Northcote Thomas was a British anthropologist and psychical researcher.
Thomas was the first British Government anthropologist to work in the West African counties of present-day Nigeria and Sierra Leone. He studied the Edo and Igbo peoples, making a remarkable contribution to European knowledge across the fields of cultural anthropology, botany, music and linguistics.
The Pitt Rivers Museum holds a collection of 448 wax cylinder recordings of Edo and Igbo peoples recorded by Thomas, and The British Library Sound Archive holds over 700 of his recordings. Many of Northcote Thomas’ wax cylinder recordings are of very good quality. Alongside songs and spoken word in a variety of different languages (including Igbo, Bini (Edo), and Ibo in Nigeria, and Mende, Fuuta Jalon and Susa in Sierra Leone) he recorded examples of instrumentation, including flutes, trumpets and balangi (a type of xylophone in Sierra Leone).
Thomas also assembled a major artefact collection of over 2,000 objects illustrative of the ethnology of the Yoruba, Kukuruku and Esa people, collected in Southern Nigeria, which he subsequently presented to the University of Cambridge’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
He was thought to be quite an eccentric, undiplomatic individual with a pioneering spirit and a certain disregard of authority. His superiors did not always favour his unconventional approach, but by going outside his brief and out of his way to collect many objects of daily use, he provided the Pitt Rivers Museum with a collection that offers a unique perspective on Edo State in the early twentieth century.
He was also interested in the occult, collaborated on psychical research with his friend Andrew Lang and authored works on crystal gazing and telepathy. He published over fifty articles in academic journals and many books and served on the councils of the Folklore Society and the Royal Anthropological Institute.
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