Commemorating Republic Day

It is important to remember that next Sunday, February 23, is “Republic Day”, not “Mash”. While Independence was given to us by Britain, Republic Day was chosen by us as the day that we cut all formal ties with the British Crown. We were on our own – supposed to be captains of our fate and masters of our destiny and all that. “Republic” comes directly from the Latin “res publica” – the public thing. We the public, the people, were now responsible for governing ourselves and conducting our affairs in such a manner, to achieve the goals that we ourselves would set for our country. The day itself – February 23 – was selected to help remind us as to what Republic Day was all about. February 23 was supposed to be the date of Cuffy’s great effort to overthrow Dutch rule over Berbice and remove the shackles of slavery back in 1763. It was a landmark event in the entire Western hemisphere.
“Mashramani”, on the other hand, began an event in Linden to commemorate Republic Day. This is perfectly in order and commendable – any group of citizens have the right to commemorate Republic Day based on how they feel it’s appropriate. However, several problems arose when the then PNC Government promptly decided to adopt Mashramani and make it the official way to celebrate Republic Day. Firstly, by also mandating that all Government entities (at a time when the Government controlled eighty per cent of the economy) including schools and Ministries had to get involved in the Mash, the Government sent the message that Mash was the “Guyanese” way to commemorate Republic Day. To commemorate Republic any other way was in some way to be outside the pale…literally marching to a different drummer.
Now, Guyana is a land of several cultures and each may have different perspectives on how to commemorate or celebrate events. When the Government selects a particular cultural expression as the official expression it explicitly privileges that expression to the exclusion of others. This is an unacceptable policy in a multicultural state. In its excursions in the cultural realm, the Government has to be balanced in its promotion of values and activities. Mashramani and its Carnival antecedents in the Caribbean come out of the cultural encounter between Europe and Africa during and after slavery – as an aspect of Creole culture.
Its particular expressions of unrestrained exuberance, ebullience, gaiety and exhibitionism come out of a specific historical experience – most literally brought out by the Barbadian label for its version – Crop Over. The African slaves were allowed to let off steam after the furious intensity and rigour of the grinding season on the plantations to forget for a while their degradation that they would be forced to return to with the start of a new crop. This was the old “bread and circus” routine perfected by the Romans so many centuries ago – but here there wasn’t even any bread. Today, there is more than a sneaking suspicion that the PNC is pumping so much money into Mash 2020 as a campaign rally, writ large.
The second problem is implicit in the first. By making Mashramani the official celebration of Republic Day, the Government was telling the population that the values demanded by Republican status were going to be reinforced or inculcated by the Mashramani activities. And this is where I part company with the promoters of Mashramani as the Republic day commemoration activities. I would like anyone to tell me how blackballing in the streets of Georgetown will help us to be self-sufficient or protective of our country or securing good government or any other Republican goal. Again I restate my point – private individuals can backball to their waist’s content but a Government has to promote activities consonant with what they seek to promote –in this instance Republicanism.
And it’s not as if we’ve had hundreds of years of imbibing and practising Republican values like America so that we can afford to “throwback”.
One would have thought that at a minimum, with the new dynamics of oil introducing the old dynamics of colonialism in another guise, on Republic Day 2020 – our 50th – we should reflect on why Cuffy’s rebellion of 1763 failed.