May Ebihara

Portrait of May   Ebihara

May Mayko Ebihara (12 May 1934, Portland OR. - 23 Apr 2005) was an eminent anthropologist with a passion for Cambodia.

During World War II, she and her family were sent with other Japanese Americans to an internment camp in Idaho. She received her bachelor’s degree from Reed College in 1955 and a PhD in 1968 from Columbia University, where she studied with Conrad Arensberg, Margaret Mead, and Morton Fried. She taught at Bard College from 1961 to 1964, briefly at Mt. Holyoke, and thereafter at Lehman College.

In 1959–60, May was the first American anthropologist to conduct ethnographic research in Cambodia—and she would be the last to do so for nearly three decades. Her two-volume dissertation, “Svay, a Khmer Village in Cambodia,” provided a remarkably detailed picture of village life, with analysis of social structure and kinship, agriculture, religion, and political organization.

After the civil war, May Ebihara pursued her field study of the Svay village, in Kandal Province. She also contributed to the reemergence of Cambodian studies through her service on the Social Science Research Council’s Indochina Studies Committee. She was an active member of the Thailand/Laos/Cambodia Committee of the Association for Asian Studies.

Read more about May Ebihara and the Svay villagers (in English and Khmer)

(Photo: Phnom Penh Post)

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