Throwing it back to BG ‘57

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illagers of Mocha- Arcadia celebrating ‘Ghana Day’ on March 6, 1957

–with Sister Penda Guyan, President of the Ghana Day Organisation

By Naomi Marshall

AS Guyana rolls out the red carpet in honour of visiting Ghanaian Head of State, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, the Guyana Chronicle took a little walk down memory lane with Sister Penda Guyan to the very first ‘Ghana Day’ celebrations that were held here in the then British Guiana(BG).

President of the Ghana Day Organisation, Sister Penda Guyan, with a replica of the Sankofa bird, a symbol of Ghana, which signifies ‘Looking back to gain wisdom to go forward’

For Sister Penda, who was but a slip of a girl back then,it was “a spectacular moment.”
Though just 13 at the time, she distinctly recalls that the celebration took place on March 6, 1957, the date on which Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, had the distinction of becoming the very first African country to gain its independence from Great Britain, to be followed some nine years later, on May 26, 1966 by the then British Guiana, with which it shared the same colonial masters.

Now President of the Ghana Day Organisation, Sister Penda said the historic event took place under the stewardship of the legendary Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first ever Prime Minister and President.

Such was the strong bond between Guyana and Ghana, she said, that when Ghana gained its independence, the entire BG rejoiced with it.

“We like to think of ourselves as ethnic Ghanaians. I was a little girl, but I remember how excited we were, because it was a holiday, and it was a big celebration,” Sister Penda said, adding: “What they did was very significant. The evening before, they would go to the community grounds, and they would do a big ceremony. They did it exactly the way they would have done when they celebrated in Ghana. They would have drums, libations and rituals. It was grand; it was really grand.”

But that was not the end of the celebrations, as there was yet more to come. “The next morning,” Sister Penda said, “they would have the procession through the streets, and a Ghana Day Queen was chosen to represent her village. All around the villages, the horse carts would be decorated; they will put the ladies and the children all dressed in African outfits on the cart, and they would be going through the streets with drummers. Then they would come back at the community ground, where they would have cooking and eating of all creole foods. It was quite spectacular.”

However, here in the city, celebrations were a little bit different, in that it took on more of a carnival-like atmosphere, with tramping and suck like. “In the city,” Sister Penda recalled, “the people would incorporate steel bands stationed on trucks, and would march until the sun goes down. They would then disperse.”

She recalled that the whole ‘Ghana Day’ idea was an initiative young Forbes Burnham, who, like Nkrumah, was himself into politics and a staunch advocate of Pan-Africanism, and would later lead his country to independence, and become first, prime minister, then president.

A CARIBBEAN T’ING

The monument erected in the Arcadia Cemetery to commemorate Ghana’s Independence

What was remarkable, however, according to Sister Penda, was that ‘Ghana Day’ was not only celebrated in BG, but all across the Caribbean, and the African Diaspora. “It’s like we are celebrating ourselves, because here we got this freedom; it was like a big freedom rally that we were able, in one part of the world, to shake off colonialism.”
Sadly, after a good number of years, the celebration of ‘Ghana Day’ would unfortunately peter out, as it was no longer considered a holiday.

It wasn’t until 2011 that it was revitalised and celebrated on the Sunday closest to March 6, Sister Penda said, “because if we celebrate it on the 6th , we won’t get the participation.”
Today, the Ghana Day Organisation is working relentlessly on not just reviving the event, but retaining it as well, with the aim of “bringing back the spirt of culture, morality, community, respect for family and oneself.”

Sister Penda said, too, that she hopes for ‘Ghana Day’ to be a holiday once more, and that the strong bond once enjoyed by Guyana and Ghana will return.

Long-time Mocha-Arcadia resident, Webblay Lupe, who was just six when Guyana first celebrated ‘Ghana Day’, remembers only too well the pomp and ceremony that surrounded the event, and the gatherings at the small village office in Mocha to engage in a cook-out, which invariably comprised of such creole dishes as fu-fu, cou-cou and metem.
Lupe noted that in order for the celebratory spirit to be reignited, the people of the village “got to cooperate; go back to the old days of self-help, and just don’t look for monetary rewards.”

Lupe also recalls when a monument was erected in the village to commemorate Ghana’s Independence. That monument is located in the Arcadia Cemetery, and has a space reserved on it for the placement of a plaque.