Guyanese have been hard at work for the past 50 years, pushing this nation toward higher heights of development. In fact, in the past year alone, Guyana has become a world class adventure tourism destination, a global giant in biodiversity, and an oil-producing nation.
What better time to celebrate our growth and development than during the ‘Golden Jubilee’ celebration of Republic Day, the 50th Anniversary of Guyana’s final step toward national freedom and true cultural identity. This edition of Government in Action explores the historical significance of Republic Day and the Mashramani celebration, a fitting cultural counterpart of this turning point in Guyana’s history.
50 years and counting
Ms. Clementine Marshall, a member of the African Cultural and Development Association (ACDA), attended the first Mashramani celebration in Linden. Ms. Marshall reminisced on her first Republic Day and recounted the events.
“I think Mashramani over the years, [has] always been fantastic, always fantastic. I know it originated in Linden and I remember being in Linden for the very first Mashramani … When you [stood] up at Wismar and you cross over… and you look at the [connecting] bridge and you see all these flags and the music and people gyrating and people dancing… In those days you were not afraid of picking up friends…. It was a jolly time... I’m still saying hail up to ‘Mash’. Hail up to ‘Mash’! I plan to enjoy myself at this Mashramani. Fifty years! [Because] I know I will be somewhere else in the next 50 years,” she said.
Ms. Marshall is excited to see Guyanese who have been living abroad out on the ‘Mash’ route, cheering on the revellers.
“Now that it’s in Georgetown, it makes us very happy to have Mashramani here. The organisers and the Government, especially, we want to [say] thanks for bringing ‘Mash’, this wonderful holiday, [to a place] where persons who are living overseas could come back [and participate]. I know persons who are living overseas who are very happy to come back for ‘Mash’. They’re happy to be back in Guyana for anything… but ‘Mash’, 50 years of Republic is a special time… Come out to Mashramani! Let’s enjoy ‘Mash’! Fifty years! We’re going to enjoy ourselves! Come to Durban Park! Be on the ‘Mash’ route! Get it on!” she said.
Ms. Karen Braithwaite, Fashion Designer of Kosmic Vibes is using Mashramani to showcase her designs, which she says will help to promote a ‘green’ Guyana.
“President Granger spoke about the ‘green’ Guyana initiative [and] I was like, bingo! And then in my mind, I said how can I contribute, as a designer, to the ‘green’ Guyana? I said… I want to do some rice bags and sugar bags… but is it going to be functionable? Half the time the rice bag… disintegrates…. I said, you know what, fabric, denim… and I ran from there and that is how this collection was born… One of the things about upcycled fashion, it’s always one of a kind. You’ll never find a design that always looks the same. You’ll never get the same colour [of] jeans to patch. You’ll never get the lines of the jeans to fall in [the same] spot… So, it’s fabric and it’s upcycled but the creation is one of a kind,” she said.
Ms. Braithwaite’s creativity proves that any Guyanese can make their own unique contributions to any national movement. She feels especially honoured to be able to offer her upcycled fashion during this ‘Golden Jubilee’ celebration.
“We have to remember our ancestors had a reason why they chose such an … event for us to celebrate to remember that we’re now a Republic. To be a part of this 50th is an honour because… I hope I will live to see the next Jubilee but there’s no guarantee. I’m happy to be a Guyanese and be able to say let us upcycle. Let us promote a ‘green’ Guyana in honour and celebration of our ancestors and in celebration of this Jubilee. To be a part of it is fun, the laughter, the music, the joy, the taste of different foods. It’s an exciting time for us and I’m embracing it,” she said.
Ms. Debbie Argyle, representative from the Mahaica Women’s Group, along with her colleagues, designed a special home-made candle to celebrate Guyana’s 50th Republic Day.
“It means a lot to us. As soon as January steps out… this ‘Mash’ feeling is in us. You feel this revived spirit with us. We know we have to start making [products] to come up at the Expo… the ‘Mash’ candle [is] the flag. We made [it] last week… Around this time… we feel happy. We mix together. We have this joyous spirit with us… We have a lot of foreigners in here… and I feel good about it because people can come home and enjoy themselves… Some people haven’t come here for ages and they feel happy among their family and friends,” she said.
Ms. Argyle offered some advice for foreigners celebrating Mashramani for the first time: “Let them come down to Durban Park here and pick up some token[s] that they can take back for their family and get this energetic spirit before Saturday,” she said.
The hard work of our fore-parents
Mashramani is an Arawak word that describes a celebration after hard work or a job well done. Guyanese must not forget the historical significance of the celebration, the birth of Guyana as a Republic. Registrar of the University of Guyana, Dr. Nigel Gravesande, while explaining Republic Day’s historical significance, said at that time in history, Guyana still faced the heavy weight of colonialism, increasing racial political divides, and territorial disputes with Venezuela.
“That is the context in which we assume our Republican status but it marked, in my respectful view, the final stride in a long process; a journey from Independence, a journey that began with the emancipation of slaves in 1834, when our fore parents overthrew… the most inhuman system in the history of humanity… Delinking from that colonial past, political independence, sovereignty, making decisions that were in the best interest of Guyana became one of those most profound national agendas that was to be embraced by all Guyanese irrespective of socio, cultural, political, or racial divide,” he said.
Dr. Gravesande listed a few important questions Guyanese should consider while reflecting on the significance of Republic Day: Have we embraced the national institutions that gave us a sense of identity? Have we worked hard to transform the Guyanese economy for the benefit of our people? How have we considered the challenges and the complexities facing a small nation operating in a vicious global environment? How are we responding to the future, especially at the beginning of the ‘Decade of Development’?
“At the end of every crop in the British West Indies… the plantocracy allowed the slaves to have a celebration in which they could rejoice, in which they could demonstrate their cultural tradition in song, dance, art… The crop is over and there’s a time for celebration. And therefore, the cultural element… Mashramani, is extremely unique to Guyana… Here we have a fusion of six peoples, the Indigenous Amerindians… with the… descendants of slaves and then the indentured servants that came, some from India, some from Portugal, some from China, all fusing their cultural traditions in a rich, authentic, Guyanese experience,” he said.
Dr. Gravesande added that during this elections season, Mashramani is a fitting reminder of Guyana’s unique ability to overcome ethnic, cultural, and religious divides for the sake of national unity.
“And what must happen in 2020, at a period in which we are at the threshold of critical and important General Elections is that Guyanese must use the opportunity, irrespective of political or racial divide, to come together as an independent nation, proud of our cultural heritage and embrace that diversified cultural experience in an authentic, genuine manner. That is one of the single most important elements that can lead to greater cohesion at a time where the ugly and unfortunate ripples of potential divide exist and culture can help to bring that harmonisation,” he said.
Dr. Gravesande hopes that Guyanese will use this day to launch our country into the future described in the motto.
“Republic Day 2020 must be used as an affirmation of that independence and sovereignty that we cherish as we pursue a path of development, a path that is cognisant of the global and domestic challenges that we have to confront. But I’m confident as a united people with a common cause and in the words expressed in our motto; one people, one nation, with a healthy and formidable destiny, that [we] will bring benefits to our people if [we] embrace the notion and vision of unity as [described in] the [motto,]” he said.
Guyanese, you have earned your right to celebrate. This year, with our celebration, we honour the sacrifices and hard work of our fore parents who laid for us the foundation of freedom, independence, unity, and a true cultural identity.