Daswani, Kyara

May 26, 2021

14- Does some knowledge belong only to particular communities of knowers?

Object 1: Prayer mat


Prayer mat, used by Muslims to pray, is decorated with beautiful geometric patterns and Islamic symbols. Manufactured by weavers, its usual size is 2.5ft x 4ft. Muslims all over the world commit to this ritual, reciting prayers as instructed by the ‘Quran’. Muslims have rituals such as ‘wudu’, washing face, arms and feet before praying, and they place the mat facing Mecca. The prayer mat is a relevant object to this prompt because the Muslims understand its origin and significance in a way that someone from a different religion would not be able to.

Muslims have a quality of knowledge about the mat that only belongs to them. What makes their knowledge unique is that, as believers of the religion, they understand the object at an emotional level. Originally, Prophet Mohammed prayed on a mat made of palm fronds. Muslims feel adoration for their Prophet, therefore, can relate more deeply to the origin of the mat. An outsider will not feel the same way as they don’t have any faith towards this religion. Furthermore, Muslims are educated in the Muslim religion and culture. They start praying at the age of seven and gain knowledge as they grow up, developing their attachment and love to the prayer mat. Someone who converts at a later age will not feel the same attachment, making the feelings less strong. Hence, culture and faith are elements that make an insider’s knowledge deeper and emotional.

However, an outsider who studies the subject could gain a different type of knowledge; they could understand the prayer mat at an intellectual level. Anyone could learn about the meaning of the arabesque patterns and the other rituals related to praying on the mat, understanding this, but not experiencing feelings like Muslims do. This shows that religion is an area of knowledge, and faith is a way of knowing.

Object 2: The Tilaka


A Tilaka is an auspicious mark worn by Hindus and made from powder or paste. Usually, it is red. It is an expression of devotion. In countries where religious freedom is permitted, Tilakas are a common sight among Hindus, making the Tilaka an interesting object for this exhibition as native people from countries other than India or Nepal, may not understand the meaning behind what Hindus are wearing on their foreheads.

The Tilaka can be worn in different shapes, indicating different religious affiliations, so that followers of a particular Hindu sector can easily identify each other. Each community of knowers has the knowledge on how and when they should wear the Tilaka. However, non- Hindus are not likely to know the difference. This object is interesting for this discussion as it shows how the same object, belonging to the same religious community, can be used differently by segmented groups of knowers. Furthermore, Christians in India also use the Tilaka but only to mark special occasions and during worship rites. The Tilaka further contributes to the discussion by showing that what started as a religious knowledge to Hindus has become cultural knowledge in India.

The Tilaka is essentially worn on the forehead, considered to be an auspicious place, the site of the sixth chakra. Applying Tilaka is said to help clarify one’s thoughts, allowing the wearer to see the truth. It is also known as the « third eye ». This general knowledge maybe known to outsiders, but the feeling of devotion is only understood by Hindus as it has been nurtured in them through their religious and cultural beliefs. This emotional knowledge belongs to the Hindu community. It is however shared, at a cultural level when guests visit a Hindu home and are greeted by applying Tilaka on their forehead. It is interesting to see how the repetition of rituals, eventually becomes knowledge.

Object 3: Oware


Oware is one of the oldest board games. It is played by two people and the objective is to capture as many as possible of the pebbles distributed in wooden holes. Its origin is from Africa. This object is particularly interesting for this exhibition because the same object belongs to different communities of knowers, and they each attribute a different origin to it. It is also very interesting to see what constitutes a community of knowers and how knowledge is transferred.

Different communities in Africa have different knowledge regarding this game. The name differs from one country to another. It is called “Awalé” in Ivory Coast and “Ayoayo” in Yoruba. Different legends also exist. For instance, the Maasai community, from Kenya and Tanzania, believes that the son of the first man, ‘Sindillo’, invented the game. Another legend in Ghana says a man and woman from the Akan ethnic group played this game until they fell in love and married. Different communities of knowers are constituted by people from different countries, ethnic groups or cultures. Knowledge known to each of these groups has been spread by history and legends, shaping each group’s beliefs. However, even though each community believes they are the creators of the game, all African countries use it for teaching arithmetic to children.

However, this game is now played in the Caribbean and South America. In this case, there is no cultural background to these new knowers. The knowledge comes from reading the rules of this game and can be known to anyone who wants to play it. Even though it is known as a board game in many countries, the actual knowledge of why and how it was played in African countries only belongs to people from that country. It is an example of something that belonged only to certain groups, but it is now a game that has been commercialized and played in many parts of the world, thus knowledge has been shared between cultures.


Article title: Islamic Prayer Mat

Website title: Ypo.co.uk

URL: https://www.ypo.co.uk/product/detail/education-and-learning/curriculum/534384

Article title: Prayer rug

Website title: Encyclopedia Britannica

URL: https://www.britannica.com/topic/prayer-rug

Article title: Tilak | Hindu symbolism

Website title: Encyclopedia Britannica

URL: https://www.britannica.com/topic/tilak

Article title: What does your BINDI say about you

Website title: Esamskriti.com

URL: https://www.esamskriti.com/e/Culture/Indian-Culture/What-does-your-BINDI-say- about-you-1.aspx

Article title: Oware – Played all over the world

Website title: Oware.org

URL: http://www.oware.org/history.asp

Article title: Oware

Website title: Mancala World

URL: https://mancala.fandom.com/wiki/Oware

Article title: initially Jeu

Website title: csao

URL: https://www.csao.fr/en/Games/70-jeu-awale.html

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