (an abbreviation of Sign Language Deaf National Archive) is intended first and foremost as a taonga (treasure) for the Aotearoa New Zealand Deaf community. It is a place to celebrate who we are, see how far we have come despite great odds, and to remember those that have helped and been a part of this journey.
We hope that the archive is used and updated regularly by people who see it as belonging to them, and reflecting their history and identity. We hope the archive discovers a life its own through those that use it.
We also hope it becomes a valuable tool for learning about Aotearoa New Zealand Deaf history and the origins of NZSL. We encourage schools to consider its use in teaching Deaf history and culture. Adults too intending to work or otherwise be a part of the Deaf community could benefit from studying its history in this way.
There are a number of improvements, additions and interactive elements ready for development. Some of these can be achieved with will and volunteerism alone, but some will rely on securing funding to achieve. We encourage you to support our efforts to maintain and develop this archive, and welcome your contribution of time, material, knowledge or resources.
The concept for SignDNA came while watching old home movies on a kitchen table. We were struck by how powerful it was to see scratchy old films showing people signing. It somehow gave another dimension to NZSL, the dimension of time.
Like other signed languages, NZSL has no written form. While there have been some wonderful histories written in English about the Deaf community (many of which have been used to inform this archive), content in NZSL was a missing from Deaf history. Given that so much about Deaf culture is reflected in sign language, this also meant that cultural history was missing.
A conversation one day with Owen Gibbons (who appears in these videos probably more than any other individual!) revealed that he had several old films in a box stored at home. He agreed to let us get them digitised to see what was on them. When we received them it was soon obvious that time had not been kind to the films and they were sticky and smelled strongly of vinegar – a sure sign of substrate decay. While we researched how to save the film’s contents, it occurred to us that there must be hundreds of similar films out there, all in danger of suffering the same fate. Our Deaf cultural history was literally dissolving in front of our eyes and nothing was being done to preserve it.
This set in motion the development of a project to collect, digitise and preserve these filmed histories. The call went out to donate old films, and slowly but surely the films started arriving. Some had been well preserved, many had not. With the support of Diversityworks Trust (led by Philip Patson), and a successful first fundraising campaign on PledgeMe we raised enough money to start digitising the worst affected by ageing. The PledgeMe success and donations of films also demonstrated community support for the project, which helped with further grants from charitable funding bodies.
From there began the long slow process of assessment, logging, digitising, editing, tagging, categorising and uploading of each selected film. It is thanks to many volunteers, the steering group, and work by the team at Deafradio that the archive was launched on the 16 May 2015. The journey is still ongoing. We are just getting started.
We hope you enjoy exploring and rediscovering our history together.
If you have any questions, feedback, corrections, or comments relating to the SignDNA archive, please contact SignDNA at:
Any offers to volunteer in any way or form would be much appreciated. We’d be more than happy to have a chat and see what kind of work you’d like to do.