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colorful traditions

Festivals Celebrate Guyana’s Rich Tapestry of Culture

Photo: Dr. Seeta Shah Roath


uyana has a diverse cultural landscape drawn from its incredibly varied ethnic compositions. Over the years, the Amerindian, Indo-Guyanese, Afro-Guyanese, Chinese and Portuguese have all left their own distinct imprint on the nation, which hosts an array of religious and secular celebrations throughout the year.

All Guyanese celebrate Christmas, Easter, Phagwah, Diwali and the Eid holidays. But there are many other unique traditions, such as the large Carnival called Mashramani, when Guyanese and visitors from around the globe enjoy the rich revelry, masquerades, costumes, parades, concerts, conferences and exhibitions to mark the birth of the Republic on Feb. 23. Mashramani is an Amerindian word meaning “celebration after hard work.” And that’s just what people do, letting loose with junior and senior Calypso and Soca music competitions, poetry, drama and costume festivals, as well as a countrywide carnival. The annual event showcases the capital city of Georgetown and all that the country has to offer, including its vibrant rain forests, waterfalls, beach resorts and other attractions during this relatively cool time of the year. Christmas in Guyana involves black rum cake reminiscent of English Christmas pudding made with ground dried fruits, brown sugar and local rum. Other signature dishes include garlic pork from the Portuguese and pepperpot made from different types of meat cooked in a dark sauce derived from the cassava root. The latter delicacy is Amerindian in origin. There is also an abundance of home-brewed ginger beer and sorrel drink. The Christmas season takes on a colorful atmosphere as masquerade folk parades light up towns, villages and city centers, in addition to the usual Christmas revelry, from Santa Claus parties to caroling and religious pageants. Meanwhile, the Easter festivities highlight a unique tradition that can be found throughout the country but is especially prevalent on the coastal belt, where trade winds help to propel colorful, long-tailed kites. During Easter, children and adults alike fly thousands of kites of all shapes and sizes as families picnic in parks and along the sea wall that stretches the entire length of the coastland. There are kite competitions, radio and television programs, and theater shows all commemorating the Easter festival in late March to April. Easter weekend also boasts boat regattas on the Essequibo River at several major villages and towns. In addition, a Guyanese Rodeo is held during Easter week in the savannah lands of Lethem at the border with Brazil. Amerindian vaqueros have garnered international fame with their dramatic bull riding and wild horse sporting displays and competitions. March also features the Phagwah festival, which was brought from India by East Indians who came to

April • May 2013

Photo: Michael C Lam

Guyana as indentured immigrants 175 years ago. Descendants of all ethnicities have embraced this harvest festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. One of the main attractions of Phagwah is the playful spraying of friends and family with colored water and powders. Folk songs, dances and cuisine characteristic of India have been retained, adapted and shared by all Guyanese. The Amerindian Heritage Festival is celebrated in more than 15 Amerindian villages scattered throughout the 10 regions of Guyana, with major events in the city of Georgetown during the month of September. Conferences, art, cultural programs and folklore experiences, including craft exhibitions and markets, are among the many activities presented during this festival. Native music, dance, cuisine and folk dresses provide a retreat into an indigenous existence lost to many other countries in the Americas. Another cross-cultural holiday is Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which is commemorated in November with fireworks, brightly lit homes, exuberant fairs, and highly decorated motorcade competitions with models of scenes depicting the return of Lord Rama after being exiled for 14 years. Celebrated by descendants of Indians who settled in Guyana over 170 years ago, this festival provides visitors and residents with a picturesque evening parade, Indian sweets and lively music to look forward to every year. Indeed, throughout the year, visitors to Guyana can easily immerse themselves in a countrywide festival or a cultural presentation at the National Cultural Centre, the historic Theatre Guild of Guyana and the National Stadium, or just catch a jazz session at the Sidewalk Café. The country’s numerous venues are home to a panoply of culture that fuses elements of Guyana’s diverse multicultural influences for a one-of-a-kind experience. Sponsored Report

Photo: Dr. Seeta Shah Roath

Photo: courtesy of Ministry of Tourism

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