Nigel Barley (anthropologist)

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Nigel Barley (born 1947 in Kingston upon Thames, England) is an anthropologist famous for the books he has written on his experiences. His reputation was established with his first book, The Innocent Anthropologist (1983), a witty account of anthropological field work in Cameroon. After working in Africa and writing more books about his time there, he moved to Indonesia, where he wrote in a variety of genres: travel, art, historical biography, and fiction, his first book there, the humorous Not a Hazardous Sport (1989), described his anthropological experiences in Tana Toraja.


Barley spent some years living in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi and studying the local customs.

Barley studied modern languages at Cambridge University and completed a doctorate in social anthropology at Oxford University, he held a number of academic positions before joining the British Museum as an assistant keeper in the Department of Ethnography, where he remained until 2003.

Barley's first book, The Innocent Anthropologist (1983), was a witty and informative account of anthropological field work among the Dowayo people of Cameroon; the anthropologist Tony Waters calls it a memorably written story, and writes that it is the book he gets students to read for an understanding of "field work, ethnography, and cultural anthropology."[1] Waters says he truly admires the book as it gives a realistic idea of field experience, but "Oddly, I find few anthropologists who have read it, much less heard of it."[1]

This was followed by other books about Africa including A Plague of Caterpillars (1986) and Ceremony (1987).

Barley then spent some years in Indonesia, branching out into other genres: travel, art, historical biography, and fiction, his first book based on his time there was the humorous Not a Hazardous Sport (1989) describing his experiences in Tana Toraja in the mountains of Sulawesi, the non-sport in question again being anthropology.

Barley has been twice nominated for the Travelex Writer of the Year Award. In 2002, he won the Foreign Press Association prize for travel writing.



  • Symbolic structures. An exploration of the culture of the Dowayos, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983 ISBN 0-521-24745-4
  • The Innocent Anthropologist: Notes From a Mud Hut, 1983. (Reissued Long Grove, IL, USA: Waveland Press, 2000;[2] Reissued London, United Kingdom: Eland, 2011[3])
  • Adventures in a Mud Hut: An Innocent Anthropologist Abroad, Vanguard Press, 1984. (ISBN 0-8149-0880-2)
  • A Plague of Caterpillars: A Return to the African Bush, Viking Press, 1986. (ISBN 0-670-80704-4)
  • Ceremony: An Anthropologist's Misadventures in the African Bush, Henry Holt, 1987. (ISBN 0-8050-0142-5)
  • A Plague of Caterpillars. Viking, 1986.
  • The Coast, 1991 (comic novel). (ISBN 0-14-012213-3)
  • Smashing Pots. 1994.
  • Arts du Nigeria- Revisites, Musee Barbier-Mueller, Geneva 2015.

Indonesia and Singapore[edit]

--- reprinted in USA as Toraja: Misadventures of a Social Anthropologist in Sulawesi, Indonesia
  • The Duke of Puddle Dock: Travels in the Footsteps of Stamford Raffles, Henry Holt, 1992. (ISBN 0-8050-1968-5)
  • Grave Matters: A Lively History of Death around the World, Henry Holt, 1997. (ISBN 0-8050-4824-3)
  • White Rajah: A Biography of Sir James Brooke, Little, Brown, 2003. (ISBN 0-3168-5920-6)
  • Rogue Raider: The tale of Captain Lauterbach and the Singapore Mutiny, Monsoon Books, 2006. (ISBN 981-05-5949-6)
  • Island of Demons: A novelistic treatment of the life of the painter Walter Spies in Bali, Monsoon Books, 2009. (ISBN 978-981-08-2381-8)
  • The Devil's Garden: Love and War in Singapore under the Japanese Flag, Monsoon Books, 2011. (ISBN 978-981-4358-42-2)
  • Snow Over Surabaya, Monsoon Books, 2017. (ISBN 978-1912049004)



  1. ^ a b Waters, Tony (25 January 2013). "Why Does Anthropology Worry about Jared Diamond when they have Nigel Barley?". Retrieved 22 December 2014.
  2. ^ "The Innocent Anthropologist". Waveland Press. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  3. ^ "The Innocent Anthropologist". Eland Books. Retrieved 12 September 2016.

External links[edit]