The Evolution of Mashramani

Some people are arguing that there is no longer a Mashramani, not even in the traditional sense of the word. Last week I questioned why we really celebrate the actual holiday if we do not have much to celebrate after having done little to no work, but this week I want us to look at the evolution of our local celebration of the carnival festival.

There I said it ‘carnival’ festival – that single word can cause uproar in society. Mashramani is not carnival, yes; we know that but Mashramani is a carnival festival. What do you call the celebration then if you will argue it is not, a road party?

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Mix culture, folklore, costumes, music, stories, arts and throw it into a pot of celebration and festivities and you have yourself a carnival. More so, include a moving festival parade and you have a carnival parade (seems familiar?) Carnival is described as “an annual festival, typically during the week before Lent in Roman Catholic countries, involving processions, music, dancing, and the use of masquerade.”

There are many sites online that confirm this. Wikipedia is not an accepted academic source but the vast knowledge of a carnival, including lists of where it is celebrated and why, on that site is impeccable.

Yes, Trinidad and Tobago still celebrates this tradition before Lent and it has no name for its festival but carnival. Guyana, meanwhile, choosing to celebrate the birth of the Republic held a carnival festival but under the name ‘Mashramani’ which is Arawak-native for… well you know by now, it’s repeated so many times that it’s becoming a bit clichéd to say “A celebration after hard work.”

Even so this festival has swayed away from its original purpose. We no longer celebrate our people and our work but use it for merriment, music and alcohol, paying no attention to the annual themes, the calypso competitions, and the list goes on and on. Today’s Mashramani looks nothing like it did in 1970.dsc_0217-copy1

Then we have the J’Ouvert parties and the Mardi Gras. J’Ouvert, unlike Mardi Gras, is actually Caribbean born and as Guyana always boasts, being the bridge and blessed to be both Caribbean and South American, of course we picked up their cultures too and merged it into our own.

I am told that J’Ouvert has always been a celebration as long as Mashramani was in existence but only for the past two years or so did they give it a traditional name. ‘J’Ouvert’ is a contraction of the French Jour ouvert, or dawn/day break since a group of people would party all night until dawn. Yes, we Guyanese have been partying all night for years but it has only been recently that we titled these parties to promote the carnival-like atmosphere and to become more in tune with the Caribbean traditions and culture.

Maybe because we were once colonized by the French, it makes it easier for us to bring this celebration into our local Republic festivities, or maybe it’s because we’re foreign minded. Perhaps.

Party Trucks: Pulse Entertainment, Hits and Jams and Banks DIH to name the most vibrant and most talked about. Party trucks are the physical evidence of how Mashramani has devolved from a festival of people and celebration to drinking and partying. I can understand Pulse and HJ, they are entertainment companies, but Banks DIH has for years ‘Mashed’ through the streets of Georgetown, sponsoring the local carnival, and winning top prizes for its costumes and bands. This year it went the party truck route.

Carib Beer (Ansa McAl) and Banks DIH have always rivalled each other for best costumes, largest band and promoting the Mashramami atmosphere but neither came out this year as per tradition; Carib was nonexistent and Banks had a party truck. This spells trouble for the future.

The evidence is there that Mashramani is no more and that Mashramani Carnival is the evolution of the Republic Day festival.

But there is the argument of globalization that sums up all I have written about the evolution (and devolution) of Mashramani. Basically the world has now became so interlinked that it is a global village. It is okay for us to evolve our local carnival into a more familiarized festival to the rest of the world’s festivals. We can’t stay in the 70s forever. We always ask for tourists to come during this time of year so maybe we should have placed the world on the streets in Guyana. But while we have done this we have lost the origins of Mashramani, and so we have lost ourselves.

Originally posted in The Scene, March 2014.

Image Source: GTvibes

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