The origin of the word Mashramani
Stabroek News
April 8, 2002

Related Links: Letters on celebrations
Letters Menu Archival Menu

Dear Editor,

Mr. Tota C. Mangar shared some thoughts about the significance of Mashramani in the History this week column of Thursday 28th February. I consider the article quite interesting, but I have been urged by several associates of mine, several of whom have been involved in the re-discovery of this 'word', not to allow history to be continuously misrepresented time after time in so many ways and in so many publications. I am therefore mandated to once again attempt to 'put the record straight'.

Mr. Mangar said that "Mashramani is an Amerindian word, specifically Arawak in origin, which basically means "a venture". He continued "it grew out of the feasting and dancing that characterised the successful completion of land preparation and cassava planting by our indigenous people, the Amerindians". Mr Mangar further went on to elaborate that " originated out of the activity that determined the very survival of the Amerindian people. They depended greatly on the cultivation of cassava which for centuries was their staple crop". He also said that "Their successful fishing, hunting and raiding expeditions were also followed by mass celebrations, during which time those who performed creditably were often rewarded".

I don't know where Mr. Mangar got his facts from, but to me it all sounds very credible. However, let me point out that first of all the word Mashramani was spelt that way by me, because that is how it sounded. But let me go back a bit. The Junior Chamber of Greater Mackenzie started celebrating the Independence of Guyana with a Trinidad type Carnival, which was intended to keep the free spending bauxite workers and their families within the mining town. When it was announced in 1969 that Guyana would become a Republic in February 1970, the Mackenzie chapter, in keeping with the Government's Socialist agenda, which excluded the monarchy, decided to Guyanise the celebrations. Jour Ouvert became fo-daymawnin jump-up. Ole Mas became the Revolt Dance and the Calypso Contests became the Shanto Contest. The search then began for a name to replace Carnival Queen. It was during this time that we contacted every known source for an appropriate name. It was sometime in November 1969 that Basil Butcher, Chairman of the celebrations committee, suggested that we look for an Amerindian name. Several persons were contacted including Mr. Albert Fiedtkou, who at that time was an instrument man with a geological team of the Demerara Bauxite Company. Mr Fiedtkou, who had just returned from an exploration mission in the interior informed us that he can't think of anything, but he was visiting his grandfather, who lived somewhere in Malalli, Upper Demerara River, and he promised to find out if there is any Amerindian festivity that will suit our purpose. On his return a week or two later, Mr Fiedtkou said the 'old man' remembers an Arawak festival that was something like 'muster many' but in Arawak language sounded like Mash-ra-mani. An example, he said, was like when a young couple was getting married, the men would go hunting and fishing for meat, while the women and children will be busy preparing Piwari and sleepy tonic and gathering materials for building a benab. When the men returned, the benab will be built, the meat prepared and the entire village and surrounding neighbours travelling by trail or canoe will congregate and the celebration will begin. This story prompted me to declare 'hey that's a celebration after a co-operative effort, ideal for the co-op Republic of Guyana.' The Committee agreed, but subsequent efforts to qualify the word and its meaning proved futile. It was Mr. Adrian Thompson, the late historian, who confirmed the use of the word with these final remarks "I don't know of the word and its meaning, but I suspect no one else does, therefore go ahead and use it." Mashramani was born, and the 1970 celebrations were a huge success.

In 1972, I was both President of the Chapter and Chairman of Mashramani when Mr David Singh, a Minister of the Government, who addressed the tremendous turnout on the Mackenzie Sports Club ground for the opening ceremony, told me that he will recommend that Mashramani become the national name for the celebration. Later that year, I travelled with him throughout the country explaining Mashramani to councillors of various towns and villages. In 1973 Mashramani was held in Georgetown organised by the Jaycees of Georgetown. It became Government controlled after that.

This is how it all started. I am preparing a document that provides more details and the many individuals whose efforts made it all possible.

Yours faithfully,

Jimmy Hamilton