Kaieteur News – I do not know what route the Minister of Education uses to get to and from work. But if during the daytime she passes by the junction of Irving and Lamaha Streets, she should be disturbed by what she will witness there.
There are quite a few school-age lads who are hustling a dime at that junction by peddling water and drinks and by offering – and in some cases without invitation – to clean your windscreen in return for a few dollars.
They are now joined by a group of masquerade pretenders, most of whom are very young children who should not be on the streets doing what they doing. They are also endangering their lives by jumping in front of vehicles and stopping their flow in order to extort – because that’s what it is – money from motorists. Most of those who I saw this past week did not have on a mask.
As the Christmas Season progresses, the extortion will expand. Other masquerade bands will prop up in other parts of the city but mainly on main roads.
The bulk of the masquerade bands which are parading the streets are a disgrace. They are doing a grave injustice to a traditional art form.
The present crop of masquerade bands is not upholding any traditions. The bands are destroying these traditions by their mediocrity and by using it to extort money from citizens by blocking their movement.
Masquerade has long been associated with the Christmas season. It is also an African tradition which, it is claimed, was used as part of the resistance during slavery. It survived the colonial process of cultural emasculation.
Unfortunately what the colonial authorities did not achieve – the erasure of this art form – may well be achieved by the majority of the present crop of masqueraders. They are bringing the art form into disrepute.
In the old days, colourful bands of dancers and musicians, bedecked in colourful costumes and equipped with props would take to the streets of villages and the wards of towns and perform for residents. In turn, the residents would make small donations to the band.
Dancers would flounce and perform deft steps much to the delight and envy of onlookers. In the old days, you could not but help admire the artistry of masquerade dancers. They took pride in their craft and made the effort to entertain.
These days the bands do not go into the wards and villages. They stay on the main roads, use their ‘privileges’ to obstruct traffic in order to extort monies from motorists who are forced to slow or stop.
This practice has cheapened masquerade and turned it into extortion. In the old days, you had to dance to get a donation. These days you just have to jump in front of a moving vehicle. Most drivers find these masqueraders as nuisances. They give mainly in order to be allowed to proceed.
The performers are also endangering themselves by jumping into the path of moving vehicles by strutting their stuff on some of the busiest thoroughfares. The practice of jumping in front of moving vehicles is extremely dangerous. God forbid if anything should happen to one of them while on the road.
In the main, what passes for masquerade bands is a poor imitation of the art form. Most of the performers are not properly trained. They are more interested in holding out the collection cap than they are about moving their feet and upper body. Most of them do not have a clue about flouncing.
The police should have long taken action to discourage the masquerade bands on busy streets. It seems as if only when a tragedy strikes, the police are prepared to take action. One of these days, someone is going to be run over by a motorist and only then will the police issue guidelines on the use of roadways by masquerade bands.
The appalling lack of skill is just one of the many challenges standing in the way of preserving the masquerade band. To be brutally frank, the costumes of most masquerade bands have seen better days. These costumes are mainly hand-downs.
Masquerade needs a makeover. As has been said, this is a special Guyanese tradition and one which most people feel should be preserved. But to do this requires better standards and training.
It would be sad and a loss to Guyana’s cultural heritage if the masquerade goes into remission or is further degraded. The Ministry responsible for culture should intervene to help support the cultural tradition and by getting the bands off the main streets.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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