Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo--Caribbean Diaspora

Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo--Caribbean Diaspora

Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo--Caribbean Diaspora

Hosay Trinidad: Muharram Performances in an Indo--Caribbean Diaspora


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.


On another occasion I invited one of my informants to witness the develop
ment of photographic plates,… and he saw in the process … the actual em
bodiment of ripples into images, and regarded this as a demonstration of the
truth of his clan

Gregory Bateson, Naven

Diaspora consciousness is entirely a product of cultures and histories in colli
sion and dialogue

James Clifford, Diasporas


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 history, the annual reactualization of the event is the central Shi‘i ritual observance of the year. Muḥarram is a metahistorical phenomenon because the observance related to it makes possible individual identification with, and direct experience of, Imam Husayn’s vicarious suffering. During the observance, subjective apprehension is not spatially and temporally bound, for the historical battle that occurred in 61 A.H./ 680 C.E. is made present through the pious actions of Shi‘i Muslims the world over.

The temporal and spatial transcendence of the tragedy fit in well with the anthropological notions of liminality as developed by Arnold van Gennep and elaborated by Victor Turner. They place the passion of . . .

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