Levi-Strauss (Left), Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (Center), Wilbert (Right)

Remembering Emeritus Professor Johannes Wilbert (1927-2022)

Dear friends and colleagues,

It is with a heavy heart that I inform you of the passing of Emeritus Professor Johannes Wilbert on February 15th, 2022. Born in Cologne Germany on June 23rd, 1927, Professor Wilbert received a degree in Philosophy and Pedagogy in 1951 followed by a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Sociology in 1956 from Cologne University. His graduate training included a year of post-graduate study at Yale that was supported by a Fulbright Scholarship in 1953. Prior to being hired at UCLA, Professor Wilbert was employed as a lecturer at the University of Birmingham (1951-52), a Visiting Professor at the University of Vienna (1956), and served as Director of the Instituto Caribe de Anthropologia y Sociologia in Caracas Venezuela (1956-1962). Professor Wilbert first joined our department as a Visiting Associate Professor in 1961 before being hired as an Associate Professor of Anthropology in 1963. He was promoted to Full Professor in 1964 and remained in our department until his retirement in 1991.

During his time at UCLA, Professor Wilbert served as the Director of UCLA’s Latin American Center from 1964-1979 and again from 1984-1989. Recipient of the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award in 1978, he mentored and inspired many generations of UCLA anthropology students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. The holder of an Honorary Professorship from the Sociedade Brasilera de Instruyiio, Rio de Janeiro (1969), he was also elected a fellow of the Linnean Society of London in 1977 and the Academy of Sciences for the Developing World in 1990.  Among his many other affiliations and honors, he was also a Research Fellow in Amerindian Ethnomedicine of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University for 25 years (1973-1989).

Professor Wilbert was recognized as one of the most influential anthropologists of his generation working with indigenous communities in South America (most notably communities in the Orinoco Delta). A multilingual polymath, his research included work on kinship, ethnobotany, ethnopharmacology, folklore, language, demography, mythology, and the study of shamanism and other religious practices.  He was an author of over 10 books, including Survivors of Eldorado (1972, Praeger) and Tobacco and Shamanism in South America (1988, Yale University Press), as well as an editor of numerous edited volumes and collections. At the time of his retirement from UCLA, he had well over 120 publications. He continued his research, publishing, and graduate advising for decades after his retirement, and was called back on numerous occasions over the years to teach undergraduate courses for our department as well.

Please join me in sending our condolences to his widow Elisabeth Wilbert, his daughter Ursula Wilbert, and his son Dr. Werner Wilbert who is also a UCLA Anthropology Ph.D. Grad (1987).


Jason Throop

Professor & Chair, Department of Anthropology

Pictured in the photo above are Claude Levi-Strauss (Left), Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff (Center), and Johannes Wilbert (Right)