One of antropologi.info’s readers alerted me to the death of anthropologist Olivia Harris. She died suddenly of cancer aged 60 on the morning of 9th April.
Harris is the co-founder of the Anthropology Department at Goldsmiths College (also University of London) and served as vice-president of the Royal Anthropological Society. In 2005, she became chair of the London School of Economics’ anthropology department. Highland Bolivia was her main research area. She published among other things about Inca civilisation and the impact of the Spanish invasion, changing notions of citizenship and the growth of indigenous movements.
One of Olivia Harris’ phd-students (T’anta Wawa) has written two nice blog posts about her.
In Olivia Harris 1948 – 2009 she writes that:
Olivia’s influence in British anthropology and Latin American studies has been immense, but her contribution to thinking about Bolivia is perhaps even more significant.
I’ve also been reluctant to put it up here because frankly, that would mean admitting that she is dead, and that has been difficult. It’s illogical that someone so lively, warm and important should be suddenly gone. But she is.
Then, she translated a text by Olivia Harris’ friend and colleague Xavier Albó that was originally published in La Razon:
Olivia belonged to a well-connected British family, associated with the upper levels of the Anglican church and even linked to the Crown. But she immersed herself fully over many years in a completely different world, in the community of Muruq’u Marka, a day’s travel away from the paved road in the south of the Mining District of Catavi (…).
The comunity members thought highly of her because she shared all their lives with them: worked in the fields, herded llamas, danced in fiestas, ate and slept whatever and wherever. They admired her audacity to go on foot anywhere, to cross rivers in rainy season. She ran around all those stretches of land mostly on foot, sometimes even on a large motorbike which a teacher lent her. Over six months she accompanied the llama caravans to the Mizque valleys. Jaime Bartolli, at that time of Uncia parish, reminds me of a detail which is her all over: at the most unexpected hour and day, she appeared around there with her poncho – and her violin!
Olivia once said anthropologists spend the rest of their life to come into terms with their long fieldwork. This was deeper than how it sounded then of course and I only realized it after my doctoral fieldwork.
In the early nineties Olivia was a professor 2 in Oslo. Many of us (hovedfag students, doctoral students, other professors) followed her courses. She brought a rich array of material and ideas to the classes. She was constantly reading and bringing very engaging debates and new names to our anthropological universe.
To this day I think my understanding of history, memory and reconstruction of past carry the echoes of Olivia’s classes. She attracted our attention to importance of sense of loss and rupture in terms of reconfiguration of collective identities. These were newer ways of thinking for me then. She shared her own theoretical problems with the students of all levels. She touched so many people in Oslo department intellectually and in other ways. She was part of the Andes group and was playing violin with a few others There are many small, warm details from those times several people must have already conveyed in different venues after her death: she was sharing excitement about Turkish “helva” with me and Bente N., we would bring to the department and eat together. She lived among us in such a wholeheartedly and “dignified” way (she commented on this word once that is why I am confident to use it). She was at the department with a type of humanity which made her intellectually sharp vision more accessible. Next year April 9th we will think about her and April 12 is Eduardo Archetti’s birthday. Too much loss…
-Olivia mamay waqasani mamay, pitaj nisaj jatun mama, kunan pachamamam risjanqui?.
-Olivia querida madre lloramos tu partida, a quien llamare grande mama?, hoy volviste a los brazos de nuestra madre Pachamama. la madre tierra.
-Olivia beloved mother, we cried your departure, to who i’m going call big mama?, today you go back to the arms of the mother earth pachamama, flying like condor over the andes.
She became a daughter of the ayllu laymis and other ayllus(indigenous quechua in north potosi - Bolivia) She was a unique person who understood the andean cosmovision, We always love you Olivia.