Mash up the place: Mashramani in Guyana

Mashramani, Guyana’s version of Carnival, is a celebration of national independence and community spirit

  • Photography courtesy Stabroek News
  • Photography courtesy Stabroek News

Trinidad’s Carnival celebrations may be the Caribbean’s single
most massive cultural event. There’s no escaping the energy, the buzz, that
are such an intrinsic part of Trini culture. But here in Guyana we have our
own smaller version of mas-making, our own festival that maybe is just on
the verge of breaking out in a very big way.

Mashramani, essentially Guyana’s annual birthday bash, began in the mining
town of Mackenzie (50 miles south of Georgetown, along the Demerara River),
four years after Guyana’s actual independence in 1966. The Mackenzie Junior
Chamber of Commerce usually organised a community fete to mark the independence
anniversary; in 1970, when Guyana became a Co-operative Republic, the Jaycees
sought a distinctly indigenous name for their annual merry-making. Accounts
vary, but it seems that “mashramani” was a corruption of either “masromani”
or “mashirimehi”, supposedly an Amerindian word (no one identified which tribe)
for the celebration held after a co-operative community effort. Mashramani
was born. In 1973 the Mackenzie Mash became a national celebration.

Over the years, in a country that has had more than its fair
share of political and economic problems, Mashramani came to represent a sort
of communal catharsis for the Guyanese people. For me, as a young boy growing
up in the 1980s, the year usually centred around the dual holiday season:
Christmas and Mashramani. For a few years in the mid-1990s, Mashramani seemed
to lose some of its glitz; the formerly huge crowds dwindled, and there was
talk of the festival being called off. But more recently, with renewed government
support and thanks to the personal enthusiasm of the present minister of
culture, Gail Teixeira, Mashramani has recovered its mass appeal, evolving
into a festival that is uniquely Guyanese, with an official goal to reach
the international standard set by Trinidad-style carnivals by 2007. A new
permanent Mashramani Secretariat with a serious budget organises and promotes
Mash events; more private Mash camps have started to get involved; and last
year expert costume craftspeople from Trinidad were invited to help with
float design workshops. Band launching parties are becoming popular, and
a viable Mash industry is not unlikely in the near future.

Incrementally but steadily, Mashramani is becoming a cultural festival that
may some day boast enough pomp, pizzazz, and spirit to rival even Trinidad
Carnival itself.

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