By PAT DIAL
We are in the countdown to the climax of the Mashramani Celebrations. Despite the distractions of the forthcoming National Elections, the Oil discoveries and the Venezuelan sabre-rattling, Guyanese people are not allowing themselves to be distracted away from their celebrations of Mash and the Commemoration of Republic Day.
The business community, the Ministry of Culture, the Education System as represented by the schools throughout the Nation, as well as the various entertainment promoters are all engaged in an active and vibrant medley to create an occasion which will long live in the national memory.
Though the celebratory aspects of Mashramani have almost subsumed the commemoration of the Berbice Slave Rebellion which began on 23rd February, 1763, some 250 years ago, the State formally has its own celebration with the raising of the National Flag, a military parade, gun salutes and fireworks which are the major attraction.
Berbicians tend to pay more attention to the freedom struggle aspect of the festival than Demerarians and Essequibans because they have always stoutly claimed that Berbice was the home and incubator of Guyanese freedom and freedom struggles.
They also claim that the majority of the men and women who have struggled for Democracy, human rights and workers’ rights have had Berbician roots. Berbice’s role in Guyana’s social, economic and cultural development could certainly provide topics for MA and PhD theses especially now that Berbice has become Guyana’s oil capital.
Most of the media have concentrated on the entertainment and celebratory aspects of the festival, barely remembering the Berbice Slave Rebellion. We therefore think it appropriate to remind ourselves of that important historical event.
The Rebellion broke out at plantation Magdalenenburg in the Berbice River on 23rd February, 1763, two hundred and fifty years ago. It quickly spread to almost all the plantations along both Canje and Berbice Rivers. It should be remembered that until the 19th century no plantations had been established on the coast mainly because of the drainage problems. The slaves, led by Cuffy, quickly seized all the plantations leaving the Dutch pent up at Fort Nassau.
In the colony at the time there were approximately 4000 slaves and 400 Europeans. Cuffy and his army were now in possession of the colony and wished to declare it an independent state.
Cuffy began negotiations with the Dutch Governor, Van Hoogenheim, so as to have the Dutch make a peaceful exit out of the colony but Van Hoogenheim played for time prolonging the negotiations. In the meantime, the Governor desperately sought reinforcements from Demerara, Suriname and Holland. Such reinforcements arrived in the nick of time and Cuffy and his army found themselves outgunned and militarily outnumbered and after a few skirmishes, they were defeated.
Most historians have concluded that if the slaves had not been plagued with internal dissension, they would have been successful and would have been able to establish the first African independent state in the Americas, pre-dating Haiti by half a century.
The colony of Berbice never recovered from the Rebellion and only returned to some stability and prosperity when it was ceded to Britain in 1815.
Since the 23rd of February was the anniversary of the first attempt to establish an independent state in Guyana, President LFS Burnham felt it was most appropriate to declare Guyana a Republic on that anniversary.
The first years of the Republic Day celebrations were distinctly political – there were speeches by the President, military parades, gun salutes, flag raising and fireworks in all the Regions. Linden had long been marking Independence Day in May with celebrations largely modeled on the Trinidad Carnival.
The Linden celebrations became absorbed in Republic Day and soon came to be its main element. It was in Linden that the name Mashramani was given to the festival which had evolved to be almost purely celebratory.
Mashramani is an Amerindian word meaning ‘relaxation and celebration after a period of hard work’.
Some of the main programmes of Mashramani include The Children’s School competitions running up to the Children’s National competition; Mashramani All Stars Concert in Region One and at Lethem; The Chutney Extravaganza Song Competition and Duck Curry Competition held at Bath and Charity; Calypso and Soca competitions running into Mashramani week; the National Art Exhibition; the Literary and Visual Arts Street Fair in Main Street on 21st February.
The centre piece of the Mashramani celebrations is the Flag Raising Ceremony in the evening of 22nd February at D’Urban Park and the Costume and Float Parade on 23rd February.
Further Mashramani celebrations in the coming years could be enriched if greater emphasis is laid on literary competitions and performances of the classical music of Guyana’s two great musical traditions, the Western and the Indian.
Also, the plural cultures of Guyana could be shown to great advantage especially their performing arts and cuisine.
Happy Mashramani !
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