One of the benefits of slow travel is that it greatly increases your chances to run into some form of local celebration or festival. Bonus is that since you’re already in country when said celebration occurs, you probably avoided paying peak travel fares! I was able to take advantage of this slow travel benefit during my Guyanese trip. I was in Guyana for three months and half way through my stay, Mashramani took place in the capital of Georgetown.
Mashramani, or Mash, is normally held on February 23rd of each year. This is because the whole point of the festival is to celebrate when Guyana became a republic (1970) and February 23rd is Guyanese Republic Day. The word “mashramani”, stemming from a Lokono word, actually means “the celebration after hard work” or “the celebration after a job well done” or “celebration after harvest” – take your pick.
While many other areas within Guyana have their own Mashramani festivals, Georgetown is the place to be to see the biggest of them. My experience with Mash started the evening of the 22nd, when we wandered the streets filled with people and music for something called Jouvert. Jouvert comes from the French jour overt so it is essentially the opening act for the big fete (Mash itself). Thousands of people roam the streets eating and dancing to the sounds of soca. And when I say thousands, I do mean thousands. To get anywhere, my group had to hold hands to weave through the crowds without losing each other. It was also in this crowd where one of my group lost his camera – it had been in an unbuttoned back pocket. I’ll give you three guesses as to what happened and the first two don’t count…
Like most festivals, Mash is all about the colour. There are costumes, floats, bands, dancing, music…and that is just the parade! People-watching at a parade is always entertaining and Mash was no different. What made it extra fun for me was that my group of four was ¾ white in this sea of brown and it amused me to watch their reactions to the role reversal. Yes, I’m evil like that.
Mash is a unique way to experience Guyana’s culture and to see firsthand its uniqueness – while the country is technically South American, it is culturally West Indian. That being said, the festival itself is…cute. If you go expecting it to be like Trinidad’s Carnival or the Caribbean carnivals of NYC or London, you’ll be disappointed. But if you go expecting nothing but fun, food, and non-elaborate costumes, you’ll have a good time. When I went, it was “clean” in the sense that your retinas won’t be seared by copious amounts of sweaty bare flesh – costumes were definitely more than just beads and string, unlike many other Carnivals.
After the parade, make sure you have your ticket (cost us $500 each*) and check out the stadium events. This is where floats and costumes display themselves to the judges and generally ham it up for the crowds. There are food vendors but you’ll see many people in the stands pulling out giant home cooked meals from their bags! There are definitely no rules about “no outside food allowed”, that’s for sure.
If you are in Guyana during a February, definitely do check out the Mashramani festival in Georgetown or in areas such as Bartica, Linden, or Berbice. It is a fun way to see a non-daily part of Guyanese culture and at the same time, you’ll get to eat lots and dance away the time in the bright South American sun. What could be better?
*Guyanese dollars – so that’s about $3CDN