Nicolaas Jacobus van Warmelo, born in Pretoria in 1904, was a diligent student. In 1927 he received a doctorate (summa cum laude) in the classification of the South African indigenous languages.
After a short stint as Chair of the African Languages Department at Wits, he became State Ethnologist, a position he held until his retirement in 1969. While in office he gathered data, by means of a comprehensive questionnaire, on all aspects of the life of the Black peoples of South Africa such as their history, costume, government, court procedures, judicial practices, warfare and religion. By 1939 this research consisted of 1500 typescript pages and at the time of his retirement there were more than 1000 manuscripts of this nature, written in various indigenous languages.
Described as “pathologically systematic”, Van Warmelo was a prolific writer with 17 books and 23 scientific articles to his name. He also contributed to many other works. In his monumental work of 1484 pages, he identifies over 7,000 articles of ethnological importance.
Mastering the indigenous South African languages while still at school, Van Warmelo went on to play an important part in the development of these languages. He was also instrumental in the translation of the Bible into African languages.
Van Warmelo’s research was donated to the University of Pretoria in 1991. The donation includes the published bibliography, the accompanying indexing system as well as the material itself. The material is housed in the Special Collections Unit of the Academic Information Service, University of Pretoria. Digitised photographs of tribal life will form part of the AI’s African Heritage Digital Collection. It is accessible from the Library Catalog (UPExplore) - University of Pretoria.
My reference: Coertze, RD. (1989) Obituary/Huldeblyk: N.J van Warmelo 1904 - 1989. S.Afr.J.Ethnol. 1989, 12(3).
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contact : Nikki Haw
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