Transnational Migration, Diaspora and Religion: Inscribing Identity through the Sacred (the Filipino Diaspora in New Zealand and Singapore)
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
The thesis is an anthropological exploration of the role of religion in Filipino transnational migration and diaspora. The thesis takes the interpretive approach, drawing from a variety of disciplines such as religious studies, sociology, and geography to frame a holistic view of religion as a “lived” experience that connects religious dispositions, symbols and ritual performance to the diaspora’s place-making and home-making. It weaves together anthropology’s conceptual strands of space, place, symbols and ritual to present a view of Filipino migrant sociality and personhood not as constituted by disparate fragmented experiences but as as a tapestry of woven symbols and meanings that shape their diasporic life, even as they themselves continuously shape their own experiences. The thesis’ ethnography is based on participant observation among Filipino migrants between 2007 and 2010 in New Zealand and Singapore. It focuses on the celebration of the Santacruzan and Santo Niño-Sinulog fiesta in New Zealand and Simbang Gabi novena masses in Singapore to examine how Filipino cultural forms of expression connect and mix with notions of homeland, family, home, sacred domain and identity as these have been adapted, recreated, and spatially inscribed in their transnational journeys. 6 The ethnography examines the interplay and connection between Filipino folk religiosity, family and social networks. It looks at how the deeply held folk Christian notions of kapalaran (destiny), swerte (luck), bahala na (whatever God allows will happen /come what may God will take care) and imagery of may awa ang Diyos (a compassionate God) are enmeshed in the migrant exercise of agency, reflexive discourse, risk-taking, resilience and meaningmaking in the diaspora. It demonstrates that among Filipino migrants, material and communication flows are manifestations of religious dispositions that support enduring family commitment and reciprocity. It shows that financial and social capital provided by families and social networks for migrants are supported by prayers for sacred assistance and blessings, indicating that the Filipino migrants’ exercise of agency is familial and sacral rather than individual and secular. As a dominant Philippine lowland tradition, the fiesta is the locus of sacralmaterial linkages constituted by Filipino home symbols, such as sacred icons, costumes, cultural performance, semantic expressions, and food. By examining the fiesta, its organisation and structure of power relations, the thesis explores the metaphoric parallels and symbolic articulations between two homes in migrants’ diasporic consciousness, and the significant role of sacred symbols in aiding and facilitating the maintenance and inscription of
‘Filipino’ identity in a foreign land. Diaspora identity is a socially and spatially inscribed identity. For Filipinos, it is inscribed through sacred icons and fiesta celebrations in sacred sites.