In Memoriam: Bonno Thoden van Velzen (1933-2020)

Prof. Hendrik Ulbo Eric ('Bonno') Thoden van Velzen became a researcher at the African Studies Centre in 1966, the year in which he completed his PhD in Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University. His PhD research – carried out together with his wife and anthropologist Ineke van Wetering – was on Maroons who escaped slavery in Suriname, while his work at the ASC focused on Tanzania. Together with his wife and children, Thoden van Velzen spent three years doing fieldwork in Tanzania, where he took part in an interdisciplinary research group. He extensively studied the consequences of the Ujamaa reforms that were implemented by the Tanzanian government in 1967. Ujamaa formed the ideological backbone of major socialist development reforms that deeply affected people’s lives. Thoden van Velzen examined the consequences of Ujamaa policy and ideology in rural areas, where it led to political dynamics that intensified social inequalities instead of diminishing them. His analysis was characterized by a careful examination of material conditions – while steering away from an all-encompassing Marxist framework – which he related to emotional dynamics and social imaginaries, for which he was inspired by Freud. He worked at the ASC until 1971, after which he became professor of Cultural Anthropology at Utrecht University (1971-1991) and the University of Amsterdam (1991 until retirement in 1999). In 1990, he was awarded membership of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Until the end of his life he worked on the book Prophets of Doom; A History of the Aukan Maroons, which will be published by Brill. Bonno passed away on 26 May 2020.

African Studies Centre Leiden

Publications by Thoden van Velzen in the ASCL Library

Photo: Werkgroep Caraïbische Letteren