Speiser, Felix (1880-1949)*

Felix Speiser on Ambrym island, Vanuatu, New Hebrides, 1911.

Felix Speiser is a foundational figure in the history of Swiss ethnology. Having studied under Felix von Luschan in Berlin in 1907-08, he was appointed Professor of Ethnology at the University of Basle in 1917, the first such post in the country.

Although he is probably best known for his work in the New Hebrides (1910-12) and, later, in Melanesia (1929-31), he also carried out a brief period of fieldwork in 1924 among the Aparaï of the Paru river, in northern Brazil, close to the border with French Guiana (now Guyane).

During his Brazilian expedition, Speiser made a film, though this was not edited and released until 1945. A further restoration took place long after his death, in 1994. The title of this film is Yopi: Chez les Indiens du BrésilEven today, it remains very difficult to see.

Speiser is reported to have made a second film, Mystères du Pacifique, dated to 1930. However, this does not feature in the UNESCO catalogue of ethnographic film in the Pacific region (Rouch and Salzman 1970) and whether it has survived is not clear.

Text : Cosandey 2002-03