Feb 28, 2012 Letters
In the interest of national unity, and the well being of the citizens of Guyana, there is need for a comprehensive reform of Republic Day celebrations in Guyana.
As a nation, over the passage of time, we have signalled our intention to honour our diversity by granting the various major religions and ethnicities public holidays to celebrate their faiths and culture and heritage. In contemporary Guyanese society, several gaps have emerged.
Firstly, many groups – religious groups, cultural groups, ethnic groups, secular groups, community groups – are unrepresented nationally by these holidays and remain invisible. My conversation with a respected professional of Portuguese ancestry in Guyana revealed quite clearly that he did not buy the argument that the Arrival of Portuguese to Guyana was also being celebrated on May 5 – Arrival Day. Where do we give space to the Baha’i s of Guyana? Or the Yorubas? Or the Rastafarian community?
Secondly, by and large, most of the holidays that have been granted, result in an aggregate of individual communities celebrating privately and separately.
Republic Day celebrations offer an opportunity to create the web that will link these separate communities and bind and unite us as a nation. There is much dispute around Mashramani and Republic Day and this signals the existence of a problem as well as an intention by the people to engage in discussion.
We are so very fortunate in this nation to have a tangible vision of the problems that besiege us. We have the Republic Day celebrations in Guyana on the 23rd February looming tall as the single most salient and tangible indicator of all that separates the people of this country and hence it is the thing that needs to be resolved to take us across that critical point in our relationships into increased connectedness.
Interestingly, in the mathematics of connectivity, a tight web is created with suddenness when the conditions are right to trigger an instant transition from disconnectedness to connectedness. This point is called a state transition (pun intended, of course). If we fix this Mashramani/ Republic Day problem, we are home.
I know we are accustomed to thinking that our political problems are intractable. That’s because we are looking in the wrong places for a solution. I am reminded of the tale of the drunk man who was looking for his keys under the lamp post. A passer-by asked him why was he doing that. He replied that he was looking under the lamp post for his keys because this is where the light is.
We are looking in the wrong place – desperately feeling that our happiness rests with the ‘other’ person making a change. It’s all too primal and elementary to be allowed to continue in the 21st century.
It is interesting to listen to the thoughts of a political commentator who suggests that the reason that PPP supporters (implying of course Guyanese of Indian ancestry) do not feel complete comfort with Mashramani celebrations is largely because the PPP told them to stay away.
This type of commentary reflects the wrong views and inaccurate assumptions that are prevalent in the brains of people of this country (not unlike myself a few years ago) and it is precisely these ideas that need to be expressed and uprooted and acknowledged to be wrong. Is it not a shame that an accumulation of simple wrong views like this are dividing us leading to our unhappiness? (People are dying daily in this country; living unfulfilled lives.)
We are not going to solve this problem by butting heads in Parliament. It is a very human problem and solving it requires that people on the street are able to admit to the possibility of harbouring a wrong view. Another confusion around Mashramani is that it is a Guyanese holiday which emphasizes ‘celebration after hard work.’ So what is it doing on Republic Day activities?
Maybe as a young nation, ideas were limited. Now, with hindsight, we can do better than this. Interestingly, even Trinidad and Tobago’s Carnival, the inspiration behind Mashramani, is separated from Trinidad and Tobago’s Republic Day Celebration which happens on the 24th September.
The current manner in which Republic Day (Feb 23rd) is celebrated by merging it with Mashramani celebrations offers little opportunity for inclusiveness of other cultures, traditions and sensitivities. So, it is in its placement on Republic Day that the problem begins.
The second problem arises from those who defend it demanding the assimilation which as a concept is mutually exclusive with acceptance, tolerance and respect – at complete odds with our fundamental values as enshrined in the laws of the land. So, on Republic Day, we are demonstrating ignorance, doing the very opposite of the aspirations of the paper documents supporting nationhood.
Mashramani celebrations on February 23 as the main event for Republic Day leave a severe deficit and indeed a huge gaping hollow in our national psyche and our contortions around this problem are compounding it.
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