In recent years, many Guyanese have been celebrating or acknowledging a number of foreign holidays, like St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween.
We have also embraced practices from other countries closer to home, such as J’ouvert from Trinidad and Tobago, which we have integrated into our Mashramani celebrations. There is even talk that we will be having carnival in Guyana sometime next year.
It is often said that Guyanese are ‘foreign minded;’ that many of us appreciate and/or gravitate towards the customs of others more than we do our own. In some instances, even our language is being forsaken. When one listens to the radio, for example, you hear non-Guyanese accents from folks who have never lived overseas, ads done by foreigners, and a focus on foreign celebrity news. There are also those Disk Jockeys (DJs) who seem to believe that they must have a Jamaican accent, maybe because the dancehall music that is largely promoted originated in Jamaica. There are also radio personalities and DJs who do not put on a façade but the others make us question sometimes if we are really listening to Guyanese radio.
Halloween seems to be one of the fast-growing foreign holidays celebrated in Guyana. A few years ago, one hardly heard of it, but now there are many Halloween-related activities, such as parties and costuming, and a general excitement in some sections of the society for this holiday.
Although my favourite film genre is horror and I have always been curious about things pertaining to the occult, I have never been interested in Halloween. I have never seen the joy in it, the point of it or felt any connection to it, especially when I did not know the origin.
And while many Guyanese have jumped on the bandwagon of celebrating Halloween, many do not know the history of the holiday. Some of the people who are against it being celebrated believe that it is of the devil and is, therefore, evil. Others believe that it is just a fun thing to do. While others do not care one way or the other.
History tells that the celebration began some two thousand years ago in Europe and was influenced by the Celtic festival of Samhain, where the New Year was celebrated. It marked the end of summer and harvest and the beginning of winter, which was believed to be associated with the death of human beings. It was believed that on October 31st, ghosts returned to the Earth and one of the things people would do was wear costumes and light bonfires as a way of keeping the ghosts away or tricking them. Later, the Roman Catholic Church named November 1st as All Saints Day, when saints would be remembered and honoured. October 31st was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later evolved into Halloween, where people would do trick or treating and carve pumpkins.
I wonder about the relevance of this holiday to our Guyana story. Could we somehow use the origins as a metaphor to say something about the current state of our country?
What can Halloween be taken to mean for us, particularly in light of the recent swearing in of the Gecom chairman, much to the surprise, disagreement and disappointment of many, including members of the government, opposition and civil society; the concerns raised about what is seen as the neglect of the youth; questions about our constitution; the opposition calling for non-cooperation with the government; and the decline into the racially-divisive politics, which were never erased despite the hope that the promise of national unity gave us that we were beginning to move away from those ideologies that have kept us imprisoned?
There are many dead to remember in our society and ghosts of the past keep haunting us. L.F.S Burnham, Cheddi Jagan, Desmond Hoyte and Janet Jagan remain the heroes for many and the downfall of our nation in the eyes of others.
There is a saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it;” so, it would be rather foolish to pretend that our past leaders were saints who made no mistakes. But often they are not remembered to influence how we can move forward or to remind us of mistakes we must not repeat, but are romanticised by their supporters or are denigrated by opponents, all of whom speak of them as if they are still alive making decisions.
Are Guyanese going through a ritual like the one associated with Halloween’s origins without even realising it? Are many of us disguising who we are and what we really feel about what is happening as a way to preserve our sanity or for the purpose of deception? Are we being tricked into believing that the promise of oil will finally begin to fix our problems, for example? Are we being given treats to make us feel good for a short time only to soon realise that our original problems are still there?
Many people have lost confidence in politicians. Some are waiting on promises to be realised. Basic needs that should not be an issue in 2017, such as the electricity supply and clean water out of our taps, but they are still issues. Many people are still underpaid – teachers and nurses, for example; many of us do not feel safe because of the spate of robberies; many of us are still waiting for those who raped the country to be jailed; and many are in awe that people are listening to and supporting our former oppressors. How quickly we forget.
The more I write the more I am beginning to think that Guyana is really going through a Halloween experience. We have had winter for a long time now and unfortunately, we do not know when it will end. We can only hope that a time will come like Spring and we will experience restoration; and that it will come sooner rather than later.
Maybe the rise in us celebrating things that are not Guyanese culture and the wish of many to migrate are symptoms that we are people who have never quite found our way. Although, out of the many cultures from whence our ancestors came, we have managed to amalgamate in many ways to create a unique Guyanese culture, we are still finding ourselves. Maybe it is us adapting to globalisation. Unfortunately, no one mimics us, but maybe they will in time.