One of the most intriguing aspects of Guyanese life is the gradual evolution of the practices of the various cultures and religions into new forms that are accepted by each other without any compulsion, and, in the process, creating a most unique “Guyanese Culture”. Easter exemplifies this synergistic melange as much as any of the other forms.
Brought to these shores by the European colonists, especially the Protestant English that was the last to rule Guyana, Easter is a Christian observance that was transmitted to the African slaves, several waves of Indentured servants – Indian, Chinese and African – and in an ironic inversion, lastly to the Indigenous Peoples. The Portuguese from Madeira had their own Catholic Easter tradition.
While, at its core, Easter is the commemoration of the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, who had been crucified three days earlier (now called “Good Friday”), it illustrates the anthropological truism that all practices are culturally embedded. Jesus, for instance, was from a culture that was completely different from those into which christianity spread; and even in these, historians can trace the changes absorbed or imposed by the various cultures.
Saul, who became Paul, first sallied among the Greeks, and the earliest language in which “Christianity” was spread – and the New Testament was written – was Greek. Even today, some of these early Greek words have to be analysed for ideas that may have been ‘lost in translation’. After the Roman Emperors became Christians and spread Christianity in “pagan” Europe at the point of the sword, the form of the religious organisation adopted the imperial structure of the Roman Empire – with the Pope replacing the Emperor at the apex, and Cardinals, Bishops and priests occupying the lower echelons of the hierarchy.
Most pertinently for our discussion, several European “pagan” traditions were adopted and inculturated into Christian practices, such as Christmas and Easter. The word “Easter” itself is from this source, as are hot cross buns, Easter eggs, Easter bunnies. The Easter hat parade would have come later from the English. Accordingly, our kite flying, Bartica Regatta and Rupununi Rodeo are merely continuing a long tradition of change.
For a multi-religious society as Guyana, this process of cultural cross-pollination and diffusion is important in creating a national ethos. The important caution is that the process should include all the religious practices, and not privilege any along the lines Christianity was for most of Guyana’s history. Muslims are presently commemorating Ramadan, Hindus celebrated Holi in March, and now Christians will do so for Easter today. Each festival has acquired peculiarly “Guyanese” characteristics around the core “religious” commemoration, and it is a mark of our progressive maturity as a nation that we should not allow this process to be short-circuited.
Commendably, President Irfaan Ali commended a National Day of Fasting for Lent, Ramadan and Navratri, which coincided this year.
We must reject those who preach religion in a language that spreads hate and exclusion to almost everything and everyone outside their narrow belief system. This transgresses the warp and woof of our multi-religious tradition. While some speak of “tolerance”, there are growing signs that the new Guyanese standard of religious practice is outright acceptance of the right of the “other” to practice the tenets of their religion, without condemnation and hate.
At Easter, Christian Guyanese attend their churches to express their faith and belief in why Jesus was born, and the meaning of His death and Resurrection. Most other Guyanese would be flying their kites with their children in parks and open spaces, and enjoying their snacks and goodies picnic-style in a manner that brings families closer together. We would like to believe this is in consonance with the wider message of Easter.
Unfortunately, the somewhat less-than-salubrious practice of heavy alcohol consumption and all its negative effects have also crept into the Easter commemorations – as they have into every other holiday. We ask that Guyanese abjure this aspect of our “culture”, so that all of us could enjoy a “Happy Easter”.