Glynn Flood

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Readers of RAIN may have read accounts in the press (Guardian and Times, 8 October) of Glynn Flood’s brutal murder by Ethiopian soldiers. Glynn disappeared in June while carrying out field research for a Ph.D. under my supervision among the Afar nomads of Ethiopia. The mystery surrounding his disappearance has at last been unravelled, not by the British Embassy staff in Addis Ababa but by his French wife Michele. With great fortitude she went with her father-in-law to Jibuti to assess the many conflicting reports of Glynn’s disappearance with Afar refugees there who had direct evidence of his summary arrest and savage execution.

Glynn was one of the most outstandingly gifted young anthropologists I have ever had the privilege of supervising. His death is a tragic loss not only for his wife and eighteen-month-old daughter, his parents and all who knew him, but also for the subject to which he displayed such single-minded devotion. He had spent almost three years studying these elusive nomads and had collected a unique corpus of material which would have filled an important gap in the ethnography of N.E. Africa and also promised to make an original contribution to anthropological theory. Glynn’s professionalism and talent for field-work were matched by a deep and sincere attachment to his Afar friends and by a very clear understanding of their interests and aspirations. This finely balanced commitment to the Afar as people and to anthropology informs his incisive analysis of the exploitative politics of development in the Awash Valley, his passionate concern and indigntion at ‘man-made’ famine; it explains his return to the field early this year when he had exhausted all his research funds and while he was still convalescing after a severe attack of brucellosis. It can also be seen from a more intimate angle, in the way his resourceful wife, Michele, acted as proxy mother for two of the grandsons of the Sultan Ali Mirreh.

How sad that, just after Glynn had heard that the Leverhulme Trust was awarding him a generous grant which would enable him to complete his field research to his own exacting standards, the delicate negotiations between the Afar leaders and the Ethiopian Government broke down, precipitating the savage Ethiopian ‘liberation’ of the Afar in which Glynn and so many other innocent civilians perished. How bitterly ironical for Glynn who enthusiastically, although not uncritically, supported the ideal of the Ethiopian revolution.

The corrosive conflict between tyrannical regimes, whether of the left or right, and dissident minority groups — which is now such a widespread phenomenon in our world — cruelly exposes all the ambiguities which are inherent in the anthropologist’s role, and questions our most fundamental principles. Few of us have to pay as high a price as Glynn did; and our loss is increased by the knowledge that we may never recover his precious field-notes, seized by the Ethiopian authorities. Yet for his uncompromising integrity as an anthropologist, and for his warm and stimulating self, Glynn will be remembered as a very exceptional person both by his Afar friends in Ethiopia and Jibuti and by all who knew him here.

Ioan Lewis

This obituary first appeared as: Lewis, Ioan. 1975. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 11, p. 6 Reproduced with permission.


To cite this article:

LEWIS, IOAN. 1975. ‘Obituary’. RAIN, No. 11, p. 6 (available on-line:




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