Noted anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis died at home last Sunday. The death of the former Henderson Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus came after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Born in Hyderabad, Pakistan, he emigrated to the United States in 1960 to join the Harvard faculty. He was 78.
Maybury-Lewis was a leader in the field of anthropology specializing in the study of indigenous people in the Americas. His work concentrated in Brazil and was recognized in 1997 with the Grand Cross of the Order of Scientific Merit, Brazil’s highest academic award.
He received his bachelor of arts degree from Oxford University in 1952, followed by his Ph.D. in anthropology four years later. He observed the cultural survival of tribal people and ethnic minorities, authoring several books on the subject. He also received the Anders Retzuis gold medal of the Swedish Society of Anthropology and Geography, granted by the King of Sweden in the spring of 1998, and served as president of the American Ethnological Society.
His colleagues remember Maybury-Lewis, who was the chair of the anthropology department from 1971 and 1981, as a tireless advocate for the rights of indigenous peoples around the world. Professor of Anthropology and African-American Studies J. Lorand Matory ’82 recalled his extraordinary empathy.
He said that Maybury-Lewis “fought heroically” for the peoples he worked with and “always respected other human beings.”
In 1972, with his wife Pia Maybury-Lewis, he founded Cultural Survival, Inc., an advocacy and documentation organization seeking to promote the rights and cultures of indigenous peoples.
A notice of his death posted on the Cultural Survival Web site mourned Maybury-Lewis’s death.
“David embodied the moral concerns that led to Cultural Survival’s founding, and was an inspiration to us all,” the notice said.
His wife of 55 years said that though she expected his death, it still came as a surprise. She recalled their travels together, and that despite his unwillingness to bring heavy bags, he always carried with him a guitar and a typewriter.
“He would sit and type away,” she said.
Although he led a busy lifestyle, she added, he was a “good father” and wanted his home to be a place where people could “exchange ideas.”
The former professor is remembered by many as both a friendly teacher and colleague. Matory said he was “encouraging,” remembering a time when Maybury-Lewis personally came to his office to welcome him after he was offered tenure.
He and his wife were known for hosting parties to which faculty and students were invited. Matory remembers that the couple would occasionally host meetings of faculty members at their home, and that they were “very warm and hospitable.”
Professor of Anthropology Theodore C. Bestor said Maybury-Lewis was a “towering figure” in his field. Despite his brilliance, he remained accessible to students, who “came to adore him.”
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