Guyana is a South American country which lies north of Brazil. Filled with palm trees, exotic wildlife and waterfalls, volunteering abroad in Guyana is an adventure at any time of year. The country’s official language is English and the population is very diverse. Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese are the dominant groups demographically and the country has a heavy Caribbean influence. The residents of the country are generally very relaxing and fun people to be around: they will make international volunteers in Guyana feel welcome right away. To showcase this fun attitude, many festivals are held in Guyana each year. There is definitely something for everyone, so make sure you check out one of these festivals before the end of your volunteer program!
Held every February, usually on the 23rd, since 1970, Mashramani celebrates Guyana’s becoming of a republic. Translated from the Amerindian language, it means “the celebration of a job well done.” Thousands of people line the streets to view a big parade with extravagant floats, people dressed in colorful costumes dancing to Caribbean-originated music and many competitions with cash prizes. The musical competitions include a steel band competition, soca monarch competition, chutney competition and calypso competition. At the end of Mashramani, a king and queen are also crowned. And what’s a Guyanese festival without some delicious Caribbean food? The festival features vendors which sell plantain chips, fried chicken, pine tarts, cheese rolls and other fine pastries and food. Guyana’s Mashramani is a festival that is embraced by every race which resides in the country and it is a spectacle to behold. From the children smiling as all eyes are on them during the parade, to the beautifully crafted floats and beaded costumes, this is not a festival to miss if you plan on visiting Guyana in February.
The festival of lights, or Divali, is a visually appealing festival held annually in Guyana during October or November. It is celebrated by Hindus who place clay cups that are lit, around their house. Hindus believe that Rama, a son of King Dasarata from his first wife, was banished into the forest by King Dasarata’s jealous second wife who wanted her own son, Prince Bharata, to be king. Rama fought off many demons while in the forest and eventually returned to the kingdom, where he was celebrated as being a hero. It was said that the path was lit upon Rama’s return thus giving way to the tradition today. During Divali, many special treats are made such as methai, a fried piece of dough with sugar and cinnamon (similar to churros) and halwa, a pudding that has a unique sweet but spicy taste.
Also called Holi in many countries, Paghwa is the festival of colours which takes place annually in March. Those who participate will typically wear white clothing then spray water and throw colored powder at each other. The celebration also includes eating a lot of sweet food such as sweet rice, pera (which is like soft fudge), polourie (a dough snack). Holi is originally a Hindu celebration which was brought over to Guyana from India in the early 1800s. The festival marks the beginning of spring and also has religious significance-Hindus believe that the demon Hiranyakashipu, in an attempt to kill his son who worshipped a god whom he disapproved of, ordered his son to sit on the lap of Holika, Hiranyakashipu’s demoness sister, who was supposed to be immortal. He then set them on fire, and instead of Prahalda, his son, burning to death, Holika did. Thus, Hindus celebrate this triumph of good over evil with Holi. However, in Guyana, it is not just Hindus that participate in the festival, but people from all religions and age groups.
4. Easter-International Food and Drink Fest
Easter is a widely celebrated holiday in Guyana. Schools are closed for two weeks and children work with their parents and friends to prepare for a unique Guyanese Easter tradition; kite-flying. When you look up to the skies during Easter, you will see a plethora of creative and colourful kites, each one trying to fly higher than the next. Some people even put razor blades on their kite to cut other kites but it’s all part of competitive fun. Since Easter is a Christian celebration, masses are also held at churches. At the International food and drink fest, food from 19 countries around the world is featured. Of course, Guyanese food is also prominent at the festival, especially the popular Easter choice, hot cross buns. There is also wine tasting and beer from Asia, Europe and the Americas as well as great music.
5. Independence Day
Guyana was ruled by the British until May 26th, 1966, when the country became independent. To celebrate this momentous day, Independence Day festivities are held annually and include a flag-raising ceremony, fireworks and a message from the president. Other events are also held including the two-day Guyana Food, Arts and Music festival held at the National Stadium. Reggae superstar Damian Marley was a past headliner at the festival, which had a massive turn-out. There are booths with items for sale such as paintings depicting Guyana’s beautiful landscape, and bowls and ornaments made from local materials. In addition, there are fashion shows and activities for kids to take part in. The celebration gets bigger every year so it is definitely worth the visit during your volunteer program in Guyana!