THE word Mashramani, (Mash) which means ‘celebration after hard work’, is derived from our Amerindian community. This celebration marks centuries of struggle to break the yoke of domination. This struggle began with the first rebellion of the enslaved people, including the Berbice Slave Rebellion led by our national hero Cuffy, which began on February 23rd, 1763 and had its high point when, as a people, we achieved Republican status in 1970 on the date that marked the 207th anniversary of that rebellion.The actual street revelry was first held by the Jaycees in Linden. Then Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, in his vision, and facing the challenge of building and moulding a nation, borrowed from the Linden celebration and created a national event that has since become a significant part of our national and cultural fabric. This is evident in making out of six peoples and diverse cultures a tolerant, multiracial society in which all will see themselves as One People, living in One Nation, and with One Destiny to mould.
Like has come to be seen as part of our ‘culture’, this national event has not been spared negative pedalling, in which political forces and successive regimes have sadly made efforts to downplay this aspect of our culture on misinformation that it is intended to celebrate one group or individual, as against it being national in nature. Thankfully, those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Mash has truly become a national event that drives our economy, and Guyanese at home and abroad look forward to participating in its celebration. Mash is about all groups which have played a part in this nation’s evolution and development. While, in the annals of history, one group had enslaved, indentured and colonised others, members of every ethnic group have been represented in the struggles for Independence and Republican status. This new government must therefore ensure that Mashramani and all national events are put in their rightful perspective of pride, honour and dignity for all, and eliminate the remnants of partisan thinking about things that are at the centre of nation building or social cohesion.
Nation building is not only about roads and infrastructure, but about building a culture; and especially in our diverse society, one in which every group can feel part of and will be allowed expression and protection to celebrate their unique heritage in a national way. Clearly, on the multicultural foundation on which this nation stands, President Burnham’s struggle was not only to use Mashramani to build a culture, but also to foster social cohesion, wherein diverse groups can have expression and be appreciated.
Mashramani exemplifies a period of much cultural expression: calypso and chutney competition, steel pan, children’s costume parade, and so forth. This is a period used for deepening our national pride and seeing the blossoming of Guyanese abilities and talents. Here is where we see our costume designers, musicians, children and teachers at their most creative.
It would not be unreasonable to ask the responsible ministry to examine the need to encourage such talent. It may be possible to offer separate incentives for those using local materials, bands playing local artistes, and increasing the artistes’ frequency on air time. These persons are bringing us their creativity through intellectual work, and at times at great sacrifice, and thus should be rewarded. This, too, is another approach to improving our arts and entertainment industry.
Mash has become an integral part of what it means to be Guyanese, and is here to stay. Outside of its economic benefit through employment and economic opportunities for those within, it places Guyana on the map as a tourist destination. And it needs to be said that while Guyana is competing with other bigger global festivities, we do not necessarily need to take it down the road of nudity; we can maintain our cultural identity/uniqueness by being conservative in dress.
We can also encourage more talent of diverse music, expanding the range of calypso and chutney to include music with an Amerindian flavor, etc. Though the event is named in honour of our Amerindian brothers and sisters, there is not much outside the name that points uniquely to the Amerindian community. As with human beings, there is still need for growth.
Where Mash was once celebrated in all regions before there was a lull, there is need for a resurgence, to return the celebration to all the regions.
Although this year there will be no float parade, Mashramani is still Guyana’s greatest national party and street picnic. It is not only an event for revelry and an opportunity to showcase our talents, but one in which friends and friendships are formed. Let us keep it this way for generations to come, growing from strength to strength each year.