Ton-ton (The Descent): Returning Migrants’ Fulfillment of a Covenant in the “Town of Dollars,” Philippines


Image by SIEF. To view full program, click here.


For the 2016 Société Internationale d´Ethnologie et de Folklore’s Working Group on Migration and Mobility Workshop, University of Basel, Switzerland

The Philippines remains one of the world’s major sources of migrant labour, and Filipino workers are now spread to literally every country and territory in the world. More than 5,000 Filipinos leave the country every day for overseas work. This presentation hopes to add to the SIEF Migration Group Meeting a discussion on some of the aspects of everyday life that occurs at one of world’s major sources of human labour. Ton-ton is an annual Easter Sunday ritual that is celebrated in different varieties across Catholic Philippines. It dramatizes the meeting of the risen Christ with the grieving Virgin Mother. In my fieldsite, the ton-ton is held as a devotion to Inang Katipanan (Mother of the Covenant) that began during the Spanish colonization after a major earthquake in 1711 struck the town. Today, with many families having family members in the U.S., the town is called by its residents the “Town of Dollars.” The ton-ton has become a money-making pageant, with many of the participating families having direct connections to overseas labour. Based on anthropological ethnography (2013-2015), I investigate how these rituals can inform us about the ways in which the sacred brings together a transnational network of families in the town and overseas. I explore the ton-ton as a publicly celebrated ritual that is a site for the emergence of personalities who hold different intersecting purposes, but mainly: to fulfill a covenant. Migration studies need to look into how: religiosity and religious attachments play out in the originating locality; migrants’ attachments to folk icons are imagined to facilitate departure; the fulfilment of a covenant facilitates migrants’ family life and their anticipated homecomings. My field site is also my hometown, and I also hope to reflect on the complex positionalities in conducting an ethnography of the “home.”


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