Mashramani must be truly reflective of the cultural heritage of all Guyanese
Guyana Chronicle
February 25, 2004

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On Monday, February 23, 2004, Guyanese at home had a public holiday to celebrate what, for over 30 years, has become known as Mashramani Day.

As I recall it, Mashramani is a modern-day Guyanese word derived closely from one used by our Amerindian brethren to celebrate the culmination of a major undertaking in their community. The Jaycees Chapter of McKenzie made possible the initial application of the name Mashramani to national life and, over the years, we have seen this national event survive despite subtle political influence and or interference.

The Burnham regime embraced the concept to mark the culmination of a string of national undertakings, starting with the achievement of political Independence in 1966, the attainment of Republican status in 1970, and the precedent-setting acquisition of DEMBA from ALCAN in 1971, which led to other major political moves to own and control our natural resources and the commanding heights of the economy.

In time, some came to believe it was more than a co-incidence that February 23 was selected because of its close proximity to Burnham's birthday, February 20. And, in time, many saw the event become politicized with "People's Parades" that cost many people their jobs for not volunteering to march, and the arbitrary use of school children in Mass Games that focused on the then Comrade Leader, Forbes Burnham, much like the North Korean children were used in their version of Mass Games to magnify the late Kim Il Sung. Even local calypsonians who satirized the Burnham government to the pleasure of crowds failed to emerge as champions.

Then after the PPP/C came to power in 1992, there was a report that the new government wanted to change the celebration from February to May (Independence) because of a perception that it had more to do with Burnham's birthday. Somewhere along the line, though, the protests of many seemed to force government to back off. Enough said on this point.

But after more than 30 years, I find myself asking what major undertaking are Guyanese still celebrating in Mashramani? Is there a need for a name change to be more reflective of what is being celebrated?

In addition, I have read where Guyanese have expressed disgust over apparent excesses in vulgarity and sensuality during musical road marches, and even in some lyrics in the songs being sung in competition. Doesn't Ras Marcus' piece that satirizes the symbols identifying political parties sound more like use of a profane language? Reading it on the Internet is one thing, but to say it out aloud is another thing, and the catch is in the intended pun. Al Creighton calls it the double entendre.

I am not averse to cultural expression if it is wholesome. In fact, I find the American Easter Bunny Parades and Thanksgiving Parades to be very creative, even though what they depict is reflective of American culture. But there's nothing vulgar or sensuous. There's no public use of alcoholic beverages; an item in Guyana that seems to fuel the sensual gyrations and bacchanalian behavior during aspects of the celebration.

As I accessed the Internet version of the local dailies leading up to Mash Day, I read related stories and see a kaleidoscope of colourful pictures of the various categories of cultural presentations. But then I stopped and asked myself, if Guyana is celebrating a national event, and Guyana is made up of several races, why aren't we seeing a truly diverse presentation of our national cultural heritage during Mashramani celebrations?

Why has Mashramani been dominated by African Guyanese? It is not that African Guyanese do not deserve to showcase their creative talents, but why aren't we seeing a cultural presentation by Chinese Guyanese to showcase their attire, music and physical talents? Why aren't we seeing the same for Amerindians, Portuguese, and Indians? And it doesn't have to always be competitive!

Imagine the National Park coming alive with Chinese, Amerindian, Portuguese, Indian and African Guyanese children displaying costumes and dances reflective of their respective heritage. Imagine the Miss Mashramani showcase doing the same for adult females displaying evening and casual wear reflective of their respective heritage. Imagine an evening of music in which these various races are allowed to share with us their respective musical heritage. It may not be possible to readily understand everything seen or heard, but there surely must be a willingness to learn, seeing these various races/ethnicities are neighbours in the land.

I strongly urge government, since it subsidizes Mashramani, to consider reviewing the manner in which Mashramani is presented so that it is truly reflective of the cultural heritage of all races/ethnicities represented in Guyana. And since culture can be used to foster national cohesiveness, such a move may help give some meaning to "One People, One Nation, One Destiny," at a time when this motto desperately needs to be an integral part of everyday life in Guyana.
Emile Mervin,
Brooklyn, New York

Editor's Note:
Emile Mervin's letter came through before Mash Day, so he would not have been privy to Internet accounts or videocassette recordings of all ethnic groups participating in Monday's celebrations. Afro Guyanese participation in float parades still outnumbers that of other ethnic groups. Otherwise, the celebrations are reflective of the cultural heritage of the Guyanese people as a whole.