Mashramani, often abbreviated to “Mash“, is an annual festival that celebrates Guyana becoming a Republic in 1970. The festival, usually held on 23 February – Guyanese Republic Day – includes a parade, music, games and cooking and is intended to commemorate the “Birth of the Republic”. In 2016, the Mashramani parade was held on May 26, the 50th anniversary of Guyana’s independence, but the remainder of the celebration was held on the traditional February date.
The word “Mashramani” is derived from an Amerindian language and in Guyanese English means “celebration after cooperative work”. It is one of the most colourful of all the country’s festivals, and one of the few that involves all Guyanese ethnic groups. 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. Calypso and chutney music competitions are another integral part of Mashramani, and this culminates in the coronation of a King or Queen for the particular year.
But how did it all start? Well, the Jaycees of Linden had, since Guyana became independent in 1966, been organizing an independent carnival in Mackenzie. When Guyana became Republic in February 1970, a new committee was formed called the Jaycees Republic Celebrations Committee. As part of it, Basil Butcher was selected as chairman but due to his being selected to tour Australia with the West Indies cricket team, Jim Blackman was appointed as the Deputy to carry on. A broad based committee including resource personnel such as Wordsworth McAndrew, Arthur Seymour and Adrian Thompson, began the organization of the carnival like activities.
With the advent of a new observation and a national festival, the search for a name to replace the overused ‘carnival’ began. As it could plainly be seen, the focus on the independence parade had now been switched to the new Republic day observance. In essence, the search for a name for the Republic day celebration was deliberate and back then it was suggested by Basil Butcher that an Amerindian name be chosen. This was agreed and several individuals including Mr. Allan Fieldlow, an Amerindian, were contacted. Mr. Fieldlow had discussions with his grandfather who described a type of festival that was held by Amerindians whenever they gather to celebrate a special event.
The event he said was like “Muster Many” (or Mashirimehi in Amerindian) and sounded in Arawak like Mashramani. Several steps were taken to verify this but since no one could have confirmed or denied that the Arawak word for festival was Mashramani then the festival was declared Mashramani. On February 23, 1970, the festival called Mashramani in its first year of observance was a grand success with people drawn from all regions of Guyana to Linden welcoming Guyana’s status as a Republic with over three days of frolic and fun.
This massive success led to the idea of moving the celebration from Linden to the capital city, Georgetown. So discussions were held with the committee and approval was given by the then president Forbes Burnham to make Mash the official celebration for Guyana’s Republic Anniversary. Afterwards, Mash activities were rotated in Linden, Berbice and Georgetown but due to sponsorship, the Costume band contest remained in Georgetown where it still occurs up to this day.