Festival pays tribute to everything Guyanese

The three-day Guyana Festival was officially opened yesterday and thousands of persons, locals and foreigners alike, took the opportunity to take in what was promised to be a true celebration of everything Guyanese.

The inaugural opening of the festival, at the Providence National Stadium, delivered a large component of its promise, even after a not unexpected late start. The opening was scheduled to begin with a parachute air show by officers of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) at 4pm, but did not start until nearly two hours later, pushing the entire schedule off-track. Hundreds converged in the stadium’s stands and impatiently awaited the arrival of the diving performers. Finally, after much delay and stalling by a host, the show finally began at 5:45pm.

It might have been a good show but most persons in attendance certainly would not have known. “Oh, look at that guy! He’s flipping in the air!” the host exclaimed as many persons shook their heads in dismay and frustration. Miles above them a performance was happening. However, none of it could be seen due to the obstruction created by the stands’ roofs.

Performers during an African-inspired dance
Performers during an African-inspired dance

Patrons were forced to clamour over seats in an attempt to stand at the edge of railings to catch a glimpse of the parachuters. Some simply sat in their seats and waited for the parachuters to land on the field.

A storyteller entertains patrons as they stop in for a listen
A storyteller entertains patrons as they stop in for a listen

The air show, which had garnered much excitement before its commencement, was over in less than 20 minutes. The attention was then turned to the centre stage where those who had been in the stands hurried to reach before the extravaganza began.

The cultural show, under the theme of ‘Myths and Legends of Guyana,’ was worth the wait.

Most likely in an effort to stave off criticisms, the show was extensive as it sought to highlight each cultural group.

For hours, patrons were privy to maypole plaiting, masquerading, dragon dancing and steel pan music. For the older folks, the songs and stories were a walk down memory lane, while for the younger ones, the showcase of Guyana’s uniqueness was an eye-opening experience.

“If you ain’t know about your culture, you lost,” local performer Henry Rodney said during a dramatic piece, and the festival’s organisers seemed intent on making sure that culture was inundated into every crevice of the show.

Visitors were regaled with tales of legends, such as the Ole Higue and the Baccoo interspersed with feet-moving tassa drumming, African drumming, and steel-pan playing.

It was not just the content of the show that was impressive though; its presentation was also commendable. Obvious planning had gone into the opening ceremony, with impressive lighting, stage setting and, most importantly, smooth transitions between pieces. Unlike many events in Guyana, the show seemed like it had actually been rehearsed multiple times before the actual date. Many persons seemed to agree that the show was a good one and neglected to visit the booths lying on the outskirts of the crowd, instead staying riveted to what was happening on the centre stage.

The booths were, for the most part, big disappointments. The food booths delivered and had primarily local food available.

Though promoters had said that the festival differed from GuyExpo by focusing on Guyana’s one-of-a-kind culture and not on the growth of the country’s economy, quite a number of booths were merely there for business purposes. Perhaps the promoters believed,

 A patron takes a spin on a makeshift scooter
A patron takes a spin on a makeshift scooter

for example, that the “taking out” of items from Courts Guyana was part of the country’s culture.

There was also an entire section devoted to the art, music, and craft of Guyana and while many booths struggled for visitors, this section never seemed to want for them.

Aside from the disappointing air show and even more disappointing booths, the festival was marred by other issues. Around 6pm, the majority of the booths were in darkness.

When asked why electricity was not available, an attendant told Stabroek News that the current had been taken off for the air show in case one of the divers accidentally hit a line. Though the reason was quite understandable, exhibitors were forced to remain in the dark for nearly an hour until electricity could be restored by the Guyana Power and Light Company (GPL).

In the art exhibition section, visitors struggled to view the artworks in the dark. At one point during the temporary blackout, a patron walked across a rangoli display, spelling out the words “Guyana Festival” and scattered rice in several directions. “I’m sorry!” the embarrassed young woman exclaimed. “I didn’t see it.”

According to the festival’s schedule, today sports will be the main attraction with a cricket match at 4pm and a football match later at 7pm, while on the final day promoters have promised a “festival cookout” followed by a high-energy concert.

Today, gates will open at 2pm, while tomorrow they will be opened at 12 noon.

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