My friend, the social anthropologist PTW (Paul) Baxter, who has died aged 89, made a significant contribution to western understanding of the Oromo peoples of northern Kenya and Ethiopia and championed their culture, which was frequently denigrated by colonial and local elites.
His work on the plight of the Ethiopian Oromo became a standard text in Oromo studies and a rallying point for the Oromo cause. Paul was not always comfortable with the praise he received as a result, and was often self-deprecating, describing himself as the world’s most unpublished anthropologist. That was a harsh judgment, since a complete list of his output is respectably long. He also made a wider contribution by editing the journal Africa and sitting on the Royal African Society board.
Born in Leamington Spa – his father was a primary school headteacher in the town – Paul attended Warwick school. Academic ambitions were put aside when he joined the commandos in 1943, serving in the Netherlands and occupied Germany. He married Pat, whom he had met at school, in 1944, and after the war went to Downing College, Cambridge, studying English under FR Leavis before switching to anthropology.
On graduation he moved to Oxford, where anthropology under EE Evans-Pritchard was flourishing. Field research on the pastoral Borana people in northern Kenya followed for two years, accompanied by Pat and their son, Timothy. He gained his DPhil in 1954 and more fieldwork followed among the Kiga of Uganda.
With UK jobs scarce, he took a position at the University College of Ghana. This was a happy time for the family, who found Ghana delightful. Returning to the UK in 1960, he was offered a one-year lectureship at the University of Manchester by the sociology and social anthropology head, Max Gluckman, after a recommendation by Evans-Pritchard. He then spent two years at the University College of Swansea (now Swansea University) before returning permanently to the University of Manchester. Over the next 26 years Paul contributed significantly to anthropological studies and to Oromo research, spending 12 months among the Arssi Oromo of Ethiopia before retiring in 1989.
Paul was never interested in winning academic prizes; instead his focus was on helping people. Generations of students, both at home and overseas, benefited from friendship and, often, a warm welcome in his home.
Paul’s life was touched by sadness, particularly Timothy’s death from multiple sclerosis in 2005, but he took great pleasure in his family. He is survived by Pat, their son Adam, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
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