Last Thursday was Republic Day in Guyana. We celebrate and commemorate the 23rd of February, the day we first became a republic with a national holiday in the form of something close to a carnival. People come from all over the country to Georgetown where there are floats and competitions (for, example: best float) and all day revelry. I’m not sure how people make it to work the next day.
Let me now channel my primary school Social Studies class (yes, I Googled it) to give you some history of the holiday:
Mashramani may or may not be a bastardization of the word ‘Mashirimehi’ which is supposedly, in the language of one of the native Indian (Amerindian) tribes, the Arawaks, which means “co-operative effort”. Mashramani, we are told when we are yay high, means “celebration after hard work”. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Wikipedia says it means “the celebration of a job well done”. I suppose this would make sense seeing as how Mash, as we abbreviate it, initially was created as a way to welcome Guyana’s new republican status (= job well done, eh?). The story goes that an Amerindian fellow, Feidtkou, contributed to the concept of Mashramani or Mashirimehi to the brainstorming table in Linden to infuse meaningfulness and culture into the festivities. Linden was the birth place of Mash then, so to speak, though it was immediately nationalized.
I vaguely remember Mash from my childhood. Mostly, I remember sitting in the National Park, watching the float competition with my parents. It wasn’t the sort of thing you wanted to miss as a kid – at least, in my case.
So, I was super excited that I was finally going to be present for Mash after 11 years. Leading up to the day itself, however, I realized I wasn’t all to certain what Mash really was and how one celebrated it as an adult. So, I asked around. Mainly, I heard a lot about how hot the sun was gonna be. But I also heard that Mash was basically a skin show, that there was going to be so much trash the next day around Georgetown, that it wasn’t a thing kids should attend and that I would need an umbrella cause the sun would be unbearably hot. Okay. I was a little confused because I was still operating on what I had been taught in school eons ago: Mash is a celebration of Guyana’s culture and history. Also, how much hotter can it get?
I ended up getting a giant flag from Guyana Stores, one of the masquerade masks that were selling everywhere around Stabroek (though I wasn’t sure of its relevance) and lots of glitter. Come Thursday, I looked like I was attending a major national sports event.
We arrived early and got to walk around taking in some floats, like the Chinese Association’s (same deal as the Chinese new year: they looked cool and very, stereotypically, Chinese and ninja-ish) and Carib Beer (lots of skin, lots of glitter, I dug the blue fedoras on the dudes coupled with sashes. Somehow I felt they should be dancing an Irish jig even though I know, logically, that getup had nothing to do with Ireland) and a religious group with a giant bible who may have been deaf (if so, impressive rhythm keeping during the parade). Eventually settled on a spot whereby we got the beginning of every float on the parade no matter which end they were coming from. But it took a while. I don’t know what the hold up was but the floats had long pauses in between them. I watched almost all of the government floats and heard Adrian Dutchin sing the same song about a million times (I also watched him dance and wave as he was standing right across from us, unabashedly [literally] enjoying the sound of his own voice). Split a beer (Banks), swayed to the music, took pictures, kept under the umbrella, laughed at the overly enthusiastic (/drunk) and shook my head at the overly sexual couples (/triples/quadruples) who were vying for attention.
As it turned out, I wasn’t that off the mark: Mash ended up being a mash up (pun intended) of the World Cup (football not cricket) and Mardi Gras (the New Orleans way): a big show of country pride via street party. Or rather, Mash looked the way Guyana might celebrate if we ever won a World Cup. Or rather, a giant dress party where the theme was: Guyana. I don’t buy the claim of “keeping our traditions alive” as the Ministry of Culture had promoted it. Unless, our tradition is a carnival. Or maybe that’s what you get when you try to fuse all our different ethnic backgrounds together in some hazy conception of national culture. This is our melting pot? This is Guyana? As fun as it was, I sincerely hope Mash is not the last word on Guyanese togetherness.
That being said, it was definitely enjoyable although once I realized that four hours had passed and we were still on government floats, I was a little over it all. Went to lunch, came back to find things pretty much the same as when we left. So we walked down the streets and found the remaining floats. The private businesses had the most impressive floats, of course, by sheer imitation of what I imagine carnival looks like in Trinidad – the headdresses, the uniformity, the skin, skin, skin and the glitter, glitter, glitter. Left town and tried to get into the park but there was some weird deal going on whereby we had to go around to the other entrance to purchase a ticket and then come back to get in and we just said that’s it. Enough Mash for the day. I hear the judging of the floats happens in the park (in addition to continued partying) and since I’d seen them all, I wasn’t missing out. I didn’t really care who won although my favourite float was the Ministry of Agriculture’s – they had people with fruit headgear; watermelons and pineapples and the minister wore a fruit basket on his head! I had a good laugh and I thought it was one of the few floats that managed to stay true to its theme.
So, that’s Mash folks. When I got home, I admired my nice red (red!) all over tan. People did not exaggerate about that sun! Also, I will be washing glitter off my scalp for days to come.
You can enjoy my pictures here.
Be sure to take a look at the Guyana Photographer’s Mash album. It has pictures from the preceding Children’s Parade as well.