The power of culture
focus on migration
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----Migrantsoul

Oldham in the UK has been the site of race riots in the past and has a large migrant community. Brought over during the early 1950s to
provide cheap labour for the Lancashire cotton mills, the early migrants barely spoke English, and worked very long hours for little pay and were ghettoised. The younger generations, however, play a more active role in Oldham. These children in Belmont Street are British, and seem comfortable with their dual identities.

Photo from Migrantsoul, Shahidul Alam / Drik

Awaiting the New Saviour

Migration played a central part in all the great religions. Mohammad's journey to Yathrib (now Medina) had a significance beyond the 250 kilometre journey. The tribes of the city broke out of the confines of family and tribal kinship and entrusted the migrant Mohammad with the job of keeping the peace. Only he could be trusted to be impartial. Mohammad, persecuted by his own tribe, took on this city as his own, only to return to Mecca years later to rescue his former home from decadence. Belal, the Abyssinian slave who was freed by Mohammad, had a beautiful voice and was the Muezzin who called the people of Mecca to prayers and summoned everyone from the surrounding hills.

After the drying up of the Saraswati river, the Hindus of ancient India relocated to the Ganga. Siddhartha left the wealth of his palace searching for the meaning of life. In Exodus, God told Abraham to wander through the deserts. Joseph, Maria and newborn baby Jesus migrated from Bethlehem to Egypt after Joseph had a dream. King Herod planned to have all newborn children killed, as he feared loosing his throne to the "King of the Jews". The life of Jesus involved constant movement.

The doctrines of rebirth and transmigration take us to other strata. But even on an earthly level, there are interesting facts linked to those early migrations that are left out by the new storytellers, like the Romans being an occupation force in Palestine and Herod being their puppet king. And like Jesus being a political refugee born into a nation oppressed by a hated military occupation.

Those celebrating the Yuletide festival of consumption could reflect on the fact that the Roman desire for world dominance is being replicated by new imperialist powers. We await a new migrant.

Shahidul Alam
Colombo 30th December 2004

 

 

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