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René Ribeiro

Date Born.:

Teacher, Doctor, Anthropologist


René Ribeiro

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Last update: 26/01/2018

By: Virginia Barbosa - Librarian of the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco

René Ribeiro was born on 3 January 1914, in the city of Recife, to Jefferson Firmino Ribeiro and Celina Osias Ribeiro.

He graduated in Medicine from the Recife Faculty of Medicine in 1936. In 1947, he received his Masters in Anthropology from Northwestern University, USA, with the thesis: The Afrobrazilian cult-groups of Recife, a study in social adjustment.

While still a second-year student of Medicine, he received and invitation from Prof. Ulysses Pernambucano, a professor at the Faculty, to visit the library of the Pernambuco Assistance to Psychopaths. Orientated by the illustrious professor, he deepened the study of scientific method, producing and publishing articles.

In 1935, a year before graduation, he published an Inquiry article with José Lucena on the facilities and educative methods in Recife’s orphanages and, with social assistant Eulina Lins, an Inquiry on the situation of outpatients at the Hospital de Alienados psychiatric hospital, both in the periodical Arquivo de Assistência a Psicopatas. The latter showed his vocation as a social researcher to approaching psychiatric problems. Another article that set him apart as a social researcher was Grupos étnicos, áreas naturais e mobilidade das populações de Pernambuco (Ethnic Groups, Natural Areas and Population Mobility in Pernambuco). He also showed his vocation in the field of anthropological research with the work On the Amasiado Relationship and Other Aspects of the Family in Recife (Brazil).

Still in the 1930s, he had his first contact with studies on black cultures of the New World through the publications Casa-grande & senzala (The Masters and the Slaves) by Gilberto Freyre, The Mind of Primitive Man by Frans Boas and O negro brasileiro (The Black Brazilian) by Arthur Ramos, and also participating in the First Afro-Brazilian Conference in Recife. This contact also paved way for the study Alguns resultados do estudo de 100 médiuns (Some Results from a Study of 100 Mediums) (1937), where he tried to “clarify, through psychological tests, the dissociative phenomena of possession” (RIBEIRO, 1983/1984, p. 86).

In 1937, he passed a public exam to be a free-teacher in Psychiatry at the Recife Faculty of Medicine, with the work As esquizofrenias: estudo estatístico e sua aplicação à higiene mental (Schizophrenia: Statistical Study and its Application to Mental Hygiene). Also in this year, René Ribeiro’s clinical activities further extended to the Sanatório do Recife, a private psychiatric hospital created by Ulysses Pernambucano, where he acted as a doctor’s assistant. René and Ulysses inaugurated and headed the first hospital unite for biological treatment and shock therapy for neuropsychiatric patients.

As a result of his anthropological education at Northwestern University, the number of articles and prominent publications in field research grew (a tradition begun by Franz Boas), almost always aligned with his interest in the psychiatric area, as is the case with his article O teste de Rorschach no estudo da aculturação e da possessão fetichista dos negros do Brasil (The Rorschach Test in the study of Acculturation and of Fetishist Possession of Black People from Brazil). He also developed activities in the Anthropology of Religion field, mainly with respect to Afro-Brazilian cults.

In the 1940s, together with Recife Minor Court Judge Rodolfo Aureliano and some university professors, he founded the School of Social Service (Escola de Serviço Social), linked to the Social Institute in Rio de Janeiro, and later incorporated into the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE).

In the 1950s, returning to Brazil after his Masters in Anthropology in the United States, René Ribeiro returned to practicing medicine and worked with Gilberto Freyre in the implantation of the Joaquim Nabuco Institute, today the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, where he was the first director of the Department of Anthropology.

He occupied the position of titular professor of Ethnography in Brazil and of Anthropology in 1957 at the Faculty of Philosophy at UFPE and participated in the organisation of the Masters in Anthropology.

A member of various national and international associations in the areas of Psychiatry and Anthropology, he was the author of countless works, among them the following stand out: O problema da habitação do operariado urbano no Recife (The Problem of Urban Worker Housing in Recife); Investigação sobre o nível intelectual de menores delinquentes e abandonados (Investigation on the Intellectual Level of Delinquent and Abandoned Minors); Problemas de assistência a menores: emprego e colocação familiar (Problems in the Assistance to Minors: Employment and Family Placement); Colocação familiar inadequada (Inadequate Family Placement); Tentativa de suicídio de menor (Suicide Attempts of Minors); Grupos étnicos, áreas naturais e mobilidade das populações de Pernambuco (Ethnic Groups, Natural Areas and Population Mobility in Pernambuco); Shangô: dança dramática afro-brasileira (Shangô: Dramatic Afro-Brazilian Dance); O indivíduo e os cultos afro-brasileiros do Recife (1 e 2) (The Individual and Afro-Brazilian Cults of Recife, 1 and 2); Vitalino: um ceramista popular do Nordeste (Vitalino: A Popular Ceramist of the Northeast); Pentecostalismo no Brasil (Pentecostalism in Brazil); Cultos afro-brasileiros do Recife: um estudo de ajustamento social, (Afro-Brazilian Cults of Recife: A Social Adjustment Study); Antropologia da religião (Anthropology of Religion) and other studies.

René Ribeiro passed away in Recife on 25 December 1990, the victim of a car accident, in the company of his wife Beatriz Cavalcanti Ribeiro.

Recife, 29 September 2010.
Translated by Peter Leamy, March 2011.

sources consulted

RENÉ Ribeiro: professor emérito. Recife: Fundaj, Ed. Massangana, 1990.

RIBEIRO, René. Tempo de experiência. Revista de Ciências Sociais, Fortaleza, v. 14/15, n. 1/2, p. 83-100, 1983/1984.

SOUTO MAIOR, Heraldo. René Ribeiro (1914-1990). Ciência & Trópico, Recife, v. 19, n. 1, p. 147-155, jan./jun. 1991.

VILA NOVA, Sebastião. René Ribeiro: sua produção intelectual. Ciência & Trópico, Recife, v. 24, n. 2, p. 459-475, jul./dez. 1996.

how to quote this text

Source: BARBOSA, Virgínia. René Ribeiro. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foudation, Recife. Available at: <>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.