Legends of People, Myths of State

  Bruce Kapferer’s 1988 book has appeared with contributions by Rohan Bastin, Barry Morris, David Rampton and Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne

BERGHAHN, 446 pages, 18 illus., bibliog., index ….. ISBN  978-0-85745-436-2 $34.95/£24.00 Pb Published (December 2011) ………eISBN 978-0-85745-517-8 eBook

Legends of People, Myths of State: Violence, Intolerance, and Political Culture in Sri Lanka and Australia


Preface to the New and Revised Edition
Preface to the Paperback Reissue


Chapter 1. Cultures of Nationalism: Political Cosmology and the Passions

Part I: Evil and the State: Sinhalese Naitonalism, Violence, and the Power of Hierarchy

Chapter 2. Ethnic Violence and the Force of History in Legend
Chapter 3. Evil, Power, and the State
Chapter 4. Ideological Practice, Ethnic Nationalism, and the Passions

Part II: People Against the State: Australian Nationalism and Egalitarian Individualism

Chapter 5. When the World Crumbles and the Heavens Fall In: War, Death, and the Creation of Nation
Chapter 6. But the Band Played “Waltzing Maltilda”: National Ceremonial and the Anatomy of Egalitarianism
Chapter 7. Ethnicity and Intolerance: Egalitarian Nationalism and Its Political Practice
Chapter 8. Nationalism, Tradition, and Political Culture



“…this brilliant book [draws] contrasts worthy of heavy thought and heavier debate.”  ·  American Anthropologist

This edition of the book adds insightful new essays by other scholars of nationalism, which cogently situate the legacy of the work… All of the appended essays update and fortify this original text, which is worth revisiting.  ·  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“This provocative study of the political culture of nationalism in Sri Lanka and Australia … is one of the few genuinely comparative studies in anthropology [and] in taking up such an important question as nationalism it reminds us that truly relevant anthropology questions deep-seated cultural beliefs, including our own.”  ·  Oceania

“This is a book about equality and inequality, about the symbols and the ideologies of nation and state, and about violence committed in the name of religions of peace, Buddhism and Hinduism. Kapferer illuminates the modern world—and its horrors.”  ·  Peter Worsley, author of The Third World

“By examining the ‘logic of ontology’ manifest in sorcery rites and in ethnic violence, Kapferer gives the book a dual character: it is at once a study of myth, evil, violence and an exercise in the comparative anthropology of nationalism. It is a provocatively ambitious work…”  ·  Times Literary Supplement

“The problems addressed in this book are those of modern nationalism, a political development of European origin that now has a worldwide effect…Kapferer’s writing is fluid and powerful…[His work] is an excellent example of what comparative anthropology can be.”  ·  Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford


The civil war in Sri Lanka and the part that nationalism seemed to play in it inspired the writing of this book some twenty-three years ago. The argument was developed through a comparative analysis of nationalism in Sri Lanka with the author’s native Australia. At the time this constituted an innovative approach to comparison in anthropology, as well as to nationalism and its possibilities. It was not based on differences but on the way in which perspectives from within the two nationalisms, when seen side-by-side, could present an understanding of their implication in producing the violence of war, racism, and social exclusion. The book has lost none of its importance and urgency as proven by the chapters in the Appendix, written by top scholars working in Sri Lanka and in Australia. These contributions bring together new material and critically explore the book’s themes and their continued relevance to the various trajectories in nationalist processes since the first publication of the book.

Bruce Kapferer is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Bergen. He has held academic positions in Zambia, Manchester, Adelaide, London, and Queensland and carried out extensive fieldwork in Zambia, Sri Lanka, India, Australia, and South Africa.



Filed under accountability, Australian culture, authoritarian regimes, British imperialism, Buddhism, economic processes, historical interpretation, Indian traditions, life stories, modernity & modernization, nationalism, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, sri lankan society, the imaginary and the real, trauma, world events & processes, zealotry

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