Drawing thousands on the streets to celebrate, festivals are a great time to visit Guyana. The air is festive, host communities are full of colour and the vibe is inviting. The country loves spectacular parties and parades that honour the diversity of its people and its motto – ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny.’ For the traveller, it is an ideal time to experience Guyana from a local’s perspective – in the midst of a riot of colour, music, dance, traditions and delicious food. The most heartening part of seeing people celebrate these occasions is the fact that they are not divided by heritage or culture. Everyone joins in the fun, regardless of religion or ethnic origin.
Affectionately christened ‘Mash’, Mashramani is one of Guyana’s most important festivals. The word is an Indigenous one which roughly translates to ‘the celebration after hard work.’ It is celebrated on 23rd February as Guyana’s Republic Day. The capital city of Georgetown, other smaller towns and even villages join in the celebrations. Parades, costume competitions, music, masquerade parties and dancing in the streets are common occurrences. The Caribbean influenced heritage is celebrated with vigour as sounds of soca, chutney and calypso music fill the air. The festival usually continues late into the night with the sound of music and laughter, the smell of good food, and the feeling of complete enjoyment echoing through the streets.
The festival of colours is an ode to Guyana’s East Indian heritage and is celebrated each year in March or April. It is the same as celebrating ‘Holi’ in India, where people dress in white and shower each other with dry and wet colours. The festival commemorates the victory of Prince Prahalad over his demon-father, Hiranyakashyap and his sister Holika. Be ready to be doused in colour and stuffed with Indian sweets and confectionary if you’re planning to visit during Phagwah.
With a substantial Christian population, Easter is celebrated with great fervour. As any other part of the world, Easter is celebrated with annual cleaning, decorating the house, visiting church, baking cakes for friends and family, and letting the children enjoy the thrill of finding Easter eggs. Guyanese also have a tradition of raising all colours and types of kites in the air during this period. This is a delight to see especially on Easter Monday at the seawall and local beaches.
Rupununi and Sand Creek Rodeo
Easter is a busy time for Guyanese. The Easter weekend is also reserved for the legendary annual Rupununi Rodeo in Lethem – a celebration of the region’s long association with ranching culture. The town’s stadium hosts a large rodeo rink encircled by wooden stands. The rest of the field is dedicated to food and shopping stalls. The two-day affair is marked by rodeo competitions, with seasoned vaqueros participating in events like saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, tie down roping, bull riding, barrel racing and other competitions. The days are reserved for family events, whereas the evening celebrations are pulsating and reverberate with dance music. Celebrations go on till the wee hours of the morning, as people hit the dance floor with local musicians or DJs playing live music. The Sand Creek Rodeo is much the same and is becoming popular with residents in the South Rupununi as it is quite easier to visit from nearby communities.
Another event that enthralls the country on the same weekend as Easter, is the regatta held in Bartica. Bartica is one the major gateways to Guyana’s mining regions, located on the Essequibo River. It has a serene vibe and a wonderful stretch of sand that comes alive during the regatta. People come from far and wide to see speed boats race through the otherwise calm waters, leaving a white wake behind them. Other competitions and festivities include a Miss Regatta Pageant, music bands playing for the crowds, food stalls and vendors, and ample alcohol to keep the mood upbeat.
The latest addition to Guyana’s festivities is the annual carnival. Despite the blazing heat, people take to the streets in elaborate costumes in the fete like atmosphere. Guyana’s national colours of green, yellow, red, white and black are waved with enthusiasm and even make it to the colours of the costumes. Large processions with exquisite floats wend through the streets of Georgetown, while food stalls and markets throng with people. The first Guyana Carnival was held in May 2018, and promises to be an annual event of fun and frolic.
The festival of lights is decidedly rooted in its Indian heritage and celebrates the victory of good over evil. It marks the day when Lord Rama, the main character of the Indian epic, Ramayana, came home after an exile of 13 years. While people from Indian heritage get busy in cleaning homes and decorating their houses with lights, everyone else joins in the fun of music, dance and food. Diwali is celebrated in October or November each year.
Friends and family living out of Guyana usually prefer to return home over the Christmas holidays. It is time to prop up the trees, decorate homes, attend mass in church, visit friends and go on a gifting spree. The annual holiday is an important one for Guyanese. Instead of the much touted ‘white Christmas’, travellers will find the warm tropical weather ideal to celebrate outdoors in Georgetown. Despite the frenetic shopping season, Guyana’s vibe is relaxed as ever, with the locals keeping the celebrations amped up with carol singing and great food and music in homes and restaurants.