The Republic of Guyana is on South America’s north coast, bordered by Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname. Known as the country of six peoples, Guyana boasts a modern heritage comprised of different ethnicities, all of which find welcome expression in the annual carnival, Mashramani. Each ethnic group brings their own traditional celebratory designs to the carnival. Africans, Amerindians, Europeans, Portuguese, East Indians and Chinese don wildly extravagant costumes to showcase their individual heritage as they come together to share and celebrate the various cultures found in Guyana.
The concept of carnival began with a Catholic celebration in Italy. Early carnivals were held just before Lent, a 40-day period when devout Catholics were forbidden to eat meat or indulge in other pleasures. Carnevale means “to put away the meat.” The tradition of carnival soon spread to Spain, Portugal and other European countries. After Spanish explorers discovered South America and the Caribbean islands around 1944, the settlers brought with them the tradition of carnival. Indigenous peoples and African slaves adopted the celebration and melded it with their own traditional ceremonies, eventually creating the large, elaborate carnivals found in South America and the Caribbean today.
Guyana’s carnival, Mashramani, or Mash, is a celebration of the harvest and the favorable results of hard work. Seasons south of the equator are the opposite of those in the north, and mid-February signals the beginning of the harvest season. After Guyana's liberation from British reign in 1966, the commemoration of its independence was incorporated into the harvest celebration. Guyana achieved official status as a republic in 1970 and Mashramani now begins on February 23, the anniversary of that date.
The costumes of Guyana’s carnival are inspired by its diverse culture and heritage. Feathers, flowers, grasses, shells, bone and other natural materials are commonly used in carnival costume designs representing indigenous traditions; masks and headdresses are adopted from early African ceremonial practices; and glass beads, paint, glitter and bright colors express European and Chinese artistic sensibilities. Each ethnic group may be represented by one or more “bands.” Each bands is comprised of a group of people with similar heritage who design floats and costumes with a common theme related to their culture. Individual bands come together during the carnival to celebrate the multiethnic nature of Guyana.
Guyana's carnival costumes have become even more elaborate with the passing years, and new designers bring fresh elements into ensembles including 3-D creations, large-scale wearable sculpture and giant frames covered with paper mache, fabric, foam, netting and other materials. The added creativity makes Mash costumes more enchanting than ever.
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