Accepted Paper:

The emigrated saint: ritual practices of reciprocity among Sicilian migrants in Germany  


Emanuel Valentin (Free University of Bozen-Bolzano)

Paper short abstract:

The example of ritualised reciprocity among Sicilian migrants in Germany shows how belonging is embodied through (ephemeral) ritual objects charged with notions of local identity and how these practices bear the potential of serving as cultural reserve for the dispersed community.

Paper long abstract:

I conducted fieldwork among Sicilian migrants living in and around an industrial city in southwest Germany. These migrants came as "guest workers" in the 1950s, stemming originally all from Mirabella Imbaccari, an "agrotown" located in the eastern part of Sicily. In my research I focussed on a Mirabellesian saint cult, the festival of St Joseph, which was revitalised in Germany when entire families had joined their emigrated men in the 1970s. On the day of the saint big banquets are erected inside the intimate, private space of single family households as "ex voto". The banquets are covered - next to more durable objects (like saint statues and images) - with many ephemeral objects representing elements of a particular local identity, i.e. local Sicilian dishes along with bread statues, which are imported from Sicily or are reproduced especially for that occasion by the migrated women in Germany and which are regarded as typically Mirabellesian. On the day of the saint friends and relatives (also coming from the distant Sicily for that occasion) visit the banquets, experiencing a momentary reunification of the dispersed migrant's community. The ritual reaches its peak when all the dishes on the banquets are offered to "poor" people representing the "Holy Family". The example shows in the context of ritualised reciprocity how belonging is embodied through ritual objects (not only of ephemeral nature) regarded as emblems of a local identity.

Panel W103
Belonging embodied, reciprocity materialised: migrants' transnational practices