I am in London meeting with Guyanese groups as part of an ongoing research on social issues pertaining to the Guyanese diaspora. As I have found from my field studies in travels in various places around the globe, the Indo-Guyanese diaspora observes or celebrates festivals and traditions as they did when they were back in the homeland.
This week, Indo-Guyanese in the diaspora, Hindus in particular in London and in New York (NY), observed Raksha Bandhan, more commonly called Raakhi in Guyana. Raakhi, a festival that places emphasis on strong relationship between brothers and sisters, fell on August 21, a national holiday in India signifying its importance to Indians. But in NY and London and elsewhere, the Guyanese diaspora observed it on the following weekend at temples and community centres when they got together.
The NY temples observed the festival on Sunday. In London, many people had rakhis tied around their wrists and they has remained on the wrists even days after the festival. Some say they keep it for an entire year — again signifying the importance of this Indian festival that the ancestors brought from India and have continued to practice to this day.
The festival of Raksha Bandhan symbolises love, affection and the feeling of brotherhood and is therefore worthy of emulation by all groups regardless of ethnicity. Raakhi usually coincides with the full moon around August. Although it is Hindu oriented, Indians of all faiths in India and around the diaspora observe the festival. It involves a female tying a “sacred” thread on the wrist of the male who she adores as a brother. It is a very important celebration in India and few males stay away from home for the occasion as they like to be close to the family to have a big reunion. Raakhi is a celebration in which the males re-commit to protect the females from unwarranted physical or emotional attacks and injustice — of brothers or males offering protection to sisters or females and of the elderly males pulling family members together to enhance their lifestyles. The festival is a celebration of togetherness and of being with the family.
After some 175 years since the first arrival of Indians in Guyana, the tradition of Rakhi is still being observed and Guyanese have transplanted the celebration of the festival overseas where they have settled as has been the case in London, NY, Ontario, Florida, New Jersey, etc. Guyanese must be applauded for holding on to this tradition which helps to hold families together and have meals.
As per Indian tradition, the female prepares a raakhi (a sacred thread) and ties it on the hand of the male (her brother or someone she respects) whom she adopts as her brother seeking his protection. The brother in turn acknowledges the love with a promise to be by the sisters’ side through thick and thin and gives her a token gift (money, clothing, sweets, jewellery, etc). The gift is the physical acceptance of her love, reminder of their togetherness and a symbol of his pledge of protection at all times, particularly when she or her family is under stress.
Although Raakhi is an Indian festival, it is a celebration that other ethnic groups can take pride in participating in as it is also a non-religious festival observed by all religious groups in India. It leads to harmonious relations among conflicting groups. And in Guyana, non-Indians observe the festival bonding with their Indian friends and neighbours.
At a time when young girls and women in general, are under attack, the males need to step up to the plate to offer protection to these helpless females. The men should not sit by idly and allow their women folk to be molested and abused. They must come to the defence of their kin. Husbands should also think kindly of their loving mates. The men should be reminded that Raakhi implores them to defend their sisters in distress and offer them guidance and protection from all kinds of abuses whether at home or by political goons. May all be moved by the Raakhi festival!