Tonga.Online "smart X tension" receives Ars Electronica Award of Distinction

Tonga.Online "smart X tension" receives Ars Electronica Award of Distinction at the UN Global Compact Summit in New York City

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New York City, June 24, 2004 (press release) - The Tonga.Online project - an offspring of the cultural exchange between Austria and Zimbabwe - received an Award of Distinction from the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica 2004, in the category "Digital Communities". The award was handed over by Austrian State Secretary for the Arts and Media Franz Morak in New York City’s Metropolitan Pavilion on 23 June 2004 in conjunction with the UN Global Compact Leaders Summit. The project is being represented in New York by Peter Kuthan (Austria), Dominic Muntanga and Penny Yon (Zimbabwe). The evening’s entertainment program featured Philipp Glass’ "Les Enfants terribles" performed by Dennis Russell Davies and Maki Mamekawa (piano) within an environment of visuals and videos created by Martin Wattenberg and Thomas Schneider.

Tonga.Online ( is a project on media, information and communication technology and art focusing on the Tonga people living along the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. The project goal is to promote a Tonga voice on the Internet and to provide the Tonga minority with the most advanced information and communication tools. To date the Tonga Online project has established three Internet Technology Centers in the remote Binga area. "Smart X Tension" refers to a computer companion which has proved to be very helpful in expanding the project beyond the centres. It is a mobile device called AlphaSmart, a kind of expanded keyboard run on batteries.

The Tonga community was torn apart 50 years ago by the construction of the Kariba Dam followed by a massive resettlement program. Today, part of the population lives in Zimbabwe and part in Zambia. Communication between the two groups has been cut off for the most part since then; nevertheless, the Tonga have preserved their shared culture. Tonga.Online now enables the two segments of the community to reintensify contacts and to grow back together as a digital community.

Ars Electronica Festival is an internationally renowned and unique platform for digital art and media culture, based in Austria. Prix Ars Electronica is an international competition for Cyberarts, which has been a forum for artistic creativity and innovation since 1987. To mark it’s 25th Anniversary in 2004, Ars Electronica expanded its international competition for cyberarts to include a new category, "Digital Communities", which encompasses the wide-ranging social consequences of the Internet as well as the latest developments in the domain of mobile communications and wireless networks. "Digital Communities" will spotlight bold and inspired innovations impacting human coexistence, bridging the digital divide regarding gender as well as geography, or creating outstanding social software and enhancing accessibility of technological-social infrastructure.

The Prix Ars Electronica 2004 "Digital Communities" also recognized other projects such as "Wikipedia" - a community-created open content encyclopedia and "The World Starts with Me" - using digital information and communication technologies to deliver HIV/AIDS education to Ugandan youth. A documentation of the prize winning projects - which features Tonga.Online prominently - will be on exhibit from June 23 to July 18 in the Lobby of the UN's Headquarters in New York.

Tonga.Online will celebrate the ‘smart X tension’ award and official opening of the new ITC’ s at Siachilaba and Sianzyundu, at Siachilaba Primary School on 4-5 September 2004. The occasion will take the form of a traditional gathering of BaTonga ngoma buntibe music groups from different places, and will welcome an 80-strong group of musicians from Chief Sinazongwe’s area in Zambia. The festival will link up with the concurrent Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, via Internet 'soundbridge' / 'klangbruecke' involving artists and musicians who took part in recent cultural exchanges like Werner Puntigam, Karl Ritter and Otto Lechner.