- Hélène Pagezy, August 2, 1945–March 3, 2013
Doctor Hélène Pagezy has recently, and suddenly, passed away after forty years of meticulous anthropological research, conducted mainly in Africa.
Brilliant doctoral student in the areas of ecology and anthropology, Hélène Pagezy was inspired by the research interests of Professor Jean Hiernaux (National Center of Scientific Research, CNRS, University of Paris), a well-respected scholar who stimulated much research about African populations.
After graduating in 1969, Dr. Pagezy went to Rwanda, Zaire, and Cameroon for intensive fieldwork. She pioneered studies comparing physical and physiological differences between Pygmy and non-Pygmy populations, investigating for the first time changes related to physical activity, seasons, and the stress provoked by the search for food. In this context, she described a particular kind of hunger related to the desire for meat, a feeling that has physiological causes and consequences. Human nutrition and diet became one of Dr. Pagezy’s major research interests. She conducted studies focusing on taste sensitivity and food habits, both in Pygmy and non-Pygmy groups, as well as other populations, such as Sudanese or Inuits.
Very open to interdisciplinary research, Dr. Pagezy also studied various aspects of the cultures and the environments she approached, which she described with remarkable precision. For example, she recorded songs and ritual dances related to the ceremony for the end of seclusion for primiparous women among the Ntomba people of Zaire. She also well documented fishing techniques in Cameroon and Guyana. Such video and sound recordings were presented to the public through several museum exhibitions.
Becoming acquainted with the people that hosted her research, she contributed much to establish effective AIDS prevention campaigns and organized theatrical representations intended to make the audience familiar with the illness. In a similar vein, she led a project devoted to the collection of drawings portraying the way children see their societies and their relationship with the environment. Over two hundred drawings, from all over the world, were recently published in [End Page 797] a remarkable book, Nature du Monde: Dessins d’Enfants (Natures of the World: Children’s Drawings, 2011). It includes accompanying comments by scholars familiar with the subject matter. Such publication would deserve an English translation, given its universal message.
Dr. Pagezy ended her scientific career as director of research at CNRS, a position equivalent to a full professorship. After her retirement, she continued to work at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris where she transmitted to many younger scholars her scientific rigor, ethnological precision, curiosity, and generosity.
Dr. Hélène Pagezy will be greatly missed by her family and her colleagues.