Short Portrait: Paul Schebesta

Paul Schebesta
Paul Schebesta

Paul Schebesta was born in Groß Peterwitz/Moravia (now: Czech Republic). He not only learned German but Czech and Polish. After joining After joining the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) and finishing his high school years in Nysa/Silesia, Schebesta was ordained at St. Gabriel in Mödling near Vienna at 1911.

The same year Schebesta travelled to Mozambique, where he worked as a missionary. During World War I he got interned by the Portuguese in 1916. After being disbanded at end of the war Schebesta began to work at the anthropological journal Anthropos, which had been founded by Wilhelm Schmidt. Between 1920 and 1923 Schebesta was editor in chief of the journal.

In 1924 Schebesta went to Malaysia, where he did field work among the Semang people. Moreover, he received his Ph D from the University of Vienna in 1926, being an expert for ethnology and egyptology. After doing his first research on the Ituri people in Congo in 1929/30, a second field work among them took place in 1934/35, this time accompanied by Martin Gusinde and Jean-Baptista Jadin. Throughout his field researches, Schebesta had not only learned Malaysian languages but also Swahili and several Bantu dialects.

In 1938/39 Schebesta also traveled to the Philippines. Moreover, Schebesta did further researches in Congo, namely in 1949/50 and 1954/55. After first being interested in the phenomenon of pygmitism, Schebesta increasingly focussed on ethnolinguistic matters.

The last decade of his life Schebesta mostly spent in St. Gabriel, where he not only gave lectures on Ethnology, Physical Anthropology and Linguistics but also was responsible for the missionary education.

Paul Schebesta died at St. Gabriel in Mödling near Vienna in 1967.

(Text written by Vincenz Kokot in February 2012, based on information provided by the Anthropos Institute, photo source:  Obituary by W. Dupré, in: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 70, No. 3. (Jun., 1968), pp. 537-545.)

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