Why can’t we make one holiday meaningful for all Guyanese?

Dear Editor,

 My dearly departed mother used to say “where ignorance is bliss, it’s folly to be wise”. Several weeks ago I was told that Guyana was going to have a Carnival. Now I am not only a Christian I am also a Catholic and I also went to a catholic school in Trinidad, Mount St Benedict, so I have a pretty good understanding of what Carnival is like, having been in Trinidad for seven of them in my teens. 

 Hundreds of years ago, the followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent and because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which taken from two latin words, carne and vale means “to put away the meat.”

So countries which celebrate Carnival do so on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which for us, marks the beginning of the 40 days of lent when we Catholics did not eat meat. So there is a big blowout to make ready for the Lenten season. When I was in school in Trinidad the Lenten season was so rigid that the radio and TV would not even play any of the calypsos which made any particular carnival special.

In all countries which I have investigated carnival i.e. the USA in New Orleans, in Europe, Brazil and Trinidad it happens at a specific time and for a specific reason the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday which was the beginning of the 40 days of lent for Christians.    

The unique characteristics of Brazilian Carnaval are rooted in a cultural clash between the Portuguese and the Africans. The whites brought the festival from Europe (Entrudo, an alternative name for Carnaval in Portuguese) and the Africans added their rhythms, music and dance moves to the event.

Gradually the tradition was created to go once a year onto the streets to have a party together. Musical styles and other customs merged over time. Even in America where Mardi Gras was introduced by the French in 1699 to celebrate their arrival in Louisiana [in French Mardi Gras means “Fat Tuesday” because it marks the last night of eating rich foods before fasting for Lent], most people only celebrate Mardi Gras on the day before Lent – which starts on Ash Wednesday and is always 46 days before Easter or the end of Lent.

 So for us who understand the significance of this holiday to Christians and especially Catholics, we would feel outraged that it has been bastardised by illiterates, making it a week of celebration at the end of May, when this year Lent ended on Easter Sunday which fell on the 21st of April in 2018, it is just what we have come to expect from Guyana.  I as a Christian and a Catholic would never accept such an event with that name.

 We already have Mash which has been a national failure because it failed to do the most important thing which it was designed to do, i.e. to bring all Guyanese together in celebration as in Trinidad with their carnival. It is because depending on who is in power it is sabotaged by the opposition, whoever it might me. These holidays to be really binding on the population should be non-political, not a political football. Everyone wants to have their holiday with their name in it just so that it will give the incoming opposition in the next election the pleasure of sabotaging it if they win.

Why for once can’t we do this right and invite all of the social and religious organizations in Guyana to make one holiday meaningful for all Guyanese including Mash which has its origins in our indigenous peoples’ annual holiday and celebration,  that alone makes it a good start for us as a process of healing.

As far as independence is concerned, apart from a few years of hope with Desmond Hoyte, I see no cause for celebrating our independence as a divided poor nation.

Since we are discussing the incident at Mae’s with the Amerindian child recently. One wonders why we in opposition opposed the PPP/C’s Amerindian act, but failed nearly 3 years after we obtained power,  to bring it back to parliament and rename it the indigenous peoples’ act, and make sure that it contains all 46 of the elements which the 61/295 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples contain. That’s the way to get their support, not through tokenism.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Vieira

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