Pioneer Biographies, Indian Period from 1947
Lidio Cipriani (1892-1962)
Cipriani in the early 1950s tries to force two clearly
reluctant Onge women to look into the camera.
Cipriani in the early 1950s tries to force two clearly reluctant Onge women to look into the camera.
Cipriani is that rarest of creatures: a western scientist invited by the Indian authorities to do research in the Andamans.
Lidio Cipriani was born in Florence, Italy, the son of far-from-wealthy parents and was a determined as well as a highly intelligent student. After graduation he received certification as a teacher for elementary schools in 1910 and his teaching diploma soon after - a very considerably achievement.
In 1915 the young man volunteered for military service, was accepted and remained under arms until 1919. Studies at the University of Florence follwed where he impressed sufficiently in 1923 to be appointed assistant at the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology. Within three years later he had risen to lecturer in anthropology at the Museum. From that time onwards, he seems to have received generous financial support from unknown sources which allowed him to spend most of his time between 1927 and 1939 on wide-ranging field trips.
The first of his many overseas trips in 1927 took Cipriani to Zululand, Transvaal and what was then called Bushmanland (today Botswana and Namibia) where he conducted geological research. How wide his interests ranged is illustrated by the fact that in 1928 he was chosen head of physical anthropology at the 21st Americanist Congress in New York. From 1928 until 1930 he was doing anthropological and prehistoric field work in Somalia, East Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Other field trips followed to the Tuareg of the Sahara as well as to India and Sri Lanka.
In 1935 Cipriani had truly arrived, academically and socially. King Victor Emmanuel III appointed him to the Order of the Colonial Star of Italy. Less than a year later he volunteered for military service in Africa where the Italian army had just attacked Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia) and was not covering itself with glory in the face of determined Ethiopian resistance. Cipriani did not stay long under colors. Being conveniently already in the area, he joined an expedition organized by the Italian Academy of Sciences in 1937 to conduct anthropological studies in Italian-occupied Ethiopia (then, together with Somalia and Eritrea called Italian East Africa) among the people of Lake Tana and among the Amhara and Falasha (Ethiopians of Jewish faith). This was followed 1938-1939 by yet another field trip to Ethiopia, this time to the Galla (Oromo) and Sidamo of the south.
In 1940 unexplained difficulties ended Cipriani's association with the Florentine museums.
The Mussolini regime entered World War II on the side of Nazi Germany. Cipriani found himself called up for service shortly after he had married in 1940. Cipriani rose rapidly in the Italian army and 1942 found him at the head of the Siena Division on Crete. After Mussolini's fall and Italy's change of sides, General Cipriani was arrested in 1943 by his former German allies and kept prisoner. After his release, he somehow managed to get mixed up in the civil war between the new government in Rome and the short-lived fascist "social republic" under a resurrected Mussolini in northern Italy. Cipriani was held prisoner by the fascists for several months and could count himself lucky to have survived.
During the late 1940s Cipriani's career took a happier turn, for himself as well as for science in general. Through his earlier contacts with Indian anthropologists and probably also because he was not British, inmfluential people in newly independent India took a liking to the Italian scientist. In 1949 he was invited to visit the Andaman islands where he proceeded to do very valuable archaeological and anthropological research from 1949 until 1954. He helped found the anthropological museum at Port Blair and did a great deal to stock the new museum with aboriginal artifacts. He also published articles on his research which are still of considerable value today. On Great Andaman his archaeological work on kitchen midden is noteworthy, as are his notes on the Onge of Little Andamans. Cipriani conducted his work on Little Andaman at the very last moment when Onge culture was still entirely intact. His memory is still very highly regarded in India today.
Cipriani was instrumental in inviting Dr. Hermann Lehmann, the first specialist to investigate genetic traits and blood groups among the Onge, into the islands. Ciprianis few articles are excellent but unfortunately remain just that: few. His only sizable book contains some interesting information but was put together somewhat haphazardly in 1966, many years after his death. Its scientific value is limited but it remains important because it contains information and observations not otherwise available. His description of Onge standards of hygiene (or rather, their absence), is so well-written, lively and graphic that one could almost regard it as literature. The book as a whole is written in such an easy-to-follow style, without any technical jargon, that is today still the only work on the subject read by a worldwide general public.
Cipriani has some solid achievements to his credit: he was the first outsider to have crossed Little Andaman from coast to coast and his observations permitted him to make the first reasonably reliable estimate of the number of Onge. His personal bravery is also beyond doubt: many incidents are recorded when boats sank in the vicious surf around Little Andaman. On one notable occasion, Cipriani very nearly drowned when his boat turned over and he was trapped beneath it. He never allowed such mishaps nor the other hardships of living the Onge way-of-life stand in his way. His remarkable energy and scientific curiosity overcame all obstacles.
Cpiriani was also the first (and so far last) scientists allowed to carry out archaeoloigcal excavatation work in the islands. As archaeologist Zarine Cooper wrote in her work on Andamanese archaeology (p. 3) 2002:
While Cipriani published a number of reports which included brief descriptions of the sites and the excavated material, no comprehensive site report ever appeared, nor were radiocarbon dates ever published.
Cipriani returned to Europe in 1954 and settled in the city of his birth, Florence. His health deteriorated steadily thereafter and he left home only rarely to attend scientific congresses. He died at Florence in October 1962.
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Last changed 10 August 2002