OBITUARY: G. I. Jones

Gwilym Iwan Jones, colonial administrator and anthropologist; born Cape Town 3 May 1904; married 1939 Ursula Whittall (three sons, one daughter); died King's Lynn 25 January 1995.

Gwilym Iwan ("G.I.") Jones was a colonial administrator, anthropologist, and leading scholar of the art of Eastern Nigeria. A university lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge and a Fellow of Jesus College, he was an ethnographer in the classic mould, painstaking in the collection of data, rigorous in his analysis, displaying the knowledge and insight of one who had true empathy with the peoples of Eastern Nigeria, with whom he had worked for so long.

Born in South Africa in 1904, an Anglican clergyman's only son, Jones soon acquired a taste for travel. He spent his early childhood in Chile before returning to England in 1915. Educated at St John's, Leatherhead, its ethos of Spartan Christianity reinforced by wartime conditions, he became friends with the future poet Geoffrey Grigson. Then, as always, his own man, he acquired something of a reputation for unconventionality, insisting on studying history despite the school's classical tradition, his waywardness being vindicated when he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Oxford, in 1923. As an undergraduate, he defied classification as either hearty or aesthete, achieving distinction in the History Schools and playing rugby on the wing for London Welsh.

He was endowed by his education with the spirit of service, and by his peripatetic childhood with the spirit of adventure, and the colonial service, which he joined in 1926, was a natural choice for his future career. He served as an Assistant District Officer in Eastern Nigeria, later becoming a District Officer in Bende and adjacent divisions of Owerri Province.

An exemplary officer, administering a sizeable district single-handed, Jones took a particular interest in the integration of indigenous and centralised forms of government, frequently championing the interests of local people against the more bureaucratic concerns of the central administration. His determination to understand the ethnically diverse, and ever-changing, cultures of Eastern Nigeria led him to acquire the Certificate in Anthropology at Oxford.

His realisation that these cultures were undergoing dramatic changes, particularly with regard to traditional ritual, led him to take a course in photography. The result, his photographic archive of Ibo and Ibibio masquerades, provides a unique record of a central institution in the life of Eastern Nigeria in the 1930s. He later joined with K.C. Murray to survey, collect and photograph the masks and sculpture of Eastern Nigeria.

In 1939 he met and married Ursula Whittall, a true kindred spirit, whose lifelong support contributed so much to his life and work.

Leaving the Colonial Service in 1946, he became a lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology at Cambridge, which he served with typical generosity and dedication for the rest of his life. In 1962 he became a Fellow of Jesus College.

He turned his unrivalled knowledge of Eastern Nigeria to impressive use in the academic world, publishing a number of works on the ethnography and history of the area. Foremost among these were the masterly ethnography The Ibo and Ibibio Peoples of Eastern Nigeria (1950), co-written with Daryll Forde, and his seminal study Trading States of the Oil Rivers (1963), which examined the economic and political structures of the great trading states of Kalabari and Bonny in the Niger Delta.

His subsequent career led him often to Africa. Most prominently, he investigated the notorious ritual murders in Basutoland in 1949, earning him the sobriquet "Sherlock Jones" in the popular press. In 1957, in the prelude to independence, he returned to Eastern Nigeria at the Regional Government's request to examine the role in government of traditional rulers and chiefs.

Although he retired in 1971, Jones devoted much of his time to research, publishing in 1984 The Art of Eastern Nigeria.

Many-talented, gifted intellectually and personally, G.I. Jones was a man of infectious energy and enthusiasm. His skill and sensitivity leaves behind a lasting record of a unique culture, just as his kindliness, integrity, good-humour and generosity of spirit secures the memory of a unique man.

Alicia Fentiman

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £35000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Finance Manager - Recruitment Business (Media & Entertainment)

£28000 - £32000 per annum + negotiable: Sauce Recruitment: We have an exciting...

HR Advisor - North London / North West London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor - North London...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London