Transplanting Pilgrimage Traditions in the Americas

Article excerpt

Transplanting a pilgrimage tradition is a precarious endeavor. In theory the possibilities are endless, but in practice many difficulties must be overcome. Notions about how the sacred shows itself are carried easily enough from one land to another, but whether one will recognize the sacred there is an entirely different matter. The myths that tie specific supernatural entities to specific places at home may not be conducive to transplantation, and the collective conscious that produces a community of potential pilgrims may be so frayed by the migration experience that its original form cannot be recovered. Moreover, the new society may be unreceptive to, or outright intolerant of, one's traditions. Under these circumstances, diasporic communities with pilgrimage traditions have had varying degrees of success in re-creating a sustained, organized, and functional pilgrim circulation system.

This article is concerned with the prevailing strategies that underlie the transplantation and reinvention of an already established and deeply embedded pilgrimage tradition by migrant communities--primarily from Catholic Europe and Hindu South Asia to the Western Hemisphere. This entails the struggle to make new sacred places. Making and remaking sacred place is essential to pilgrimage circulation systems. Three metascenarios for the potential emergence of a sacred place for transplanted peoples are presented in this essay. These scenarios and their associated strategies are not necessarily progressive or interdependent, although more than one of them may have been employed at any given site. It is also important to note that these scenarios are not based on specific ethnic, cultural, religious, political, social, or economic predispositions and operant behavioral interactions. Countless empirical studies have already focused on some combination of such factors in the character and development of specific pilgrimage sites, such that they are often presented as unique in time and space (Prorok 1986, 1997; Bhardwaj and Rao 1988; Tyrakowski 1988; Bhardwaj 1990; Jackson, Rinschede, and Knapp 1990; Rinschede 1990; Zelinsky 1990; Nolan and Nolan 1997; Stoddard 1997; Singh 1998). Earlier typologies tend to focus on the same types of surface features of sites instead of the processes that produced them (Bhardwaj and Rinschede 1988; Preston 1990; Stoddard 1997).

Here I seek to elaborate the panhuman processes that underlie, drive, and ultimately reproduce the surface features that appear as ethnic, religious, cultural, social, political, and economic in their material forms--simply because these are the means of expression that specific groups of humans at certain times and places have at their disposal. Such underlying processes are linked to the very material forms so dear to a person's or people's heart. Reconciling, yet not assimilating, the material with the spiritual, the I with the We, and the past with the present is made possible when people redeploy their sacred travails and travels in new times and places. An end result is what can be called the "collective selfhood." Transplanting pilgrimage traditions is not the only way to create collective selfhood, but it is a very successful means for doing so. Thus it remains a profoundly human endeavor that may diminish at times but never wholly disappears. Although it is impossible to capture fully the multiplicity of actions and reactions of millions of people, of varying cultural heritage, on two continents, over several centuries of migration experience, I offer my typology as an initial means for creating dialogue on this topic. (1)


In recent ruminations on traditions, or the lack thereof, V.S. Naipaul (1998, 50-51) shares with us his observation that his homeland, Trinidad, has no sacred places:

   I began to feel when I was quite young that there was an
   incompleteness, an emptiness, about the place, and that the real
   world existed somewhere else. … 


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