Paul Schebesta was a Catholic ethnographer, linguist, anthropologist, and missionary. Born in GrossPeterwitz, Moravia, Schebesta was educated at St. Gabriel Mission Seminary in Mödling, Austria, and at the University of Vienna. He was ordained for service with the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) in 1911 and sent to Mozambique. During World War I, he was interned by the Portuguese colonial administration as an enemy alien (1916-1920). After his release, he joined the editorial staff of Wilhelm Schmidt’s ethnological and linguistic journal Anthropos in Mödling, Austria. In 1924, at Schmidt’s suggestion, he went to British Malaya to study the Semang Negritos. This proved to be the beginning of his life’s work—the study of the cultures, languages, and racial traits of pygmy peoples throughout the world. He made three field trips to the Ituri pygmies of the Belgian Congo (1934-1955) and two return trips to the Southeast Asian Negritos, as well as shorter visits to the Aeta Negritos of the Philippines and elsewhere. This fieldwork, especially among the African Bambuti and Southeast Asian Semang, made him a leading authority on the world’s pygmies and became milestones in the history of anthropology. After World War II he devoted most of his time to training SVD missionaries in the field and at the mission seminary in Austria.
Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD
Schebesta’s main works from an estimated 130 publications are:
- Die Bambuti-Pygmäen vom Ituri, vol. 1 (1938) and vol. 2 (1941-1950)
- Die Negrito Asiens, vol. 1 (1952) and vol. 2 (1954/1957).
- Anton Vorbichler, “Professor Dr. Paul Schebesta SVD.” Anthropos 62 (1967): 665-685.
- A Festschrift containing a listing of his publications appears as no. 18 of Studia Instituti Anthropos (1963).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, copyright © 1998, by Gerald H. Anderson, W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan. All rights reserved.