BA (Ceylon), BA, PhD (London)

(Deceased), 1981-01-01

Chandra Jayawardena was the Foundation Professor of Anthropology at Macquarie. He was appointed in 1968, and sadly died as a result of an operation in 1981 at the age of only 52. He had previously taught at Sydney University, where he was an intellectual catalyst of extraordinary impact. He taught many of the current staff at Macquarie’s department. Professor Hamilton particularly remembers him for his dynamic and exciting lectures on the topic of the bureaucracy in Zazzau, a kingdom in northern Nigeria, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries – something which only the most talented of lecturers could make into a gripping topic.

A scholar of international repute, Chandra exerted a great influence on the development of anthropology in Australia. Born in Sri Lanka, he graduated from Colombo he enrolled at the London School of Economics and studied across a number of fields: cinema, law, social theory, anthropology, literature and politics. We can see in this framing of his intellectual life many of the important strands which still inform teaching and research in the anthropology department at Macquarie. His research interests included, in the 1950’s, work in the Caribbean, especially on work, solidarity, conflict and egalitarianism among Guyanese plantation workers; in the 1960’s, studies of Indian society in Fiji, especially with regard to religion and social change; and from the mid 1960’s, an investigation of politics, religion and law in Aceh, North Sumatra.

After his appointment to the Macquarie Anthropology department he gathered together a number of scholars with interests similar to his own, with a commitment to an international and cosmopolitan type of anthropology, and a deep interest in social theory. All were Australians, which was most unusual since the majority of appointments in Australian universities up to the 1970’s were from England or the United States. Chandra himself taught tirelessly and published as frequently as he could. He had just received his first ever Australian Research Grants Committee grant when he passed on. He was planning an ambitious study of the Indian diaspora, looking at plantation communities in Fiji, Natal, Mauritius, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad. His failing health in later years made work and travel more difficult, and there are many papers and drafts for publications which were never completed. His unpublished notes and papers are archived at Macquarie University library.