Obituary: Professor Isaac Schapera ; Anthropologist and Champion of the Tswana
Fontaine, Jean La, The Independent (London, England)
ISAAC SCHAPERA was the last of a formidable trio of South African- born anthropologists whose writing and teaching were central to the foundation of the social anthropology of Africa. He was also the last link with the famous seminar held by Bronislaw Malinowski at the London School of Economics in which anthropology as an academic discipline was worked out.
However, Schapera could not be said to belong to a Malinowskian school of anthropology or indeed to any other; choosing to label himself an ethnographer, he compared his work to that of an economic historian. His meticulously detailed studies of the Tswana people of the Bechuanaland Protectorate (now Botswana) constitute a lasting and exemplary body of work that continues to be read. Further, he encouraged a steady stream of younger scholars to follow his lead.
Schapera was born in Garies in northern Cape Province in 1905. He called his birthplace a village, describing it as remote and poor. His interest in anthropology he attributed to two influences there: his Hottentot nanny and the benevolence of the district surgeon who allowed him to read in his library. Consequently, in his second year at Cape Town University reading law, he took anthropology as an additional course. It was taught by A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, the other founding father of British social anthropology and the result was that Schapera changed subjects. But law remained a permanent interest.
At the early age of 20 he obtained an MA in social anthropology with distinction and went to England as a graduate student to work for a PhD under Professor C.G. Seligman, the anthropologist of the Sudan. He worked as a research assistant for Malinowski and admired his mind, but suffered from his anti-semitism. However he established lasting friendships with Meyer Fortes (later Professor in Cambridge) and Raymond Firth (later Sir Raymond), who was to be a colleague at the London School of Economics.
Schapera returned to South Africa in 1929, undertaking a year's field- work in what is now Botswana. After teaching for a year at Witwatersrand University, he moved to Cape Town, becoming Professor in 1935. From 1929 until he left South Africa again he made regular visits to the Tswana people, undertaking some pioneering practical studies as well.
The first, which was published as A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom (1938) and is still in use in Tswana courts, was requested by the Tswana chiefs themselves. He wrote on social change and tribal law as well as on migrant labour, land tenure and the impoverishment caused by the alienation of land to white farmers. He also published in Sechuana a number of texts on oral history which were used in Tswana schools for many years. In 1939 he was made a Doctor of Science by London University.
In 1950 Schapera was appointed to a …
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Publication information: Article title: Obituary: Professor Isaac Schapera ; Anthropologist and Champion of the Tswana. Contributors: Fontaine, Jean La - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 7, 2003. Page number: 16. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.