research themes

qualitative research


Koen Alefs


Ojibwe. Part 2:
Useful Plants

The Desert of
the Bedouin

The Bushmasters:
nature of

references and



postal address
JJ Cremer-
straat 2/1
1054 TD Amsterdam
Qualitative field and source research
custom made for governmental organizations, NGO's
and travel companies who are concerned with:
resource use
resource management
local knowledge
narratives, art and cosmology
perceptions of nature

Ethnographic nature
what is it?


Ethnographic Nature is an independent research program initiated by
Koen Alefs aiming to deepen and propagate the understanding of the perception of nature and subsistence-mode of local communities and indigenous peoples. This is achieved, on assignment as well as autonomously, by means of qualitative field research, the study of ethnographic material and providing custom-made reports

Global care

An ethnographical understanding of nature enhances conservation efforts and might be pivotal in improving the living conditions or juridical position of local people. To anthropology, research on ethnographic nature means a new application of the vast amount of data that has been gathered over the decennia.

"Ethnographic nature extremely intensifies the experience of the natural world. It works like a catalogue for a modern art museum: reading it transforms the lifeless colors and arbitrary forms into a vivid world of meaning and structure."

Koen Alefs is an anthropologist and conducted research in Western Suriname, the Sinai desert and Canadian forests. As a specialist on the aboriginal peoples of North America he was associated with the Netherlands Centre for Indigenous Peoples (NCIV) from 2005 to 2008. Koen made two ethnographic documentary films: Take Away Ritual (2002, 45 minutes) and The Bushmasters part 3 (2005, 13 minutes).


Ethnographic Nature provides custom-made research reports. The ones presented
are based on autonomous research projects and written in Dutch. Reports made
on assignment might have a different format, volume or vernacular.
For more information, please send an email.

Totem animals, shamanistic societies, fur trade, the terrible Windigo, birch bark canoe's, wild rice... The Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) lived in a North America unknown to most people nowadays. In 2007, I compiled the most significant ethnographic sources. Here available is an overview (in Dutch) of the 339 wild and 6 cultivated plants the Ojibwe peoples have used according to these sources.
Download Ojibwe. Part 2: Useful Plants (pdf)

Beaches and pyramids lure millions of tourists to Egypt every year. The desert is seen as a backdrop: scenic but void of real attractions. A tedious ride on a camel or quad only serves to fortify this notion. However, if one looks through the eyes of the indigenous Bedouin, the desert becomes a very attractive and meaningful place, revealing medicinal herbs, animal tracks, hidden water sources, jinn's, and caravan routes. The report (2006, in Dutch) lists the most important features of the ethnographic nature of the Sinai and Arabian Desert.
The Desert of the Bedouin (pdf)

Western Suriname
The Bushmasters investigates the relation between the tracking skills of indigenous (Arawak and Warao) hunters and their perception of the rainforest. Emphasis is put on the value of local knowledge, craftsmanship, education, communal organization and traditional resource management. Ample room is given to the struggle against the proposed bauxite mining and hydroelectric projects. These plans threaten the rainforest on which the local community depends. The theoretical implications of an ethnographic approach of nature are dealt with in the introductory and concluding chapters of this master thesis. The Bushmasters (in Dutch) is based on five month scientific fieldwork.
Download The Bushmasters
chapter 1: Western Suriname beyond the planning scheme. (pdf)
Download an English summary (pdf)