The news of Sydel’s demise provoked deep emotion among African anthropologists who came to know her closely. It was thanks to her intellectual and academic support that the Pan African Anthropological Association (PAAA) was created and has survived despite the enormous problems faced by African and Africanist anthropologists across the continent.
In 1988 fifteen African anthropologists tabled a motion during the executive meeting of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) in Zagreb, Croatia calling on the world anthropological community to assist them in rehabilitating the image of the discipline tarnished by colonialism. By the time the meeting was over Sydel was discussing with us what she could do to assist us.
The nascent group decided to organize a pan-African anthropological conference and Sydel, then President of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, made available resources for the organization of the conference. In August 1989, Sydel travelled to Yaoundé, Cameroon to participate in that first meeting of the conference. She was able to meet and encourage over 100 participants from some 35 university and research institutions across the continent. Today, 30 years on, Sydel's efforts have led to a series national and regional anthropological associations and the the PAAA is still vibrant and the work initiated with her assistance goes on.
As the founding president of the PAAA I came to know Sydel well and appreciate her efforts to associate PAAA members with the programs and other activities of the American Anthropological Association (AAA). When I met her in 2017 at the AAA meeting in DC, we were able to go down memory lane and reminisce about her efforts to put the PAAA on its feet. There was no doubt in my mind Sydel was and is the true mother of the PAAA. Without her support the PAAA would not have survived the storms.
As we prepare the celebration of three decades (1989-2019) of the PAAA, the main theme of the conference is “Anthropology in contemporary Africa” and there will be a special panel on Sydel to capture her contribution to global anthropology and especially to African anthropology.
Paul Nchoji Nkwi
Founding President of the PAAA
Member of the Cameroon Constitutional Council