Eritrean Asylum Seekers’ Lament Ceremonies in Israel as Contested Sites of Identity Formation

In: African Diaspora
Galia Sabar Tel Aviv University, Israel

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Adam Rotbard Tel Aviv University, Israel

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Based on extensive qualitative research, this paper focuses on lament ceremonies Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel performed in public parks in 2008–2014. Specifically, we expose social and political structures of this diaspora, including mechanisms of survival in a context of harsh living conditions, a fragile legal status and a hostile environment. Following Werbner’s analysis of diasporas as chaordic entities, having no single representation and fostering multiple identities, we show how chaordicness underlies this diaspora’s ability to survive and thrive in Israel, and to embrace the unique Eritrean trans-local nationalism. We highlight how these public religious rituals were transformed into contested sites of identity formation following Israeli struggles against them. Finally, we shed light on the role that such ceremonies play in shaping transnational identities, as well as how disenfranchised communities of asylum seekers aim for visibility and recognition in the public sphere.

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