MUSE SG – On faith and heritage of the Catholic community

MUSE SG is a collaborative effort between the National Heritage Board and NUS History Society. Every semester, students in the History community are given the chance to research on a selected topic and thereafter contribute an article to the publication.

In this series, we interview writers of MUSE SG Volume 13 – The Intangible Cultural Heritage Issue – and find out what it’s like to be part of this project!

Brandon is a History undergraduate at NUS. In this volume, he traces the roots of Catholic practices in Southeast Asia and Singapore. Check out his article here!

What have you written about in this issue of MUSE SG? Could you briefly share some of your findings?

In this issue of MUSE SG, I’ve briefly covered the history of the Catholic Church in Singapore, practices tied to the Easter Triduum, as well as stories of those who observe these practices! Some of my findings include traditions linked to Southeast Asian culture, such as the making and collection of bunga rampai, a floral potpourri that typically consists of cut pandan leaves, perut (kaffir lime leaves), nilam (patchouli), rose petals and other flowers. 

Why did you choose this topic? What fascinated you most about the topic?

I chose this topic because of how I was fascinated by the elaborate proceedings observed throughout and before the Easter Triduum, and wanted to learn more about the symbolism behind different practices and the different layers of meaning it uncovered. I can’t pinpoint a specific practice that fascinated me most, but an example would be candle-lit processions and their symbolism!

I did not know much beyond the fact that they are picturesque and learnt that candle-lit processions at St Joseph’s Church and other churches are based on the symbolism of Christ as “the light of the world”, while the burning of candle wax to fuel the flame symbolises personal sacrifice in sustaining religious faith.

What have you gained through this writing experience? Could you share about your research journey?

Something I have gained through this writing experience would be that there is always more than meets the eye when it comes to the religious processions, particularly those related to the Easter Triduum. Being more familiar with argumentative writing, something I deeply appreciated was learning how to make my writing more personable, thanks to the input from the National Heritage Board, and members of the NUS History Society.

My research journey started by reading up on different practices, but then moved to include individuals who shared their personal stories. Listening to such stories was very different from reading about the practices on my own, with such personal narratives being absent or diminished to one-liners at times when practices were covered.

One of my interviewees shared how his family comes together to fast and practice abstinence during Lent (a six-week period of prayer, almsgiving and penance), sharing about what they want to do in the lead up to the Easter Triduum. He shared how he used to groan to his mum during the Lenten fast but that going through it with his family really helped. Such stories reveal ways communities are engaged during such religious practices, introducing an added layer of intimacy to what may be an abstract topic to some.

Who would you recommend MUSE SG to?

I would recommend MUSE SG to anyone to be honest! The articles are different from an essay and are easy reads, with a wide variety of topics being covered, providing a chance for individuals to have a unique glimpse into the lives and practices of communities that some of us might not know much about! Even for those familiar with the topics covered at hand, they might find different perspectives they didn’t come across before! Do get a copy if you’re interested to learn more about Singapore through some of its cultural practices.

Published by hissocnus

The National University of Singapore (NUS) History Society is a student-run organization that aims to encourage an interest for history among NUS students and members of the public. Its members include all History majors and other NUS students interested in history. Regular projects that aim to engage NUS students include writing and editorial opportunities at the Society’s publication Mnemozine, career development programmes as well as welfare activities. NUS History Society is a student society under the Office of Student Affairs, National University of Singapore.

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