But what is the history for Guyana Carnival ? This country is no different from the entire Caribbean which has a history of carnivalesque traditions. The carnivalesque is not only found in carnival, but it is a tendency to have traditions and revelry based on masquerades, indigenous popular music and costumed bands, even in those countries outside of the carnival belt.

Guyana had an independence carnival in the 1960s. Independence in 1966 was marked with such a carnival staged by the Jaycees. These revelries drew together what was being practiced in the country since before independence. They included steel band, calypso, float parades, the Band of the Year (costumed bands with prizes and titles for the best designers) and street revelry known as “tramping”. There was indeed an old form of a J’ouvert equivalent – “fore-day morning jump-up” with revelers dancing (tramping) behind steel bands on the road.

This was shifted from Georgetown to Linden by the Jaycees. It was that annual event that was transformed and re-shaped into Mashramani as a celebration of Guyana’s Republic Day in 1970.  One of the ironies is that the framers sought to remove the elements of imitation and borrowings from the Trinidad carnival. A number of things were modified, and others included, which they felt were more appropriate for an independent republic in a post-colonial context with its new ‘indigenous’ name Mashramani. Ironically, this has come full circle, and Guyana is now adopting wholesale, the carnival imitation shunned in 1970. The independence carnival has returned.

There are other ironies. The 48-year-old Guyanese festival of Mashramani now seems a bit less privileged on the national scale of priorities than the new borrowed event. In 2016, the Mashramani Day road march with parade of bands which is the peak and the greatest spectacle of the festival was cut out and transplanted in order to build a core for the independence carnival to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

What is more, leading Guyana Carnival singers are now highly visible in carnival 2018, doing commercials and appearing in shows. Tamika Marshall, Kwasi ‘Ace’ Edmundson, Adrian Dutchin, Jumo Primo, Michelle ‘Big Red’ King and Natural Black are foremost in the local industry but were missing from Mashramani. Even those who used to compete for the Mashramani Soca Monarchy no longer do so. It is as if they do not see it as important to their careers, their popularity, their achievement ambitions, their financial earnings or their CV to compete in Mashramani. Yet they have not hesitated to be jewels in the crown of the new carnival.

A few years ago, a Soca Monarchy winner failed to turn up to defend his crown. Another made a statement that he was withdrawing from the competition to allow the newer, up-and-coming pretenders to get a chance to win the contest. Obviously, he had arrived. The deepened irony is that these things never happen in the Trinidad carnival now being imitated. Can you imagine the huge scandal and outrage in Trinidad if Machel Montano did not bother to turn up to defend his Soca Crown? No Trinidadian Soca singer, not even the biggest international stars, considers him/herself too great or too big to compete in the carnival competitions each year.

The old veteran of 45-plus years, The Mighty Chalkdust, won the calypso crown in 2018. There was no talk, even from such a legend, of stepping aside for new entrants. There is great pride, sense of achievement and feverish competitive spirit among the best in the field like Fay Ann Lyons, Bunji Garlin, Montano, Destra and others to compete for the carnival championships.

Guyanese do not seem to regard Mashramani as important enough. The authorities did not think it mattered that the Soca Monarchy was dropped for a few years. They did not see it as relevant to maintain consistency and traditions to make the festival work. The high energy now burning to ignite this carnival were damp coals last February at Mashramani time. If all of this fervor is expended on the premier festival each year it would undoubtedly help.

The enthusiasm, the fever at Guyana Carnival , the financial investment now driving this carnival can well be garnered to fuel Mashramani. The greatness emblazoned in the Trinidad carnival is what Guyana now seeks to reproduce in a fairly superficial fashion. But Trinidad allowed its carnival to grow through many decades of turmoil and struggle to evolve to its present throne of grandeur, while Guyana puts its own tradition in peril in order to glorify and build a borrowed one.