Reo Fortune

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Reo Fortune

Reo Franklin Fortune (27 March 1903 – 25 November 1979) was a New Zealand-born social anthropologist. Originally trained as a psychologist, Fortune was a student of the major theorists of British and American social anthropology including Alfred Cort Haddon, Bronislaw Malinowski and Alfred Radcliffe-Brown.[1] He lived an international life, holding various academic and government positions in China (Lingnan University; 1937–39), the United States (Toledo; 1940–41), Canada (Toronto; 1941–43), Burma (government anthropologist; 1946–47),[1] and finally, in the United Kingdom as lecturer in social anthropology at Cambridge University from 1947 to 1971, as a specialist in Melanesian language and culture.[2]

He was first married to Margaret Mead in 1928, with whom he undertook field studies in New Guinea from 1931 to 1933.[3] They divorced in 1936. Fortune subsequently married Eileen Pope, also a New Zealander, in 1937.[4]

Fortune provided significant insights into the consequences of matrilateral and patrilateral cross-cousin marriage in advance of work by Claude Levi-Strauss. He is also known for his contribution to mathematics with his study of Fortunate numbers in number theory.[5]

The 2014 novel Euphoria by Lily King is a fictionalized account of the relationships between Fortune, Mead and Gregory Bateson in pre-WWII New Guinea.[6]

Selected publications[edit]

  • 1927, The Mind in Sleep. Kegan Paul.
  • 1932, Sorcerers of Dobu. Routledge.
  • 1932, Omaha Secret Societies. Columbia University Press.
  • 1933, A note on some forms of kinship structure. Oceania, 4(1), 1–9.
  • 1935, Manus Religion, An ethnological study of the Manus natives of the Admiralty Islands. American Philosophical Press.
  • 1942, Arapesh. American Ethnological Society Publication 19; 237 pages.


Many of the easily accessible images of Fortune include his one-time wife Margaret Mead, who was known for her interest in photography as an ethnographic method.[7]

The National Library of New Zealand (Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa) holds a large collection of family and fieldwork photos of Reo and Eileen Fortune's lives in China, North America, and England.[8]

In 1959 and again in 1970–71, Fortune revisited Dobu, the island community he made famous in his 1932 book, The Sorcerers of Dobu.[9]


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Caroline (2009) "Rediscovering Reo: Reflections on the life and anthropological career of Reo Franklin Fortune," Pacific Studies, vol. 32, nos. 2/3; June–Sept
  2. ^ Gray, Geoffrey "Being honest to my science: Reo Fortune and JHP Murray, 1927–1930", The Australian Journal of Anthropology, vol. 10 (1), 1999, pp. 56–76
  3. ^ Adam, Kuper (1994). The Chosen Primate: Human Nature and Cultural Diversity. Harvard University Press. pp. 186–189. ISBN 978-0-674-12826-2.
  4. ^ Thomas, Caroline (2011). The Sorcerers' Apprentice: A Life of Reo Franklin Fortune, Anthropologist.
  5. ^ "Fortunate number". The Prime Glossary. Retrieved 19 April 2008.
  6. ^ Eakin, Emily (6 June 2014). "Going Native: 'Euphoria,' by Lily King". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  7. ^ Manus: Childhood Thought – Margaret Mead: Human Nature and the Power of Culture | Exhibitions – Library of Congress
  8. ^ Fortune, Reo Franklin, 1903–1979 :Pho... | Items | National Library of New Zealand
  9. ^ Object 63983 Detail | Te Reo Maori | Manuscripts & Pictorial | National Library of New Zealand

Further reading[edit]