Guyana Christmas Nostalgia – by Peter Halder + video

Guyana Christmas Nostalgia – by Peter Halder + video

Growing up circa the mid-1940’s on Non Pareil Street, Albouystown, Georgetown in Guyana, Christmas was indeed the most wonderful time of the year. It was not just the greatest holiday but a season that lasted from Christmas Eve into the new year. It was hustle and bustle for moms and dads but for children, it was jolly, merry, festive with lots to eat and drink.

Two weeks before Christmas Day, a masqerade band began to tune up and practice in Padmore yard, near where we lived. Members of the band were from Plaisance village on East Coast Demerara.   

The band consisted of 6 men. One played the Kettle Drum, one the Bass Drum, one the flute, one was a Flouncer, one was the Cowman and the last a Stilts dancer. They all brought their colourful costumes with frills, bells, two Stilts and a make believe cow frame.

The rehearsals began around 4.00 p.m. and lasted until 6.00 p.m. when it was still bright. One drummer tuned up his Kettle Drum while the other his Bass Drum. A small fire wood was held some distance above the cow skin of both drums which made it easier to tighten or loosen, depending on the sounds from the drums beat.

Both drummers were satisfied. Practice time: the drummers began beating their drums, the flute player joined in and the flouncer did his thing. Someone would throw a copper penny (a jill in local parlance) on the ground and the flouncer would shake, rattle, roll and gyrate until he bent far enough to pick up the penny. The flouncer was the one who received collections…a cent(copper), a penny (copper), a bit (8 cents, silver) or a bit-and-a-half (12 cents, silver). I was there every afternoon to watch the rehearsals and I learned a thing or two.

The band did it’s final practice Christmas Eve and went masquerading on Christmas Day, Boxing Day (the day after) and continued until New Year’s Day. The Stilt Dancer, wearing a flowered dress, had to have each stilt tied to his thighs while lower down was a place on each where he could rest the soles of his red and blue stockinged feet. A group of men had to hold him and the stilts and lift him carefully in the air until he could stand up straight and do his thing. Every now and then he would raise one of his two legs high in the air and dance on the other. That drew a lot of applause.

The gaily and colourfully dressed Flouncer was the star of the show. The Cowman was gaudily dressed and wore around his waist a dried bamboo framework of a cow without legs and there were horns on the head which while dancing he ran after children as though he would butt them. It brought shouts of look-out, screams and laughter. During the performances, the Bass Drummer would stop beating his drum and burst out with a ‘ditty’ every now then:

Christmas comes but once a year
And everyone must join in and share
Only the poor prisoners in the jail
Drinking sour mauby and stale gingerbeer.

The masquerade band limited it performances to Albouystown, going along the two main streets, James Street and Sussex Streets which ran from East to West and some 12 cross streets that ran from Sussex Street to the Punt Trench, so named because the iron punts conveying sugar cane stalks from the farms to the sugar mill at La Penitence were pulled by mules along it.

The masquerade band collected as much as $10 daily which was a lot of money at that time. Apart from money, band members were also offered slices of cake, ginger beer, mauby or pine drink in enamel cups. Liquor was forbidden.

Not to be outdone, I formed a group of four children and, using small pieces of stick to beat oval sardine-in-tomato sauce tins and Palm Tree salt butter cans, we did our own thing around the nearby area while singing carols. We collected about 24 cents each time not to mention feasting on slices of cake and gingerbeer/fruit drinks.

For the Season, my mother prepared round containers of cake batter with raisins and currants which I fetched on a covered tray to Mohammed bakery on Cooper Street for baking. Plait bread was also prepared and baked. A huge blue enamel pot was used to cook pepperpot, filled with beef and cowheel, on a fireside(chula).

On Christmas morning, she invited tenants and neighbours for a slice of cake and pine drink each, at the same time conveying Christmas wishes. The multiracial community on Non Pareil Street at that time was close knit.

Yes indeed, Christmastime was the most wonderful time of the year and for us kids it was glory hallelujah, festive, filled with greetings and wishes, food and drink and gifts from our parents when they could afford it,

Masquerade By The Tradewinds – video

A Musical Tribute to the Masquerade Bands of Guyana Sung By Our Icon Dave Martin and the Tradewinds of Guyana

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