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Hidden Hands and Divided LandscapesA Penal History of Singapore's Plural Society$
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Anoma Pieris

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780824832216

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824832216.001.0001

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The Battle for the City

The Battle for the City

(p.156) Chapter 6 The Battle for the City
Hidden Hands and Divided Landscapes

Anoma Pieris

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter traces the urban imagination of immigrant communities through an analysis of urban riots related to Muharram, the Muslim–Indian festival appropriated by both convicts and immigrant settlers that became their common meeting point. The festival, which included Indian, Chinese, and Malay participants, was inaccessible to Europeans and took on an identity of its own in the Straits Settlements, based on associations with place. More importantly, it was combined with the Boria, a form of Muslim–Indian folk drama, which was used to construct both cultural and territorial identities, often quite violently. Far from being a utopian site of an alternative morality, the festival was the site of intense competition between migrant groups, who marginalized the Straits government through their activities. The motive behind the Muharram festival was to disrupt colonial urban space, one of the few arenas available for common cultural negotiations, and to challenge its spatial determinants.

Keywords:   immigrant communities, urban riots, Muharram, Straits Settlements, Muslim–Indian festival, Boria, folk drama, migrant groups

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