The object that I chose to be analysed in relation to its connection to a diasporic community is the Japanese Samurai sword. This is an object that truly embodies Japanese cultural identity, and has been displayed in living rooms throughout the world. The Japanese sword (also known as the Katana) has traditionally been characterized as being made of steel, single bladed, curved, and tempered (Yumoto, 1958). Traditionally, the process of making the swords has taken numerous steps, beginning with the swordsmith performing an act of purification by pouring cold water over his body; after this is completed a prayer was made prior to the actually forging of the sword. The process in itself begins when “several pieces of iron are heated, stretched, and folded lengthwise. This heating and folding lengthwise is repeated many times. When the metal is malleable, it is pounded and beat upon until it is sufficiently tempered. The pieces of metal are gradually fashioned into a blade, but not until the entire process has been repeated from six to fifteen time. The smith quite often will put the steel through this cycle as many as thirty times” (Yumoto, 1958). This style of blade and its methods of production can be traced back to 900 A.D., but at that particular time the Japanese sword was strictly used for military purposes, therefore it wasn’t a commodity that could be exchanged for a monetary value. To be exact Japanese swordmaking “reached its zenith during the latter half” (Yumoto, 1958) of the Heian Period which lasted from 794 to 1191 A.D. Swordmaking became an art form that was passed on through tradition and different schools of smiths were formed in five different provinces, producing approximately 80% of all swords made during this period (Yumoto, 1958).
Schamberger’s article entitled Living in a material world: object biography and transnational lives illustrates the way in which objects have been used to connect the migrant experience to Australia’s cultural heritage. In many ways, the Australian Journey’s Gallery makes an effort to incorporate the possessions of migrants as a way to include these stories into the Australian cultural identity. These objects have the capacity to elicit memories and emotions that tie directly to a person’s country of origin, as is shown in Mrs Kinne’s object biography on her Latvian national dress. Schamberger uses object biographies to demonstrate the interconnected relationship between the story teller and the object. Mrs Kinne’s national dress is particularly interesting because it functioned as a political tool in protest against Australia’s recognition of Latvia into the Soviet Union (Schamberger, 287). The dress in this case was particularly important in asserting a sense of national sovereignty, and thus rejecting the Soviet invasion. In this sense, I would agree with the author’s assertion that objects exert agency in ways that are interconnected to someone’s personal experience.
The second article by Zeynep Turan entitled Material Objects as Facilitating Environments” the Palestinian Diaspora, takes a closer look at how objects contribute to a personal sense of identity, especially in victim diasporas. Interviews were conducted and a snowball technique was used to gather participants. The author specifically targeted members of the Palestinian diaspora who “possessed objects that tied him or her to the family history and the experience of dislocation” (Turan, 47). Therefore, it is important to recognize that Turan’s illustration of the Palestinian diaspora is a depiction of one segment of this diaspora. With this said, Turan makes a lot of valid points with regard to the use of objects in the construction of diasporic identity. This fact can be particularly evident in communities that are considered to be stateless, and therefore the objects become national symbols to each individual, similar to that of Mrs. Kinne’s national dress. Turan makes a poignant statement when he mentions that Hiam’s “collective identity as Palestinian is manifested through a collection of objects” and that this represented more importantly a “material confirmation of the existence of Palestinians people.” (Turan, 44). In this regard, Turan is essentially proposing that objects are the agents of identity and it is through these cultural objects that we can self identify as being part of a particular diaspora.
The articles by both Schamberger and Turan speak to the ways in which objects have the ability to elicit an emotional response or trigger a memory that directly ties into nostalgic feelings of an imagined homeland. It’s not some much that the objects define who we are, but that we define the objects meaning in relation to our own identity, and it is from here that the object takes on greater meaning ; and so something as meaningless as a dress to the general public, takes on great significance to those in the know. Turan speaks of a collective identity that is derived from these objects, therefore my first question would then be; can someone’s personal experience with an object elicit the same response from the community it is linked to? Secondly, can the transnational experience truly be object-centred, or does someone’s experience with an object create that linkage with a perceived homeland?
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