Over the centuries with the discovery of Guyana, the colonial powers imported labour originally from Africa then India, China and Madeira (Portugal) for the cultivation of sugar as the local indigenous people were not suited for this type of work. Guyana’s population of today is classified as being six ethnic groups who still practise the rich and diverse religious and cultural heritage of their foreparents to include festivals which are celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. The legacies of these cultures and their importance in today’s Guyana are shared with all Guyanese with public holidays being granted to recognise their
significance. Be part of this unique cultural experience and plan your visit to participate in one or all of the many annual festivals. Detailed below are some information on the various festivals celebrated annually in Guyana.
MASHRAMANI, often referred to as “Mash”, is the equivalent of Guyana’s Carnival and is an annual festival that celebrates Guyana becoming a sovereign Republic on 23 February 1970. The first Mashramani festival was celebrated on Feb 23rd, 1970 in the mining town of Linden and has since become a major national annual event . There are spectacular costume competitions, float parades, masquerade bands, and dancing in the streets to the accompaniment of steel band music and calypsos. Masquerades frequent the streets performing acrobatic dance routines, a vivid reminder of Guyana’s African heritage. The Mash Day depicts a hive of activity in Georgetown from Vlissengen Road and lrving Street all the way to the National Park. Thousands of people summon to the streets to participate
in the annual Mashramani celebrations, which has been a part of Guyanese culture for almost 40 years. In 2010, Guyana will celebrate 40 years as a Republic and Mash is expected to be bigger than ever.
PHAGWAH or HOLI – is a Hindu religious holiday observed in March to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. It is also a Spring Festival celebrating the Hindu New Year, the
beginning of another crop, the coming of the rainy season and is popularly known as the festival of colours. Hindus traditionally wear white on Phagwah day and indulge in the throwing upon each other of a harmless liquid called abeer. Abeer is a red dye which symbolizes the blood of the tyrannical King Hiranya who in Hindu lore ordered that his son Prince Prahalad be burnt to death for defying his wishes. The traditional burning of the ‘Holika’ on the night before is practised as the forerunner to the start of Phagwah day celebrations.
After attending services at the temples in the morning Hindus start their festivities with the throwing of abeer, powder, perfume, and water on family, friends and neighbours in what is an amusing, goodnatured and joyful celebration. The festival is celebrated across the country by both Hindus and non Hindus and was originally brought to British Guiana by Hindus who arrived as indentured labourers to work on sugar plantations over 170 years ago.
EID UL FITR – Muslims celebrate ‘Eid ul Fitr following the month of Ramadhan (the month of fasting). Following a Lunar calendar, Muslims mark the beginning of the month with the sighting of the new crescent. The month long fasting of
Ramadan culminates into the festival of ‘Eid-ul-Fitr, the Festival of Fast-Breaking.
It is a festival of joy, family reunion and thanksgiving to Almighty God. The giving of a special charity for this occasion is obligatory. This is known as Zakat. Muslims dress in holiday attire, attend a special community prayer in the morning, and
visit friends and relatives. Greetings of “’Eid mubarak,” or “a blessed ‘Eid” are exchanged joyfully. Eid is generally celebrated annually in September at the end of the month of Ramadan which is confirmed with the sighting of the moon according to Muslim tradition.
EASTER – is a Christian religious festival celebrated annually in April. Easter is a very popular time of the year as it symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is a period which always falls over a weekend and generates a lot of activities
and celebrations due to the long weekend always associated with it. On Good Friday all businesses are closed. Easter Sunday and Easter Monday is when all the fun starts. Imagine looking up into the sky andseeing hundreds of kites flying . Kites of all
shapes, sizes and colors buzzing around and dancing to the wind in the skies, all make for a beautiful site. The kite season starts a few days before Easter. The kites are normally flown along the coast of thecountry and on the Sea Wall where the wind is strong and there are no overhead electrical wires. In addition families get together and travel to various parts of the country where they picnic in the parks and along the creeks and rivers.
DIWALI – or “The Festival of Lights” is a Hindu Festival brought by the East Indians and is celebrated annually in October. Diwali is a celebration based on the return from exile of the great Hindu hero Rama as set out in the Ramayana , a holy book
which is often read at Hindu festivals. He was the heir to the throne and was exiled by his father for fourteen years. Diwali celebrates Rama’s return from exile. It is celebrated in October generally and everyone in the Hindu household looks forward to it as Indian sweetmeats to include metai, halwa and other special foods are prepared. Around each house clay cups containing oil and a wick are arranged in beautiful patterns. These cups are called diyas. In the evening the wicks are lit. What a marvellous sight it is to see. People walk and travel around the city and villages to admire all the diyas and decorations. A major attraction today are the elaborate float parades which are unique to Guyana.
CHRISTMAS is a major Christian festival in Guyana. At Christmas time, plans for making the famous “Black Cake” are put into works. “Garlic Pork” is another popular dish at Christmas. Normally a few nights before Christmas, the older folks start going from house to house and sing carols. There are lots of eating and drinking at this time. On Christmas Day there are exchanges of gifts between family members and friends. Churches hold services and the people of the Christian Faith attend. Businesses and
homes are decorated with Christmas lights. It is also a major period of homecoming for Guyanese relatives and friends to visit from overseas making it a grand holiday to stay and welcome the New Year. Major family reunions and social gatherings are the order of the day. In addition the Government has organised the “Main Big Lime” as a major Street Party celebration taking place on all of Main Street in the capital city of Georgetown.
EMANCIPATION DAY – 1st August is celebrated annually as Emancipation Day. It was on 1st August, 1834, that full and finalfreedom was announced for all enslaved Africans throughout the British Caribbean. Out of the abolition came the villages, the struggle of the trade union movement, the opening of the hinterland through the pork knockers, and the evolution of the Civil service and artesian shops. Guyanese of African Heritage have been mobilised through the African Cultural Development Association with the hosting of an annual day of celebration at the National Park in Georgetown. Many people wear traditional African attire and attend an exhibition of historic African lifestyle and culture.
There is African food, singing, dancing and music at the National Park celebrating the heritage of their ancestors.