ALICE in Indigenous Wonderland

Alberto Gomes (La Trobe University)

January 24, 2013, 15h00-17h30

Room 1, CES-Coimbra


My presentation will focus on the question of how might the ‘surprising lessons’ from the ‘strange mirrors’ of Indigenous onto-epistemology contribute to the quest for alternative epistemologies and visions for sustainable futures.  More than three decades ago, I trekked into depths of the Malaysian ‘jungle’ (my ‘rabbit hole’) as part of my anthropological project focussed on a critical analysis of capitalist-oriented ‘development’ implemented to ‘modernise’ the Indigenes and to draw them into the ‘mainstream of society’. In short, my findings revealed how and why these Indigenous communities have become increasingly marginalised as a consequence of their entanglement with modernity. In my intellectual journey, I encountered so many fascinating characters in what I will call the Indigenous wonderland.  As the exotic became familiar to me I was enthralled by the many rich lessons from this wonderland. These lessons can be considered to be what the Maori scholar-activist Makere Stewart Harawira has referred to as a gift of ‘indigenous ontologies in perilous times’. It would not be possible for me to narrate in the short time I have for my talk the many ‘surprising’ and rich ontological and epistemological lessons from this Indigenous wonderland. Instead I will focus on just two: their sacred ecology which will help us to radicalise human ecology and their historical consciousness which will assist us to ‘naturalise histories’ and challenge and re-map western historiographies which have detached in truly Cartesian way nature from human history. Anthropologists have published a great deal about Indigenous peoples and it is time for us to narrate or translate what we have learned from Indigenous peoples.


Professor of Anthropology Alberto Gomes has been appointed new director of La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue from 2013. Alberto Gomes has taught anthropology at La Trobe since 1990. Widely recognised for excellence in teaching, he has also taught in Malaysia, Finland and Spain. He was the Development Studies Program Coordinator at La Trobe for more than 10 years and Convener of the Sociology and Anthropology Program between 2006 and 2009. His research on the Orang Asli (Malaysian aborigines,) spanning more than 30 years has resulted in numerous articles and three books. He is currently working on the anthropology of civility and on the nexus between equality, sustainability and peace.
Among his most recent publications is the book (coedited with Lim Teck Ghee and Azly Rahman) Multiethnic Malaysia: Perspectives on Past,
Present and Future. Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur
: Strategic Information and Research Development Centre and USCI University (2009).

Activity within the project ALICE - Strange Mirrors, Unsuspected Lessons: Leading Europe to a new way of sharing the world experiences