On behalf of the staff of MFEA-The Malinowski Forum for Ethnography and Anthropology project, we honour the memory of Helena Wayne, née Malinowska, who recently died in Brighton, England, at the age of 92.

Helena Paula Wayne, 1953
Helena Paula Wayne, 1953

Helena Malinowska was the third, and last surviving, daughter of the Polish social anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski and his wife, the Australian journalist Elsie Masson. She was born in Bolzano-Bozen in 1925. After the Malinowski family moved from South Tyrol to London, Helena was educated in England and later in the USA, where her father moved together with his three daughters, their mother having died in 1935. At the end of World War II, Helena went back to England and started her career in television and journalism. She was a reporter and research staffer for the magazine Life, as well as a book editor, and a television producer for the BBC. Together with her first husband, the journalist Don Burke, and their two children, she lived in Athens, Rome, Paris, the South Tyrol and Geneva. Although she travelled and lived in many different countries, she always came back to and spent time in the family house of her youth in Oberbozen-Soprabolzano, South Tyrol, a place she loved and where she had many friends.

When Malinowski’s second wife, Valetta Swann, passed on to his daughters all the material she had inherited from him and taken with her when she moved to Mexico City, Helena started to work on her parents’ personal papers. She organised their correspondence, reconstructed their biographical trajectories and social networks, and interviewed their friends and her father’s former students. Her research contributed to underlining the central role of different women – above all, that of Elsie Masson – in the life and academic career of Bronislaw Malinowski (Wayne 1985). She also helped rediscover Malinowski’s Polish roots and life-long Polish connections, as we read in the foreword (Wayne 1988) she wrote for the book published for the celebration in Krakow of the centenary in 1984 of Malinowski’s birth. In 1995, Helena edited, and published in two volumes, a large selection of the letters her parents sent to each other from the time they met in Melbourne in 1916-17 until Elsie Masson’s death near Innsbruck in 1935, producing one of the most important documents on their private and public lives. She added valuable information and notes to contextualize the letters, allowing us to understand the background to many Malinowskian masterpieces, to several intimate aspects of both his academic and domestic milieu, and to the multifaceted relationship and intellectual collaboration between Malinowski and Masson, as well as their affection for the South Tyrol.

As we know from her writings, Helena, too, was interested in social-cultural anthropology: as a teenager, she would have assisted her father during his third summer of fieldwork in the Oaxaca Valley, Mexico, if he had not suddenly died in 1942 at Yale University. She also visited the Trobriand Islands, kept in contact with academics and cultural anthropologists from different countries, and collaborated in organizing events dedicated to her parents and to anthropology.

Her work and research deeply inspired the MFEA project, prompting us to investigate the life and work not only of Bronislaw Malinowski but also of Elsie Masson, and their strong connection to South Tyrol.

 

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