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Pioneer American researcher on Rungus people dies at 94
Published on: Tuesday, May 05, 2020
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Kota Kinabalu: Professor Dr George N Appell (pic), who was one of the first anthropologists to live among the Rungus in Sabah, passed away in Maine, United States, on Sunday (May 3), at age 94. He was suffering from cancer. 

The founder and president of the Borneo Research Council Inc. and his wife Laura, who passed away in 2015, were the first anthropologists to live among the Rungus from 1959 to 1963. 

Borneo Research Council’s Regional Vice President for Sabah, Prof Dr Jacqueline Pugh-Kitingan, said although the couple conducted research among other indigenous societies, their deep love for the Rungus people continued throughout their lives. Over the years, they maintained close contacts with Rungus friends and returned many times to Sabah, she said, adding they often hosted Rungus guests in their home in Maine, and inspired many of the younger generations of indigenous scholars in Sabah. 

She said in addition to the Borneo Research Council with its many publications, they established the Anthropologists Fund for Urgent Anthropological Research, the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research, the Sabah Oral Literature Project, which began with their study of Rungus ritual poetry or rinait, and the Laura WR Appell Fellowship for research on indigenous oral literature and ecological knowledge. 

“George was for many years Senior Research Associate of the Department of Anthropology, Brandeis University, Massachusetts. 

“At the time of Laura’s passing, they were completing the Rungus Cultural Dictionary. Their huge research output provided many landmark publications that shaped the development of anthropology and Borneo Studies in the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” she said.   

George leaves behind his daughters Laura P Appell-Warren, Amity A Doolittle and Charity McNabb and their families. 

    



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