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Daniel P. Biebuyck
Daniel P. Biebuyck, H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and the Humanities at the University of Delaware, in a 1975 photo.

IN Memoriam: Daniel P. Biebuyck

Photos courtesy of University Archives

Campus remembers noted anthropologist and author

Daniel P. Biebuyck, H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and the Humanities at the University of Delaware, died on Dec. 31, 2019, in Newton, Massachusetts. He was 94.

A world-renowned anthropologist known for his pioneering work on African cultural traditions, he was the first chairperson of the University’s Department of Anthropology, and in the early 1970s, he played a leadership role in the development of black studies on the campus.

Lu Ann De Cunzo, professor and chairperson of the Department of Anthropology, said, “Daniel Biebuyck's legacy still inspires our department's commitment to bringing anthropological perspectives to bear on learning and teaching about art and material culture around the world.”

“Daniel Biebuyck was a true presence in the University and played an important role in its movement towards recognition as a research institution,” said Peter Weil, associate professor emeritus of anthropology at UD. “His large bibliography and two important books written after joining the University speak for themselves. He played a major leadership role in the creation and building of the Department of Anthropology. He developed a focus on African ethnological research with an emphasis on art and ritual and a second focus on Latin and South American ethnology that included three faculty members. From the beginning of the department under his leadership, the unit’s primary educational mission was the training of undergraduate students to think and write critically about research results and to conduct research of their own whenever it was appropriate for a given student.”

Daniel Biebuyck
Dr. Biebuyck in an undated photo

Dr. Biebuyck initially joined the UD faculty in 1961 in the combined Department of Sociology and Anthropology. From 1964-66, he was professor of anthropology at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was also curator of African collections. In 1966, he returned to UD and served as the first chairperson of the newly created Department of Anthropology from 1969-72. During the 1970-71 academic year, he was also interim director of the Black Studies Program, and he chaired the Black Studies Task Force at UD.

Among his many publications in English, French and Dutch, two of his most acclaimed books were The Mwindo Epic with the Banyanga, published in 1969, and 1973’s Lega Culture: Art, Initiation and Moral Philosophy Among a Central African People, which integrated studies in African ethnography, social structure, symbolism and art. Based on his extensive field research in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it was called “one of the landmarks in the history of the study of African art.”

His numerous honors, grants and fellowships included the Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1989, he retired from the University of Delaware as H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Anthropology and the Humanities. He later served as Arthur Golding Eminent Scholar in African Art at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Dr. Biebuyck was born in Belgium in 1925. A graduate of the University of Ghent where he studied classics, law and anthropology, he did postgraduate work in anthropology for a year at London University before receiving his doctoral degree summa cum laude from Ghent in 1954. He lived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1949-61, much of that time exclusively devoted to field research. He taught for four years at Lovanium University in Kinshasa and also served as professor or visiting professor at Liege University in Belgium, London University, Yale University and New York University.

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