Living in Guyana we get to experience many sub-cultures wrapped into one main Guyanese culture. One of the sub cultures that we’ve had the opportunity to get a good taste of is that of the Indo-Guyanese people. The reason for this is of course because our host mom is Indo-Guyanese, and she has made sure that we get to experience everything from her culture, which includes food, music, religion and of course Indian soap operas (which surprisingly there are a lot of). The majority of Indo-Guyanese are the descendants of the Indentured servants who were brought from (then) British India, to what was then called British Guiana to work in sugar cane plantations after the abolition of slavery in 1833. Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group identified by the official census, making up 43.45% of the population and are primarily Hindus.
Even though our host mom is not Hindu most of her family and friends practice this religion and invited Nate and I to join them at their temple, which is called a Mandir, to partake in the religious holiday of Rama Navami. Rama Navami is a Hindu festival celebrating the birth of Lord Rama to King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya of Ayodhya. They celebrate the holiday by having a service for nine nights which consists of chanting, offering of fruits and flowers, and an element of fasting, which for the Indo-Guyanese means not eating meat or any meat products like eggs and avoiding alcoholic beverages. At the end of each service a different family is the host of the Mandir and provides food and drink for the temple, usually consisting of some sort of curry and parsad, which looks and kinda tastes like cookie dough without the chocolate chips. However, before accepting the food you are supposed to drink milk that is poured in your hands. Funny story about this~ When we went to the Mandir the first night I was given milk in my hands to drink, but because I had no idea what I was supposed to do with this and the woman next to me said I was supposed to do this before eating the parsad, I for some reason assumed that “doing this” meant washing my hands. So…I starting washing my hands with the milk and Nate followed my lead. Oh boy! Quickly we realized that we were doing something wrong when the woman next to us starting laughing and our hands started to smell like sour milk. Needless to say, we made fools of ourselves! Oh well, certainly hasn’t been the first time and it will definitely not be the last time.
The temples are full of color and are absolutely beautiful. Adding to this beauty are the multiple colors of the women’s attire that I was so privileged to wear. I was able to have two outfits for each night of the Mandir. I was psyched to have multiple costume changes. Don’t judge me…you can still be a girly girl in the Peace Corps. The first night I wore a maroon colored Sari and on the second night I wore a mustard colored Salwar Kamee, which are loose fitting pants with a long dress shirt worn over the pants and a shawl. Married women are supposed to wear the shawl over their head. It was too hot, so I didn’t do this. The clothes are incredibly comfortable. In fact, they are so comfortable I wish I could buy a dozen of them and wear them all the time, even to sleep in. Nate, unfortunately, was not so lucky to have an outfit change and just wore khaki’s with a white shirt.
Thanks to Mahindra, Sunita, Patsy, Ram and Nalini for letting us tag along and participate in the nine days of Rama Navami.
Till next time.