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Legends of People, Myths of State

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

Bruce Kapferer
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: REV - Revised, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 446
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  • Book Info
    Legends of People, Myths of State
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-517-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface to the New and Revised Edition
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Preface to the Paperback Reissue
    (pp. xiii-xxxvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xxxvii-xlii)

    I explore in this book the culture of nationalism in Australia and in Sri Lanka. The general aim is to achieve a comparative understanding of the nationalist process, the force of nationalist ideas and traditions in motivating human action—action which is often violent and intolerant—and to demonstrate the value of a cultural approach to the understanding of modern societies. The discussion of these nationalist ideologies is also intended to reveal some of the cultural assumptions that are ingrained within the interpretations which students in the humanities and social sciences, most frequently in the West, make of the action...

  6. 1 Cultures of Nationalism Political Cosmology and the Passions
    (pp. 1-26)

    Nationalism makes the political religious and places the nation above politics. The nation is created as an object of devotion and the political forces which become focused upon it are intensified in their energy and passion. The religion of nationalism, wherein the political is shrouded in the symbolism of a “higher” purpose, is vital to the momentum of nationalism. This momentum, which if anything is on the increase, has been among the most liberating, but also among the most oppressive and destructive, political energies of this century. The religious form of nationalism which is so much part of this process...

  7. Part 1 Evil and the State: Sinhalese Nationalism, Violence, and the Power of Hierarchy

    • 2 Ethnic Violence and the Force of History in Legend
      (pp. 29-48)

      In July 1983 riots against the Hindu Tamil minority in Sri Lanka erupted throughout the island. They were of a savagery unparalleled in the recent history of ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.¹ The highland tea estate areas, where Tamils descended from indentured laborers recruited during the nineteenth century are concentrated, and the capital, Colombo, were the most severely affected. Gangs of Sinhalese thugs roamed the streets with lists of Tamil houses, buildings and businesses, systematically burning them and slaughtering their inhabitants. Added to this horror was the sight of large gatherings of ordinary Sinhalese who looked on while, in some...

    • 3 Evil, Power, and the State
      (pp. 49-84)

      Interpreters of the Vijaya and Dutugemunu legends, especially those commentators concerned with demystification of them, argue correctly that they are religious statements. TheDipavamsaand theMahavamsa, the chronicles which give the principal versions of the legends I shall discuss—those most commonly referred to by scholars and ideologues alike—were written by monks in the fourth century and the late fifth century a.d., respectively (Geiger 1984).¹ Either the religious character of the texts is regarded unproblematically or, as often happens, their religious nature is taken as confirmation of their authenticity and authority. Sometimes the religious argument of the chronicles...

    • 4 Ideological Practice, Ethnic Nationalism, and the Passions
      (pp. 85-118)

      The ontology of ideology is most evident at times of crisis. The reflections of influential Sinhalese Buddhists virtually in a state of civil war repeatedly echo the logic of the myths. President Jayawardence, speaking on the new Sri Lankan constitution and its institution of an elected president, established his own continuity with the legendary Vijaya: “We have had an unbroken line of monarchs from Vijaya to Elizabeth II for over 2,500 years.¹ They were replaced by Presidents when we became a republic ... and now myself, the 306th head of state from Vijaya in unbroken line” (ColomboDaily News12...

  8. Part 2 People Against the State: Australian Nationalism and Egalitarian Individualism

    • 5 When the World Crumbles and the Heavens Fall In War, Death, and the Creation of Nation
      (pp. 121-148)

      On April 25, 1915, at 4.30 a.m., soldiers of the Australian Imperial Forces and New Zealand troops, to be known as the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the Anzacs, landed on the shores of Gallipoli in the Dardanelles.¹ Before they struck shore they began to die in numbers in their boats. Their slaughter and that of the defending Turkish forces continued through the ensuing eight months as the Anzacs grimly held on to the tiny piece of Turkish territory. The battle was probably lost before it began. The main body of Anzacs were withdrawn during two nights in mid...

    • 6 But the Band Played “Waltzing Matilda” National Ceremonial and the Anatomy of Egalitarianism
      (pp. 149-182)

      The following analysis is built around the rites of Anzac Day, held every year on April 25. The rite has received much descriptive attention in scholarly literature and is widely covered in the newspapers and the press. The day is celebrated in much the same fashion throughout Australia. The rite begins with the Dawn Service, usually at 6:00 a.m. but in some places much earlier, to fit with the precise moment of the Gallipoli landings. This is conventionally held before the central memorial or cenotaph. The brief service is organzied around the Christian themes of death, sacrifice, and rebirth. The...

    • 7 Ethnicity and Intolerance Egalitarian Nationalism and Its Political Practice
      (pp. 183-208)

      Egalitarian individualism is most apparent in issues that concern race and ethnicity. It is ingrained in the heat of argument and other action—in the establishment of national and party political policy and in the patterning of everyday personal ethnic or racial antagonisms and prejudices—and it can be seen as a motivating force in interethnic violence, which is becoming increasingly evident among various ethnic fractions of Australian society.

      Recently, an outstanding Australian historian, Geoffrey Blainey, well known for a succession of influential and popular works in which he describes the growth of modern Australia, has achieved prominence for his...

    • 8 Nationalism, Tradition, and Political Culture
      (pp. 209-218)

      Nationalism makes culture into an object and a thing of worship. Culture is made the servant of power. Students of nationalism have often commented that the character of nationalism is religious and that the political is made religious in its process. This is effected through the sacralization of the culture of the nation, the two being inseparable in modern nationalism. The culture that is sacralized is highly distilled, spiritualized, and as the essence of the nation defines the conditions of its unity.

      The culture of nationalism is a quite specific thing, highly constructed, often carefully planned and worked out (Hobsbawm...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 219-244)
  10. References
    (pp. 245-258)
  11. Appendices

    • Legends of People, Myths of State and the Current Context: By Way of Introduction
      (pp. 259-262)
      Bruce Kapferer
    • Appendix 1. In the Wake of ‘Legends’: The Need for an Ontological Understanding of Nationalism and Power
      (pp. 263-290)
      David Rampton
    • Appendix 2. Violence, Evil, and the State in Sri Lanka: Revisiting an Ontological Approach to Sinhalese Nationalism
      (pp. 291-318)
      Roshan de Silva Wijeyeratne
    • Appendix 3. Empty Spaces and the Multiple Modernities of Nationalism
      (pp. 319-338)
      Rohan Bastin
    • Appendix 4. The Social Genesis of Anzac Nationalism
      (pp. 339-362)
      Barry Morris
    • Appendix 5. The Australian Society of the State: Egalitarian Ideologies and New Directions in Exclusionary Practice
      (pp. 363-394)
      Bruce Kapferer and Barry Morris
  12. Index
    (pp. 395-402)