Indo-Guyanese Article

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Indo-Guyanese or Indian-Guyanese, are Guyanese people with heritage from the Indian subcontinent (including modern-day Bangladesh and Pakistan). Linguistically, they are historical speakers of North Indian Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and Bhojpuri, however some Indian immigrants also historically spoke South Indian Dravidian languages such as Tamil. As immigrants, Indo-Guyanese people originated from different parts of India and they have traditionally been known as Indians in Guyana. Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana identified by the official census, making up 39.8% of the population in 2012.


On May 5, 1838, the year of finalized abolition slave emancipation in the British West Indies and the beginning of the indentured labor system, 396 Indian immigrants popularly known as the 'Gladstone Coolies' landed in British Guiana (now Guyana) from Calcutta (now Kolkata). [2] This was the beginning of the indenture system which was to continue for over three-quarters of a century and whose essential features were very reminiscent of slavery. Within a decade Indian immigration was largely responsible for changing the fortunes of the sugar industry, the mainstay of the economy, from the predicted 'ruin' to prosperity.

Up to the early 1860s recruits in North India were drawn from in and around Calcutta and from the Chota Nagpur plateau, a sub-division of the Bengal Presidency about two to three hundred miles from Calcutta . Recruiting operations were pushed further north-westwards and the North-Western Provinces and Oudh (Modern Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar became the main suppliers of colonial labor.

The importation of labor from the Indian subcontinent was part of a continuing search by Guianese planters for a labor force that was docile, reliable and amenable to discipline under harsh, tropical conditions. Emancipation had conferred on the Guianese laborers both physical and occupational mobility. The majority of Indian immigrants were drawn from small villages in North India with smaller batches coming from the Tamil and Telugu districts of South India. They were recruited, very often on spurious promises, by professional recruiters, largely assisted by paid local agents called "Arkatis" in North India and "Maistris" in South India.

This system of recruitment by local agents formed the backbone of all recruiting operations from the inception of the system to its cessation in 1917. Intimidation, coercion, and deception were very often used to recruit Indian laborers. Women, in particular, were very vulnerable. When laborers were difficult to enlist, the recruiters resorted to such illegal practices as kidnapping and forced detention. Many recruited to be shipped off the Caribbean, were falsely advised on where they were heading. Names of places would be altered, to fit a higher meaning. For example, recruiters told migrants heading to Dutch Suriname they were heading to Sri-Ram instead of Suriname, taking into account Ram in the Hindu religion means "a religious place where good triumphs evil". [3]

With a need for labor, after the slave emancipation within British territory in 1834, the recruited Indian immigrants set sail for Guiana and other British West Indian territories. Upon arrival, the newly transplanted indentured servants were forced to adapt to extreme tropical conditions, along with their new working contract working conditions. Between 1835 and 1918, 341,600 indentured laborers from India were imported into British Guiana. [4]

With the increase of Indians laborers, hostility and fear of being undermined derived from the existing working class of newly free slaves in British Guiana. Treatment of the newly arrived immigrants was horrendous, and they were pushed into isolated communities. [5]

The indentured servants were required to sign a contract, the terms binding their service to a plantation for five years, while earning a fixed daily wage. Once this five-year period had passed, they would have another five years of industrial residence in Guiana, then they were entitled to free repatriation. At the end of the contract, laborers either returned to India or stayed in British Guiana. Those who stayed received land and money to create their own businesses. [6]

The prospect of sexual relations with Indian women was at first unappealing to the original mostly male Chinese migrants to Guyana even though there was a lack of Chinese women.The prospect of sexual relations with Chinese men was not only unappealing but frowned upon by Indians. Economic circumstances and lack of opportunity for Indian women to find Indian partners gave the women no choice. Eventually their attitude changed and Indian women and Chinese men established sexual relationships with each other as happened in Mauritius. [7] Chinese men had to marry women of other ethnicities due to the lack of Chinese women migrating to British Guiana. [8] Creole sexual relationships and marriages with Chinese and Indians were rare, [9] however, more common was Indian women and Chinese men establishing sexual relations with each other and some Chinese men took their Indian wives back with them to China. [10]

Over time, although there were more Creole marriages with Chinese, there was a growth of Indian marriages with Chinese. In 1891, Dr. Comins reported that "[i]t is not an uncommon thing to find a cooly woman living with a Chinaman as his wife, and in one or two instances the woman has accompanied her reputed husband to China", with six Indian women marrying Chinese men in 1892 as reported by The Immigration Report for 1892. [11] [12]

On plantations white European managers took advantage of and used indentured Indian woman for sex. [13] In addition, English, Portuguese, and Chinese men were also in sexual relationships with Indian women as noted by Attorney General W.F. Haynes Smith, while Creole women were abhorred or ignored by Indian men. [14] [15]

The low ratio of Indian women to Indian men, along with the factor of Portuguese, white overseers and managers, and Chinese men having sexual relations with Indian women, aggravated the problem of rivalry for Indian women between Indian men, and drove up the value of Indian women. [16] The deficit in Indian women compared to men was caused by the recruitment quota ratio of 100 men to 40 women; most of the women were young and single. [17] The shortage of Indian women for Indian men was aggravated when Indian women were taken by Africans and European overseers, leading to high amounts of wife murders against Indian woman by Indian men. [18]

The Guyanese-Indian journalist Gaiutra Bahadur wrote about the experiences of Indian women. [19] [20] Sex was utilized as a potent instrument by a few Indian women such as when they obtained favors from overseers by having sex with them, [21] and the women could either have been "imperiled" or "empowered" when forming sexual relations with overseers. [22]

Sexual abuse, horrible living standards, and tough work were all things Indian women had to contend with. [23] [24]


Unlike the African slaves, the East Indian indentured workers were permitted to retain some of their cultural traditions. But the process of assimilation has made the culture of the modern Indo-Guyanese more homogeneous than that of their immigrant ancestors. [25]

Cultural origins and religion

Between 1838 and 1917 over 500 ship voyages with 238,909 indentured Indian immigrants came to Guyana; while just 75,898 of them or their children returned. The vast majority came from the Hindustani (or Hindi) speaking areas of North India. The most popular dialect spoken was Bhojpuri (spoken in east Uttar Pradesh and west Bihar), followed by Awadhi (spoken in central Uttar Pradesh). 62% of the immigrants came from districts that are now part of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh; 21% from districts that are now part of Bihar state; 6% were from pre-partitioned Bengal; 3% from what are today Orissa and Jharkhand states; 3% from what is today Tamil Nadu state; 3% from Central India, 1% from pre-partitioned Punjab - and the remaining 1% from the rest of India.[ citation needed] (96.8% of all the Indian Immigrants to Guyana left the port of Calcutta in North India, and 3.2% from the port of Madras in South India) [26]

The religious breakdown was 85% Hindu, 15% Muslims. [26]

Indenture documents show Hindu by caste: 11% were Brahmin, Bhumihar, Chatri, Rajput and Thakur castes; 1% were of the merchant or writer castes; 30% were of the medium agricultural castes; 9% were of the artisan castes; 2% were of the petty trading castes; 2% were of fishermen and boatmen castes; 25% were from menial or dalit castes; 3% were Hindus who were Madrasis; 2% were Hill Coolies or Tribals. The only acknowledgment the colonial government and the plantation managers gave to caste differences was their distrust of the Brahmins as potential leaders.[ citation needed]

East Indian workers were housed together and placed in work gangs without consideration of caste, and no solidified caste groups survived the early colonial period.[ citation needed]

Festivals and holidays

Guyanese Hindus continue to observe holidays such as Phagwah also known outside the country as Holi (burning of Holika) and Diwali (festival of lights) among others while Muslims celebrate the holidays Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. [27] Through British influence, celebrating holidays such as Christmas and Easter, is common regardless of religious beliefs. In Guyana, Indian Arrival Day is celebrated on May 5 commemorating the first arrival of indentured servants from India to the country, on May 5, 1838. On this day, the workers arrived to work in sugar plantations. [28]


Among Hindus and Muslims, arranged, comparatively early marriages were common in rural areas until the modern period (early 1960s) but are rare now. Middle-class Indians had greater freedom in choosing a spouse, especially if the woman was a professional. As in most parts of the western world marriage now occurs later, and the family unit is smaller than in the past. Indo Guyanese families are patriarchal with an extended system, where family members assist each other, like many other groups in Guyana. [29] For individuals who are Hindu, wedding ceremonies are now performed with the bride and groom dressed in traditional Indian clothing, as an expression of their culture. If it can be afforded there is usually a Hindu wedding ceremony and also a western or "regular" wedding reception, or a small Hindu ceremony and a much larger "reception" so friends from the larger community can attend.[ citation needed]


With the blending of cultures in the Caribbean Indo Caribbean dishes became one of the dominant notes throughout most of the English Caribbean, with dishes such as curry and roti, dal puri. Dishes that survived the colonial period include gulab jamun, parasad, kheer known as "sweet rice", and seven curry, and other dishes associated with religious functions. In Guyana, among the Indo-Guyanese people, it is popular to eat fried vegetables such as okra or "okro", pumpkin, bitter melon or "karela", long beans or "bora", and eggplant known as "baigan" or "balanjay."[ citation needed]


The Indo-Guyanese community has always had great admiration for Bollywood, the Hindi film industry. Bollywood movies and songs have had a huge impact upon the Guyanese pop culture since the early 1950s. Many Bollywood stars have visited and performed in Guyana like megastars Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, and Preity Zinta, also very popular singers such as Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghoshal, Udit Narayan, Sunidhi Chauhan, and Kumar Sanu have had very successful shows in Guyana.In 1980, Lata Mangeshkar, one of the most beloved singers in Guyana, was greeted with crowds of fans and was presented with the key of the city of Georgetown, Guyana on her visit. Indian soap operas have recently grown in popularity in Guyana. The most popular genres of music among Indo-Guyanese people include Chutney music, Soca music, Indian music, and Chutney soca. Popular music artists include Sundar Popo, Terry Gajraj, Rakesh Yankaran, and most definitely Babla & Kanchan. Indian instrumental influence can be seen in Guyana through the use of the tabla, harmonium, dholak, dhantal, and tassa drums.

Miss Guyana

Indo-Guyanese women have always been a great asset to beauty pageants in Guyana. Most notable Miss Guyana is Shakira Baksh, the 1967 Miss Guyana, who went on to become a runner-up at the Miss World 1967 pageant and later married popular British actor Michael Caine. Rafieya Husain, Miss Guyana World 2014, won the ‘Beauty With a Purpose Title’, received the Miss World Caribbean, and became a contestant in the Final 10 at the Miss World 2014 pageant. Alana Seebarran, Miss India Guyana, won the Miss India Worldwide 2012.

Notable Indo-Guyanese


Cheddi Jagan, President of Guyana from 1992 to 1997



  • Dr. Deborah Persaud – virologist, named one of the world's most influential people in Time 100 for 2013

Arts and entertainment


Religion and Philosophy


  • Edward B. Beharry

See also


  1. ^ "Many Guyanese Asian backgrounds speak Hindi, Tamil. Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples.
  2. ^ "Indian Labour in British Guiana - History Today".
  3. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 105.
  4. ^ Despres, Leo, "Differential Adaptions and Micro-Cultural Evolution in Guyana," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 25:1, 22.
  5. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 102
  6. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 106-107.
  7. ^ Brian L. Moore (1995). Cultural Power, Resistance, and Pluralism: Colonial Guyana, 1838-1900. Volume 22 of McGill-Queen's studies in ethnic history (illustrated ed.). McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. pp. 272–273. ISBN  077351354X. ISSN  0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  8. ^ History Gazette, Issues 1-2; Issues 4-27. University of Guyana. History Society. History Society. 1989. ISBN  077351354X. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  9. ^ Brian L. Moore (1987). Race, Power, and Social Segmentation in Colonial Society: Guyana After Slavery, 1838-1891. Volume 4 of Caribbean studies (illustrated ed.). Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. p. 181. ISBN  0677219806. ISSN  0275-5793. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  10. ^ Brian L. Moore (1987). Race, Power, and Social Segmentation in Colonial Society: Guyana After Slavery, 1838-1891. Volume 4 of Caribbean studies (illustrated ed.). Gordon & Breach Science Publishers. p. 182. ISBN  0677219806. ISSN  0275-5793. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  11. ^ Walton Look Lai (1993). Indentured labor, Caribbean sugar: Chinese and Indian migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918. Johns Hopkins studies in Atlantic history and culture (illustrated ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 210. ISBN  0801844657. Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  12. ^ Brian L. Moore (1995). Cultural Power, Resistance, and Pluralism: Colonial Guyana, 1838-1900. Volume 22 of McGill-Queen's studies in ethnic history (illustrated ed.). McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP. p. 350. ISBN  077351354X. ISSN  0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  13. ^ Rebecca Chiyoko King-O'Riain, Stephen Small, Minelle Mahtani, eds. (2014). Global Mixed Race. NYU Press. p. 53. ISBN  0814770479. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  14. ^ Basdeo Mangru (2005). The Elusive El Dorado: Essays on the Indian Experience in Guyana (illustrated ed.). University Press of America. p. 37. ISBN  0761832475. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  15. ^ David Dabydeen; Brinsley Samaroo, eds. (1987). India in the Caribbean. Hansib / University of Warwick, Centre for Caribbean Studies publication. David Dabydeen (illustrated ed.). Hansib. p. 216. ISBN  1870518055. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  16. ^ Ron Ramdin (2000). Arising from Bondage: A History of the Indo-Caribbean People (illustrated ed.). NYU Press. p. 72. ISBN  0814775489. Retrieved June 1, 2015.
  17. ^ Pillai, Suresh Kumar. "THE SILENCED MAJORITY: INDIAN CULTURE AND RACIAL CONFLICT IN GUYANA": 16. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  18. ^ Pillai, Suresh Kumar (2004). "NDENTURED INDIANS Emergence of Hindu identity in Caribbean Countries": 15. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  20. ^ BAHADUR, GAIUTRA (Dec 6, 2011). "Writing a Life, Living a Writer's Life". NiemanReports. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  21. ^ "Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture". SOUTH ASIAN LITERATURE FESTIVAL. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  22. ^ ivetteromero (March 30, 2014). "Gaiutra Bahadur's "Coolie Woman" Longlisted for the Orwell Prize". Repeating Islands. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  23. ^ Bahadur, Gaiutra (April 11, 2014). "An Excerpt From Gaiutra Bahadur's 'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture'". The Aerogram. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  24. ^ ALI, GRACE ANEIZA (Spring 2014). "Gaiutra Bahadur Charts the 'Coolie' Woman's Odyssey". OF NOTE magazine. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  25. ^ "Guyana - Indo-Guyanese".
  26. ^ a b From the Ancient Heartland of India to the New World by Aditya Prashad of Toronto, Canada; published on May 5, 2001
  27. ^ "Infosurhoy".
  28. ^ "".
  29. ^ "Culture of Guyana - history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social".