In Memoriam: Miloslav Stingl – Czech traveller, ethnographer and chief of Indian tribe

Miloslav Stingl, photo: Jana Myslivečková, ČRo

The legendary Czech traveller, ethnographer and writer Miloslav Stingl has died at the age of 89. During his lifetime, Mr Stingl visited 151 countries, recording his experiences in more than 40 books, which influenced generations of readers. His main focus of interest was the life and rituals of indigenous peoples, such as the Mayas, Polynesians and Inuits.

Miloslav Stingl, photo: Jana Myslivečková, Czech Radio

Miloslav Stingl in New Zealand, photo: Archive of Miloslav Stingl
Miloslav Stingl, born in 1930 in the north Bohemian town of Bílina, was the son of a mining engineer. Due to his father’s work the family was often on the move to wherever his father got a job, which may have triggered Stingl’s early interest in geography, history and the study of languages.

He studied international law and ethnography and in 1962, he started working at the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, focusing on research of the culture and art of non-European nations.

His greatest discovery was made in 1965 in Cuba. His research expedition managed to trace and describe in detail the Yateras Indians, an original tribe that most experts did not believe existed.

In the late 1960s he undertook an extensive journey around the world, during which he visited native Inuits in the Canadian Arctic and North American Indian tribes in the U.S.

He also travelled across dozens of islands in Oceania, stayed with the Maoris in New Zealand,visited the descendants of cannibals in New Guinea and native Aborigines in Australia. In 1971, he was appointed honourable chief of the North American tribe of Kickapoo Indians, receiving the name Okima, which means He Who Leads.

Photo: Archive of Miloslav Stingl
This is how he described the moment in an interview for Czech Radio:

“I have received many awards during my lifetime, but being appointed chief of an Indian tribe is the most precious one, because it came from the depth of their hearts. And what can be better proof of friendship than being appointed chief of an Indian tribe living on the other side of the planet.”

Thanks to his family background, Miloslav Stingl was allowed to travel even at the height of the Cold War when borders were closed. His trips were used by the Communist regime as an opportunity for self-promotion.

However, Stingl has always managed to maintain political independence and never joined the Communist Party. He also never considered emigrating. In one of his latest interviews for Czech Radio, he was asked about what he learned during his travels:

Photo: Czech Radio - Radio Prague International
“I didn’t travel to see mountains or rivers. I wanted to meet people. And I learned one thing during my travels: people around the world are good, no matter whether they are white or black, Catholic, Jewish or Muslim.

“I spent quite a lot of time in Hawaii and the Hawaiian aborigines have a motto that I really like: Humanity is above all nations. This is something I heartily agree with.”

Mr Stingl continued to travel extensively until his eighties. In recent years he stayed in the Czech Republic, giving public lectures and readings from his popular science books.