Memorial for MSU Anthropology Alumnus Herb Whittier (1941-2021)

MSU Department of Anthropology alumnus Herbert (Herb) Whittier, Ph.D. died June 6, 2021 in East Lansing, Michigan. Whittier studied Anthropology at University of South Florida (B.A. 1963), and Florida State University (B.S. 1965) where he also met his wife and research collaborator Patricia (Pat) Ruth Jenks, and later received a Ph.D. in Anthropology at MSU in 1973. 

The MSU Department of Anthropology was a formative intellectual environment for Herb Whittier; he took coursework, studied Bahasa Indonesian, honed writing skills, and successfully applied for research funding. Whittier worked with Dr. Al Hudson, the Anthropology Department Borneologist, focusing on Kenyah communities found both in Indonesia (East Kalimantan) and Malaysia (Sarawak, Fourth Division). His doctoral dissertation was titled: Social Organization and Symbols of Social Differentiation: An Ethnographic Study of the Kenyah Dayak of East Kalimantan (Borneo). It synthesized geographic and historical information on the Lepo Tau Kenyah – their migration, religious conversion, village and longhouse organization, social class, swidden farming, ritual – but focused on the mediating role of the ba’ (beaded baby carrier) in the Lepo Tau symbolic system.  Herb then joined Pat Whittier, a cultural linguist, on her Borneo dissertation fieldwork. Supported by National Geographic Society grants, the photographs, fieldwork data, and artifacts from Whittier’s Borneo research are now curated in the anthropological collections at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.

After completing his Ph.D., Whittier used his anthropological expertise in a variety of positions, including Senior Community Planner with Gilbert/Commonwealth Associates, and as Rural Development Advisor in Surabaya, Indonesia, and Rampur, Nepal. His final professional role was as Associate Director of the Kellogg Foundation-funded MSU Institute of International Health in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. 

Herb was a dynamic polymath rife with surprises.  He played and built stringed instruments, could hold conversations in a dozen languages, and repair a motorcycle with a butter knife and pie plate (almost!). Herb was devoted to his partner and collaborator Pat, and their boys Robert and James. His good humor is sorely missed.  
Adapted from The Borneo Research Bulletin, authored by colleagues and friends Al and Judy Hudson, Richard Drake, Judith Tordoff, and William Lovis.