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Hosay Trinidad

Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Hosay Trinidad
    Book Description:

    The multivocalic rite known as Hosay in the Caribbean developed out of earlier practices originating in Iraq and Iran which diffused to Trinidad by way of South Asian indentured laborers brought to the Caribbean by the British from the mid-1800s to the early decades of the twentieth century. The rituals are important as a Shi'i religious observance, but they also are emblems of ethnic and national identity for Indo-Trinidadians. Frank Korom investigates the essential role of Hosay in the performance of multiple identities by historically and ethnographically situating the event in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Caribbean contexts. Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo-Caribbean Diaspora is the first detailed historical and ethnographic study of Islamic muharram rituals performed on the island of Trinidad. Korom's central argument is that the annual rite is a polyphonic discourse that is best understood by employing multiple levels of interpretation. On the symbolic level the observance provides esoteric meaning to a small community of Indo-Trinidadian Muslims. On another level, it is perceived to be representative of "transplanted" Indian culture as a whole. Finally, the rituals are becoming emblematic of Trinidad's polyethnic population. Addressing strategies used to resist integration and assimilation, Hosay Trinidad is engaged with theories concerning the notion of cultural creolization in the Caribbean as well as in the general study of global diasporas.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0252-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on Orthography
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    Each year during the first ten days of Muharram (al-muḥarram), the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Shi’i Muslims throughout the world join in a common observance to commemorate the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, the imām Husayn. Husayn died in the seventh century on the plains of Karbala, in what is now contemporary Iraq. The dramatic commemoration, known variously as ta’zīyeh in Iran, muḥarram in India, and Hosay in Trinidad, is the focal point in the religious life of the Shi’i mourning community. Because Imam Husayn’s suffering and death is seen as the most important tragedy in...

  6. Chapter 1 Orientations and Overview
    (pp. 16-31)

    In June 1981 a bomb exploded in a Tehran meeting room during a high-level political meeting, killing over one hundred people. Among those who died in the explosion was Ayatollah Mohammed Beheshti, the leader of the Islamic Republican party. In 1986 this tragic event was commemorated with an Iranian postage stamp that identified a total of seventy-two killed in the explosion. The tally is equal to the number of people who traditionally are believed to have died with Imam Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, “on the plain of sorrow and misfortune”¹ at Karbala in 61 A.H./680 C.E.²...

  7. Chapter 2 Muharram Rituals in Iran: Past and Present
    (pp. 32-52)

    Fernea provides a description of the events performed in honor of Husayn at his tomb in Karbala during the month of Muharram. After each “taaziya group” performed their preliminary rituals in “religious ecstasy,” the processions began. She describes them as follows: “We could hear the chant of the group next in line, echoing and re-echoing within the great courtyard around the tomb. Then the new group emerged; a green banner and a black, lit by flickering torches held high, were borne forward by the hands of very old men and boys… . Then a score of young men, bare to...

  8. Chapter 3 The Passage of Rites to South Asia
    (pp. 53-96)

    Although muḥarram is observed throughout India and other countries of the subcontinent with the great anticipation pointed out by Reza above, the manner in which the observance is performed differs from place to place. The ritual performances take on the vernacular character of the regional environment within which they are practiced by building on the concerns of local interest groups. This is the result of a number of factors. Many centuries of Hindu/Muslim interaction has led to various degrees of cultural borrowing, resulting in great regional variation. The ethnographic data suggest that some of the major reasons are Hindu/Muslim ratios,...

  9. Chapter 4 Onward to the Caribbean
    (pp. 97-127)

    From 1845 to 1917, with a short break between 1848 and 1851, East Indians were brought to the Caribbean basin as indentured laborers and carried the spirit of Muharram rituals with them. With the abolition of slavery in 1833, the British freed the African slaves on the sugarcane and other plantations of their Caribbean colonies. At that time, before the introduction of the European sugar beet on a commercial scale, sugar was still a precious commodity and its manufacture an important source of income. Much previous scholarship suggests that because the former slaves identified working on the cane plantations with...

  10. Chapter 5 Building the Tadjah, Constructing Community
    (pp. 128-194)

    V. S. Naipaul speaks to us as a liminar from the margins of the Hosay community. Being Indo-Trinidadian, he is squarely situated on the inside of the community of worshippers he witnesses, but being a nonparticipating Hindu, he is on the outside looking in. Although he lacks the necessary interpretive skills needed to comprehend the event fully from the inside perspective of a participant, he shares something with those he observes, even though he is not completely cognizant of the experiential directness at which he so acutely points. The writer’s epistemological dilemma concerning his nation’s major Islamic public performance demonstrates...

  11. Chapter 6 Conclusion: Maintenance and Transformation via Cultural Creolization
    (pp. 195-231)

    In the previous chapters, I traced the multifaceted development of muḥarram through time and across space in order to understand what the rite means today within a global context for the citizens of Trinidad. Central to this exercise has been an interest in noting cultural convergence as a creative agent of ritual change. We have seen that the process of mixing is not just limited to Trinidad, but has been occurring gradually throughout the rite’s developmental history. A note of caution is necessary here, for I do not use mixing in any pejorative sense. I am in agreement with David...

  12. Epilogue
    (pp. 232-246)

    The words of Ibrahim Ali quoted above have come back to haunt me numerous times over the years since I began my project. How well did I really understand what was going on during Hosay time? After all, I was a floater, as he called me, constantly moving from one yard to the next to get a feel for how the whole dynamic process took shape throughout St. James. Having accomplished the task of being in numerous places to gather data on the overall event over a period of several years, I now thought that I had to heed his...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 247-276)
  14. Glossary
    (pp. 277-278)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-296)
  16. Index
    (pp. 297-302)
  17. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 303-305)