MEMBERS of various masquerade bands across Guyana on Tuesday participated in a consultation session hosted by the Ministry of Tourism aimed at incorporating the art form into this country’s cultural tourism product.
The session, spearheaded by the ministry’s Department of Tourism and the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) was hosted at the Moray Trust House.
It also saw representation from various creative arts experts such as Barrington Braithwaite and Margaret Lawrence who, along with others present, expressed their concerns and desires on the topic.
Tourism Department Director-General, Donald Sinclair, explained that the initiative was birthed following the request of Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin, for greater emphasis to be placed on masquerade as a form of tourism.
Some of the topics covered at the event included masquerade practices worldwide; what the masquerade tradition has lost or evolved into over the years; and what needs to be done to reinvent the tradition.
The attendees also lengthily discussed the possibility of masquerade as a tourism product. Sinclair said while it is understandable that all traditions change, the GTA wants masqueraders and other stakeholders to speak up about the negative changes causing the tradition to be either unrecognisable or of little value.
As the discussions kicked off, director of the National School of Dance, Linda Griffith, stated that she believed that some masqueraders in Guyana have lost their technique and art of masquerade music.
She suggested that youngsters in the practice must be better taught how to perform the nine masquerade steps; how to dress; and how to play masquerade music.
“Those are areas that we really need to look at and work on and if we do we can really take it to a higher level,” she stressed.
Musicians Andrea Mentore and Derry Etkins also expressed concerns with the masquerade music being played today.
Etkins suggested that those who play the instruments must be taught to refine the art of playing masquerade music and know the unique grooves involved.
Meanwhile, Mentore wants to see investment in masquerade music which will enable the genre to be recorded and preserved for future generations.
She also spoke against the use of synthetic drums in the place of traditional skin drums, the latter which provide a unique sound.
Meanwhile, Wilfred Gomes from the village of Pouderoyen, West Bank Demerara, spoke to the need of a revival of masquerade chants as Guyanese Africans did in the past.
Speaking on the art of flouncing, the tourism director-general stated that some of the concerns gathered include flouncing has become a begging ritual; is generally viewed an inconvenience; minimal dance steps; costumes and musical instruments are being used; and traditional figures are absent.
Sinclair explained that following the consultations, government agencies involved will propose the most viable solutions which will aid in the sustainability of the masquerade culture.
“Arising from this consultation we hope to have a series of recommendations as to how we can make the masquerade a part of the cultural tourism product. Those recommendations will be discussed at the level of the tourism authorities,” he said, adding that both the Ministry of Business and Social Cohesion will be involved.
Sinclair said the recommendations will be used to plan the government’s next steps such as placing new items within the next budget or into the work plan of the ministries in question.
Today, the masquerade “street phenomenon” is widely practised in the Caribbean, Africa and other parts of the world.
Masqueraders are often dressed in colourful outfits and come in different ages from the very young to the very old.
The practice originated in West Africa with derivations from the Egungun of the Yoruba masquerades and the Kalabari tradition from the rivers states of Nigeria.