When you hear February 23, you think Mashramani! Or Republic Day! Or a celebration after hard work! Or National Holiday! Guyana is a wonderfully cultural mix and we celebrate this every year. However, Guyana seems to also have a historical affinity (bet you didn't think you'd be reading those two words together this morning) for February 23. Let's look at the proof, shall we?
1. 1763: The Berbice Slave Rebellion began
We figure you knew this one - most of us studied this in school, and the statue of Cuffy at the Square of the Revolution is one of Georgetown's iconic sights. You may also know that the rebellion that broke out at Plantation Magdalenenburg on February 23, 1763 was one of the more significant events in Guyana's history. In fact, Republic Day's date was chosen by President LFS Burnham not only as the day we became a Republic, but also to commemorate this Rebellion. So why does this Rebellion show up so prominently in our history books?
While there had been attempts prior to this date, such as the rebellion that was quickly suppressed in 1762, the Berbice Rebellion was a more concerted and organized effort. It was the first time in the country's history where an attempt to establish an independent state was made. While the exact number of slaves in the colony at the time seems to be debatable, the number is somewhere between 3000-5000. Just as impressively, the Rebellion lasted for approximately 10 months and stood a strong chance of complete victory until neighbouring colonies joined the Dutch.
2. 1945: The Great Fire of Georgetown broke out
With the popularity of Black Friday in Guyana nowadays, few remember the event that was originally called Black Friday - the Great Fire on February 23, 1945. There had been catastrophic fires in Georgetown prior to this, owing to the fact the buildings of the time were wooden and built close together, but the 1945 fire was given the title of 'Great Fire' as it decimated 23 buildings and damaged several more in the financial capital of Georgetown. Buildings in portions of Main Street, Water Street, Company Path and Church Street were all destroyed or severely damaged. It started from the Bookers Drug Store (where the Guyana Stores now stands), and spread rapidly, destroying the RA&CS Museum Building that housed a number of valuable papers and specimens collected by explorers to Guyana's interior. It also destroyed the the Assembly Rooms (a meeting place & theater of sorts), the Reading room (Library), the GPO Building, the Daily Argosy Newspaper Building, and a number of businesses like the Bookers Garage, Geddes Grant, a 5 & 10 cent store, and many others. In fact, the only thing that stopped the fire from causing even more devastation was the existence of a few concrete & steel buildings at various points.
Benab Insider Info:
The National Museum has a fantastic wide image of the aftermath of the fire. The museum also has a model of the areas affected by the fire. We highly recommend you check it out (and visit our Downloads Page) for the opening hours.
3. 1947: Shakira Baksh-Caine was born
Shakira Baksh was born in Guyana on February 23, 1947. She is well known in Guyana for winning the Miss Guyana contest in 1967, and going on to secure third place at the 1967 Miss World contest. Since that time, she dabbled in modeling & acting, and is also famously married to British actor Michael Caine. She is the only Guyanese to have ranked so highly in a global beauty pageant and today is still one of the most easily recognized names of overseas Guyanese.
There you have it. Happy Commemoration of All of the Above! Have a wonderful weekend and enjoy responsibly.
Note: Many of the pictures used in this article are not the property of the Benab. They exist in the online public domain and it is difficult to grant a photo credit to one single party.
The Daily Argosy, January 11, 1955