We recently got to celebrate two of the best Guyanese holidays back to back! February 23rd marked Mashramani and March 2nd was Phagwah—so lucky Guyanese got two Fridays off in a row! I really enjoy both of these celebrations so thought I’d share a little about my experience.
Mashramani is an Amerindian word that means “celebration after cooperative work” and the holiday celebrates the formation of the Republic. Check out more on the history here and great pictures from this year here. The theme this year was “Cooperate and Celebrate Republic 48” to mark the 48th anniversary of Guyana becoming a Republic in 1970 (which is different from Independence Day celebrated in May). It’s a little bit like Carnival in Trinidad but with a Guyanese twist. There’s a big parade with costumes and music in Georgetown but I stayed in Essequibo for the smaller celebration. The week leading up to the holiday was big fun for school kids. Classes were put on hold and kids played games, had a cookout, did a parade through the village, had another parade in the region, prepared dances and poetry, and made costumes. I participated in the regional parade where all the schools from the region dress up and dance through the streets! On Friday we had the day off and I joined a few friends to check out the festivities in Anna Regina (the hub of the region). They had a few big floats and one group dressed up with bright costumes! We just caught the end of the program but it was fun to see everyone celebrating Guyana. Next year I hope to see the big celebration in Georgetown!
The next week was Phagwah which is a Hindu festival of colors and celebration of good over evil. I’ve gotten various answers on whether it’s the same as Holi but they’re definitely grouped together. Phagwah’s history and meaning are also quite complicated but you can check out more info here. What I have learned is that most Hindus go to Mandir the night before and burn a large fire while they sing songs. They let it burn all night then in the morning they go back to Mandir for a service then throw colored powder on each other to celebrate good triumphing over evil. Traditionally people wear white so by the end of the day they’re all sort of purple. I joined up with a group from a local Mandir and played in the streets with friends and strangers as we moved from house to house. In addition to all the colored powder, people bring squirt guns and throw buckets of water on each other! It’s very messy but a lot of fun! After playing with the group in the morning, I went home and cleaned up so we could go visit some families we know. We got tons of delicious food (it’s Guyanese custom to feed anyone that comes by your home) and had a lovely time celebrating with friends. We then went to a local store that was having a program and watched dancing, beautiful singing, and craziness in the crowd. They put extra stain in the color this year so people (and their clothes) were rather permanently died purple. In fact, the parking lot where they had the program is still purple! It was a nice holiday though and I especially enjoyed the family aspect of it this year. As an outsider, it’s so special to be welcomed into people’s homes and share their traditions. I can’t wait to play again next year!