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obituary Peter Parkes was the foundational ethnogra- pher of the Kalasha, the last remaining Central Asian people still practising a pre-Islamic, pre-Zoroastrian way of life. Surrounded by hundreds of millions of Muslims, the Kalasha huddle into three mountain valleys on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Peter’s study of them made him first a theoretician of enclaves, then one of his cohort’s most formidable Eurasian comparativists. Peter Sydney Corson Parkes was the grandson of Sir Sydney, who rose from humble cashier to Chief General Manager of Lloyds Bank. Peter was brought up in considerable comfort in a large Surrey house whose huge Fig. 1. Peter on his first stay among the Kalasha, early garden came close to a small country park. He 1970s. acquired a taste for good food and wines there, Fig. 2. Peter with Sai Fullah, 1990s. which he never lost. He was awarded a scholarship to read In 1968, the American geographer Eugene Archaeology and Anthropology at St John’s, Hammel argued that social structures in Balkan Cambridge. Jack Goody was his tutor. The col- societies were not necessarily organized in lege generously funded his initial visit to the purely segmentary terms. Locals had recourse, Kalasha during his first long vac. Before trans- when needed, to alternative forms of organ- ferring to Oxford for his doctorate, he made izing themselves, grounded on ritual relations further visits to be supervised by Schuyler and what used to be known as ‘fictive kinship’. (‘Skye’) Jones, then Director of the Pitt-Rivers What surprises me is that though Hammel’s Museum, who had lived on the Afghani side insight was recognized by his Europeanist the Rate My Professor website, he is qualified bordering the Kalasha area for over 10 years. peers, no one had developed it beyond his field as ‘awesome’, with one student stating, ‘Peter Peter relished living among the Kalasha. area. Peter was the first to do so in a method- Parkes stares into my soul, and teaches me While he took his fieldwork very seriously, he ical, illuminating manner. anthropology.’ did not think it a chore or experience it like In the early 2000s, Peter produced a remark- Peter was a lively, deeply read anthropologist work. He neither romanticized nor became able series of papers extending and refining who could talk theory in a way few could equal. romantically involved with the Kalasha. He Hammel’s perception, drawing out the inter- He revelled in debate and only turned his tongue simply took profound pleasure in getting to twining structural possibilities of milk kinship, on the more pretentious of our colleagues. It is know the minutiae of a people he greatly fosterage and godparenthood. At first, he dem- difficult to disagree with him on that. admired. Though many Westerners might onstrated their roles among the petty kingdoms A generous, kindly soul, Peter was periodi- regard the beliefs of the Kalasha as exotic, for of what is today Pakistan, especially in times cally afflicted with bouts of mental ill health Peter they were always both, at the same time, of regal succession where competing principles which could make him a challenging colleague. the inheritors of an extraordinary legacy and of sociality led to the temporary formation of On 1 April 2009, after some barmen phoned the fellow human beings surviving in the contem- factions, transcending class, and who resolved police about his seemingly odd behaviour, Peter porary world. To be their foundational eth- their differences violently. was arrested for possessing offensive weapons. nographer was very important to Peter. Many Peter then turned comparativist, extended He responded, ‘This is always happening.’ of his photos show Kalasha close up, relaxed his approach to Eurasian limits and plumbed Admitting to being a bit eccentric, he said the and intimate, suggesting how comfortable they the historical record as far as the sources knife was for shucking oysters and the catapult became with his presence among them. allowed him. His concept of ‘allegiance fos- for hunting rabbits. When the matter came to Skye called Peter ‘the most brilliant graduate terage’, enchained links of tribute cross-cutting court, the police who had taken his statement, student I have supervised in over 16 years at otherwise dominant hierarchies, has proved perhaps realizing their insensitivity, did not Oxford’. He urged him to produce an extraor- particularly fruitful. Many historians of Ireland appear, so the case was dropped. dinarily thorough thesis, given how little had have used his work on Celtic fosterage as a From the 2000s, the government pressured been written on the Kalasha. In 1983, Peter’s structuring principle in medieval Eire. These vice-chancellors into adopting ever more man- examiners judged the result, 500 pages of dense six papers of Peter’s will probably be finally agement-heavy styles geared to a neoliberal ethnography, ‘unusually impressive’. However, collated into a book. logic. One consequence was a sharp decline readers for Oxford University Press thought Peter won a series of research fellowships in academics’ long-standing tolerance of their his portrayal of the Kalasha as structured into and grants in his immediate postdoc years. peers. Peter fell foul of this change and spent segmentary lineages outdated. Peter did produce Indeed, he was so good at winning them that his last decade outside university, a true loss to an extended new introduction, underscoring the one year the ESRC, judging his budget an scholarship, social anthropology and genera- stark congruence of anthropologists’ segmentary underestimate, awarded him more than he had tions of students. lineage theory and Kalasha conceptions of their asked for. Those were the days. Among the Kalasha, his closest collaborator, society. He stressed that this was one indigenous Peter held a series of short-term posts in var- Sai Fullah, said on hearing the news, ‘Peter model of Kalasha society that was contextually ious universities in the UK and Germany. He was the best friend I could ever have had.’ invoked and coexisted with others. Disheartened learnt to teach such a wide range of modules Jeremy MacClancy that his defining work had not sailed through that once, when in yet another job interview, Oxford Brookes University OUP’s publishing procedures, Peter never re-pre- he was asked which of their courses he could firstname.lastname@example.org sented the manuscript. Attempts are underway to teach, he answered with honesty, ‘All of them.’ I sincerely thank Nigel Palmer, Schuyler Jones and Avalon get it out, as hard copy, and if not, online. Skye dubbed Peter ‘an excellent teacher’. On de Cosme, Peter’s sister, for their information and comments. ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY VOL 39 NO 3, JUNE 2023 27 PETER PARKES PETER PARKES
Anthropology Today – Wiley
Published: Jun 1, 2023
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