Guatemala's First Anthropologist Had Saint Mary's Education

Antonio Goubaud Carrera, Guatemala's first professionally trained anthropologist known for path-breaking fieldwork on Mayan culture in the 1930s and 40s, spent his formative years as a student at Saint Mary's College's Oakland Brickpile campus.

Central Connecticut State University anthropology professor Abigail Adams shared Goubaud's story at a History Department talk in the Soda Center on March 6. She first encountered Goubaud by reading his field journals while conducting her own research in eastern Guatemala.

"I consider him a mentor, even though he lived almost sixty years ago and we only met through his work," Adams said. "Saint Mary's should be proud to claim him as an alumnus."

After growing up in a coffee merchant's family in Guatemala, Goubaud enrolled in Saint Mary's high school program from 1916 to 1921. Adams noted that this education prepared Goubaud well, as he was later able to skip college and complete a master's in anthropology from the University of Chicago.

Goubaud helped establish anthropology as an academic discipline in Guatemala, serving as the first director of the Instituto Indigenista Nacional, which supported research into Guatemala's native cultures, including the Maya. He later served as a U.N. consultant on native cultures and as Guatemalan ambassador to the United States.

Adams noted that Goubaud's exposure to the cosmopolitan life of the early 20th century Bay Area during his student days laid the foundation for his interest in the inner workings of different cultures.

"(Saint Mary's) students were a diverse group of working-class men and this was a loving environment for him," she said.

Goubaud's interest in Native American cultures, Adams believes, may have been piqued by the story of Ishi, the last remaining member of California's Yahi Indians who lived at the Museum of Natural Anthropology in San Francisco until 1916.

"There's no doubt he would have heard of Ishi," Adams noted.

Goubaud's anthropology research, Adams said, was noteworthy for its ability to move beyond the strict racial classifications that Adams says characterized-and to some extent still characterizes-Guatemalan culture. He challenged Guatemalans' notion of an acculturation pyramid with Eurocentric whiteness at the top end a native Mayan primitivism at the bottom.

"He was a visionary who worked for Guatemalan people-including Mayans-and fought against racism."

Goubaud's oldest daughter Monica traveled from Oregon for the event and shared family photographs and her perspective on her father's life and work.

--John Grennan
Office of College Communications