Robin Horton obituary

Other lives: Anthropologist who specialised in the study of the Kalabari people of Nigeria

Robin Horton, who has died aged 87, was a British anthropologist who specialised in the study of the Kalabari people of Nigeria, where he lived and worked as a professor for much of his life.

His connection with Nigeria began while he was doing national service, during which he was sent to the country in 1951. By the early 1960s he had returned on an academic research trip and fell in love with a local woman, my sister Hanna (nee Douglas).

Mixed-race couples were frowned upon both in Nigeria and Britain at the time, but they were an extraordinary match and soon married. However, their happiness did not last long, for Hanna died in childbirth, and Robin therefore lost both his wife and their twin baby girls.

Being 20 years younger than my sister, I was living with them at the time and “Uncle”, as all his friends and family called Robin, decided to become my guardian. He wanted to continue his academic studies in Nigeria and also to be part of our family, and as a result stayed in the country for the rest of his life, sponsoring my education and encouraging me to become an artist.

As his ward, I was immersed in conversations at home with people from all sorts of fields who came to discuss their work and to research in our house. Among them were the playwright Wole Soyinka, the photographer Pierre Verger, the ethnographic film-makers Peggy Harper and Frank Speed, and Uncle’s great friend, John Peel, a historian of the Yoruba.

Listening to those conversations shaped my own interest in Nigerian anthropology; it was an opportunity not given to most children in the country at the time.

Robin was born in London to William, a lieutenant colonel in the Scots Guards, and his wife, Gwendolen (nee Le Bas), who was killed during the second world by a V1 flying bomb. He went to Harrow school and then, after national service, to New College, Oxford (1953-56), where he took a first in philosophy, psychology and physiology.

From there he moved to University College London to work on a doctorate. In 1962 he became a lecturer at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), and later he moved to Ibadan University, then back to Ife and finally to Port Harcourt University, where he was professor of philosophy and religion until his retirement.

Much of Uncle’s anthropological study was with the Kalabari of the Niger Delta and he did a lot to bring their culture to wider world attention, including via a book on Kalabari sculpture.

He helped many things happen in Nigeria: when infant mortality was high, for instance, he paid for sick children to go to hospital and he also arranged for a Sekiapu dance and masquerade troupe to perform in London, a visit that inspired my own early art on Kalabari masquerades.

Uncle’s second wife, Suzy West, predeceased him. He is survived by his third wife, Ibiene, their daughter, Edwina, and two granddaughters, Zelda and Elsa, and by his sister, Carlotta.

Sokari Douglas Camp

The GuardianTramp

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