Mashramani – Guyana’s most colourful festival
A GINA Feature – February 22, 2013
Mashramani is an Amerindian word which means “celebration after hard work”, and is usually observed on February 23 in observance of Guyana’s Republic Anniversary which was achieved on that date in 1970.
Mashramani commonly referred to as “Mash” is the most colourful, dynamic, all inclusive, cultural and energetic of all the festivals in Guyana.
This year, Mash is being celebrated under the theme “Reflecting Creativity, Embracing Diversity”.
Mash commenced with the chutney, soca and the Calypso (junior and senior) competitions, followed by the children’s Mash activities, masquerade and steel band, media jump up, concert for the elderly, and the bright up Guyana competition, among others.
Over the years Mash celebrations have evolved to include a month of activities throughout the country with every Administrative Region taking part to ensure that people living outside the Capital share in the national festivities. A calendar of events is usually set by the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sport through the Mash Secretariat and the Education Ministry usually takes full advantage of this period to educate children on Guyana’s rich cultural heritage as schools participate in several inter-school competitions. The child art and essay competition and exhibition at the National Museum have given children an insight into local artefacts.
This year the essay competition welcomed entries from both in-school and out-of-school youths, a change from the custom of requesting entries from those young people in the school system. The steel band competition also saw great participation from the schools. Significant, is the number of entries in the group song competition as each Administrative Region was adequately represented. Choirs featured popular folk and National songs.
Senior citizens were also included in the celebrations. The Ministry organised a special concert for the elderly for them to share in the festivities of Mash, reminiscing on times past when they too, where agile and when Republic Day celebration was a time to make merry.
The annual flag raising ceremony which is held in the 10 Administrative regions on the eve of Mashramani is another significant occasion as it symbolises Guyana becoming a Republic.
This year’s celebration is quite momentous, since Guyana will be celebrating 250 years of the Berbice Slave rebellion, 175 years since the first East Indian indentured immigrants arrived here, and 160 years since the arrival of Chinese immigrants to work on the sugar plantations.
A number of lectures and exhibitions were held to commemorate the Berbice slave rebellion as part of the Mash activities.
The Tourism Ministry, for the first time, hosted a spectacular street party call “Mash-a-rama” on Brickdam on the eve of Mash. This event saw a blend of local soca artistes along with a Brazilian samba band. This event in particular is aimed at building an attractive tourism product to entice overseas visits to the shores of Guyana for future Mash activities, as well as make obvious that Guyana’s cultural diversity and natural intricate beauties are second to done.
Government has made tremendous investments into these activities over the years, and has gotten as well the support of corporate entities such as Republic Bank, Ansa McAl, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) company, Banks DIH and Digicel.
The Festival began in the Mining Town of Linden, Region 10, following independence on May 26, 1966. An organisation known as “Jaycees”, with a mandate to promote community development in Mackenzie, was formed and led by its first president Jeff Harris. The organisation came up with the idea of an independence celebration in the town which was first called Carnival.
A broad-based committee including resource personnel such as Wordsworth McAndrew, Arthur Seymour and Adrian Thompson, began the organisation of the Carnival. Wanting to change the name from Carnival, it was suggested that an Amerindian name was most suitable. Mr. Allan Fiedtkou, an Amerindian who worked in the geological department of the Bauxite Company after much research suggested that the Republic Day Celebrations be renamed “Mashramani”, an Arawak word which was derived from “Meshirimehi” which sounded in Arawak like “Mashramani”.
On February 23, 1970 the festival was a huge success with people attending from all the Regions of Guyana welcoming Guyana’s Republic status with over three days of fun.
After witnessing the massive crowds, glitter and the level of competition, Mr. David Singh a Government official held discussions with the Jaycees about bringing the event to Georgetown. Approval was also given by the then President Forbes Burnham for Mash to become the National Event for the Republic Day observances.