Often, whenever people talk about Guyana in a good light, they mention our diverse and rich culture and how it remains unmatched by many countries.
While this is true, not many of us realize the greatness that lies in our diversity and culture and as such, shun it. It was only last year in Haiti that I myself had a small glimpse of how various cultures can merge to create something truly wonderful when I bought plantain chips from a vendor who had no sour for me to pour on it. Haiti did not benefit from the same influx of Indians as Guyana did; as such there was never the chance for cultures to merge and people to figure out that plantain chips tasted better with sour.
Our cultural makeup goes far and beyond ethnicity and food though, and while we are a country of varying ethnicities, religions and customs, we are all unified in our shared history. This is not realized however, as we have sunk deeper into a culture of mimickery, superficiality, suppression and self-loathing as we cannot make links with our history and learn from it.
Knowing the History of one’s country and ancestors has its benefits, as it will show how the self-loathing of our culture is not something we are wholly responsible for as it was conditioned into our ancestors by plantation masters and then into us. Being aware of history will make one realize that every time they don American accents and upend their positive traditions for more Western ones, the plantocracy wins.
The plantocracy, suspicious of anything it did not understand chose to ban and denounce cultural practices and traditions different from their own, labeling them as being paganistic. As a result, we began to feel contempt for our culture as we were conditioned to think the “white man’s” own was better. So we adapted his God, his mannerisms and even his biases in an attempt to become more like him and have an advantage in the world.
The dying of languages, cultural erosion, diffusion and infusion all seek to upend Guyana’ already fragile cultural atmosphere. We have reached a point in which we seem to be struggling for an identity and grasping any one, which is dangled before us. While I do believe the state has a role to play in the preservation and promotion of varying cultures, the people have depended too much on the state to make changes regarding the values and attitudes of their cultures. Instead, we have traded in our own creole for that of Jamaica and other Caribbean islands and we twist our tongues to match that of the hackneyed Americans. We celebrate people “outside” making small ripples but do not celebrate our own who make large waves. We forget our mythology such as the Churlie and Water Mumma while celebrating the ghouls and ghosts of Halloween. We even thwart our Mashramani celebration to align with that of Trinidad’s carnival.
Then of course, Guyanese wonder why our country has such a low tourism rate. That is because tourists recognize that we have no real culture as we rush to mimic rather than create and embrace our own.
I know, nothing is fixed, changes are necessary and no one culture can claim to be pure as they have all undergone mutations when exposed to others but, these cultures have seemed to develop their own cultural uniqueness, a task which Guyana is yet to complete.
Guyanese need embrace their color, their creole, what’s left of our culture and release themselves from the shackles of colonial mentality as only then can we hope for a semblance of national identity free from biases and mimickery.