12 oct 2011

Tom Harrisson

Tom Harrisson Anthropologist, ETHNIKKA blog for human culture knowledge
Tom Harrisson (1911 - 1976) 
Major Tom Harnett Harrisson DSO OBE (1911–1976) was a British polymath. In the course of his life he was an ornithologist, explorer, journalist, broadcaster, soldier, guerrilla, ethnologist, museum curator, archaeologist, documentarian, film-maker, conservationist, and writer. Although often described as an anthropologist his degree studies at University of Cambridge were in ecology before he left to live in Oxford. He is also known as the Barefoot Anthropologist and founded Mass-Observation.

Tom Harrisson was born in Argentina, educated in England at Harrow School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, conducted ornithological and anthropological research in Sarawak (1932) and the New Hebrides (1933-5), spent much of his life in Borneo (mainly Sarawak) and finished up in the USA, the UK and France before dying in a road accident in Thailand.
In 1937 Harrisson, with Humphrey Jennings and Charles Madge, founded Mass-Observation, a project to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain.
During the Second World War Harrisson continued directing Mass-Observation and was Radio critic for The Observer from May 1942 until June 1944. For much of this time he was in the army and gave up reviewing on leaving the UK. After service in the ranks he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Reconnaissance Corps on 21 November 1943. He had been recruited (some sources say by a confusion of names, despite his apparent suitability) for a plan to use the native peoples of Borneo against the Japanese. He was attached to Z Special Unit (also known as Z Force), part of the Services Reconnaissance Department (SRD: a branch of the combined Allied Intelligence Bureau in the South West Pacific theatre). On 25 March 1945, he was parachuted with seven Z Force operatives from a Consolidated Liberator onto a high plateau occupied by the Kelabit people. An autobiographical account of this operation (SEMUT I, one of four SEMUT operations in the area) is given in World Within (Cresset Press, 1959); there are also reports - not always flattering - from some of his comrades. His efforts to rescue stranded American airmen shot down over Borneo are a central part of "The Airmen and the Headhunters," an episode of the PBS television series Secrets of the Dead. The recommendation for his Distinguished Service Order which was gazetted on 6 March 1947 (and dated 2 November 1946) describes how from his insertion until 15 August 1945 the forces under his command protected the flank of Allied advances, and caused severe disruption to Japanese operations.

At the start of the Brunei Revolt in 1962, Resident John Fisher of the 4th Division of Sarawak called on the Dayak tribes for help by sending a boat with the traditional Red Feather of War up the Baram River. Tom Harrisson also arrived in Brunei. He summoned the Kelabits from the highlands around Bario in the 5th Division, the centre of his wartime resistance. Hundreds of Dayaks responded, and formed into companies led by British civilians all commanded by Harrisson. This force reached some 2,000 strong, and with excellent knowledge of the tracks through the interior (there were no roads), helped contain the rebels. And cut off their escape route to Indonesia.

Harrisson was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1959 New Year Honours, for his work as curator.
The title of his biography, The Most Offending Soul Alive, gives a flavour of the strong feelings he engendered, but he also had many admirers and is recognised as a pioneer in several areas.

His works
Following the war, he was Curator of the Sarawak Museum 1947-1966 (although he did not relinquish his commission until 14 March 1951). In the 1950s and 1960s Tom and Barbara Harrisson undertook pioneering excavations in the West Mouth of the Great Cave at Niah, Sarawak. Their most important discovery was a human skull in deposits dated by radiocarbon to about 40,000 years ago, the earliest date for modern humans in Borneo. The results of their excavations were never published in an appropriate manner leading to uncertainty and doubts as to their results; however, they are largely vindicated by results of excavations carried out by the Niah Cave Project from 2000-2003. Three films (amongst more made for British TV) record the Niah work
Harrisson's TV series The Borneo Story was broadcast by BBC television in 1957.

  • Harrisson, T.H. (1931). Birds of the Harrow District 1925-1930. Harrow School.

  • Harrisson, T.H. (1933). Letter to Oxford. The Hate Press: Gloucestershire.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1937). Savage Civilisation. Victor Gollancz: London.

  • Madge, Charles; & Harrisson, Tom (1937). Mass-Observation. Frederick Muller: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (ed). (1938). Borneo Jungle. An account of the Oxford University expedition of 1932. Lindsay Drummond Ltd: London.

  • Madge, Charles; & Harrisson, Tom (1939). Britain by Mass-Observation. Penguin: Harmondsworth.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1943). Living Among Cannibals. George G. Harrap & Co: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (ed). (1943). The Pub and the People. Victor Gollancz: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1959). World Within. A Borneo Story. Cresset Press: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (ed). (1959). The Peoples of Sarawak. Sarawak Museum: Kuching.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1961). Britain Revisited. Victor Gollancz: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1970). The Malays of South-West Sarawak before Malaysia. Macmillan: London.

  • Harrisson, Tom (1976). Living through the Blitz, Collins, London

© Text and photo: Wikipedia

1 comentario:

  1. For what it's worth, his life story has been documented time and again by various Los Angeles car accident attorneys and other firms for that matter for the sheer brilliance he exemplified during his extraordinary ordeal to recover after that tragic car crash.


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