‘Big Brother Xanana’: The Cult of Personality and the Creation of a Contemporary National Hero

  • Catherine E. ArthurEmail author
Part of the Rethinking Peace and Conflict Studies book series (RCS)


This chapter expands upon the study of the symbolic functions of national heroes to consider the role of contemporary public figures and popular leaders in imaginings of nationhood and identity. It incorporates theories of charismatic leadership to analyse how popular leaders can become hero-figures by adapting their visual and discursive self-presentation to nationalist narratives, in order to be incorporated into popular imaginings as the personification of the national character. The chapter analyses the ways in which Xanana Gusmão, former Commander in Chief of the resistance movement and one of the most popular public figures in Timor-Leste, presents himself to the national community. By analysing the ways in which he is symbolically represented, it is possible to see how the symbolic capital he acquired from his role in the liberation struggle is drawn upon to legitimise his current position in national politics. Further, the case study of Xanana Gusmão affords insight into how a social hierarchy has been established in post-independence Timor-Leste, based on contributions to the liberation struggle, and how symbolic capital has remained in the hands of a select few resistance-era leaders since the return to independence.


National heroes Charismatic leadership Personality politics Xanana Gusmão Resistance 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Queen’s University BelfastBelfastUK

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