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India Guyana
Regions with significant populations
Guyana: Overseas:
Colonial Languages: South Asian Languages:
Majority: Hinduism
Minority: Islam, Christianity, and others
Related ethnic groups

Indo-Guyanese or Indian-Guyanese are people of Indian origin who are Guyanese nationals tracing their ancestry to the Indian subcontinent. They are the descendants of indentured laborers and settlers who emigrated beginning in 1838 from India during the time of the British Raj.

Most of the Indian settlers who came to then British Guiana were from North India, specifically from the Bhojpur and Awadh regions of the Hindi Belt located in the present-day states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand, however a significant minority came from South India. The vast majority of Indians came as contract laborers during the 19th century, spurred on by political upheaval, the ramifications of the Mutiny of 1857, and famine. Others arrived as merchants, landowners and farmers pushed out by many of the same factors.[2]

Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana identified by the official census, about 40% of the population in 2012. There is also a large Indo-Guyanese diaspora in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.[3]


Indian immigration to the British West Indies was triggered by Great Britain's decision in the 1830's to outlaw the enslavement of labor brought from Africa. Newly emancipated Black slaves were suddenly able to choose where to live and what to do, which led sugar plantation owners to look elsewhere. After recruiting from Portugal and other countries, colonial recruitment turned to British India.

The indentured labor system, became the replacement system for slavery in British Guiana. Persisting for 75 years, this system of indentured servitude presented its own forms of injustices, creating conflict with Indian nationalists, who finally pushed for its cessation in 1917. One major distinction between slavery and the indentured immigrant experience was that the indentured laborers from India had agreed to immigration, signing contracts that bound them to a plantation for five years, while earning a small, fixed daily wage. After five additional years working in Guiana (for a total of 10 years), they would then be entitled to either receive passage back to India or to stay in Guiana and receive land and money to start their own businesses.[4]

396 Indian immigrants arrived from Calcutta in 1838,[5] but a reported total of over 230,000 indentured laborers arrived from India over the ensuing 80 years.[6]

For its first 25 years, indentured recruits were drawn largely from small towns in and around Calcutta, but people were recruited from as far as Sri Lanka. Other groups of recruits spoke the Tamil and Telugu of South India.

The backbone of all recruiting operations were professional recruiters, assisted by paid local agents called "Arkatis" in North India and "Maistris" in South India. Intimidation, coercion, and deception were common, as were illegal practices, such as kidnapping and forced detention. An example of deception related to laborers who signed to immigrate to Surinam; recruiters would pronounce the country as "Sri-Ram," which then would become the names of two Hindu deities with complex but very positive connotations.[7]

In addition to having to deal with lack of freedoms, intense heat, and brutal working conditions, these indentured servants were largely met with hostility from the newly-freed Black slaves, whose opportunity to earn a living was undercut by the very low wages paid to the Indian immigrants.[8]


Indian settlers retained their traditions. But the process of cultural assimilation has made the culture of the modern Indo-Guyanese more Westernized, than that of their immigrant ancestors.[9]

Cultural origins and religion[edit]

Between 1838 and 1917 over 500 ship voyages with 238,960 indentured Indian immigrants came to Guyana; while just 75,236 of them or their children returned. The vast majority came from the north or north-central regions of India with a wide range of castes represented.[10]

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 eastern India, and 3.2% from the port of Madras in southern India)[11]

The religious breakdown was 85% Hindu, 15% Muslims.[11]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 Tamils; 2% were Tribals.

Festivals and holidays[edit]

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.[12] 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.[13]


There is no "preferential marriages between kin" among Indo-Guyanese, nor much significance tied to marriage outside of ones religion or caste compared to other Indian diasporic groups.[14] The duty of parents to provide the wedding for their children demonstrated "respectability and prestige" and while children generally had some say in who they married, they looked to their parents to "arrange for the rituals and meet the necessary expenses." The wedding of the first child is generally the largest and most opulent, becoming reduced and more economized for subsequent children. Parents may exaggerate the expenses put into these weddings, which are mainly on "clothes, food and drink", and dowry depending on the family and era. Weddings are qualified by the number of people fed, and a basic meal of roti, rice and a vegetable curry is considered the bare minimum.[15]

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.[16] 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 and dhal bhat (dhal and rice). Indo-Guyanese snacks include sal sev,[17] gantia,[18] plantain chips,[19] roasted nuts, and fried channa.[20] Appetizers and street foods include boil and fried or curried channa as well as bara, wrap roti, pholourie, and potato or cassava/egg ball which are served with a chutney or sour. The rotis that Indo-Guyanese typically eat are paratha, dhalpuri, sada roti, dosti roti, aloo roti, and puri.

The main dishes at Hindu wedding, festivals, and prayer services are known as seven curry and consist of seven vegetarian curries: aloo and channa curry, eddo curry, mango curry, baigan curry, katahar curry, pumpkin or kohra (fried or curried), and bhaji (made with young malabar spinach, moringa, spinach or spiny amaranth leaves) served with dhal bhat (dhal and rice) or karhi and rice.[21] Seven curry is also served with paratha or dhalpuri roti. Individual curries of seven curry are also consumed on a daily basis by Indo-Guyanese as a main dish. Meat based main dishes include chicken, duck, goat, lamb, fish (especially hassa, gilbaka, banga mary, butterfish and red snapper), shrimp, crab, pork (except Muslims and vegetarians) and beef (except Hindus) curry or bunjal (a type of dried curry).[22][23] Fried chicken, fish, and shrimp are also eaten as a main dish along with dhal bhat. In Guyana, among the Indo-Guyanese people, it is popular to eat curried or fried vegetables such as okra, eddoe, breadnut, lablab beans, pumpkin, bitter melon, drumstick, long beans, calabash, potato, chickpeas, and eggplant. Roti or dhal bhat is always served along with any curry or fried dish.

Deserts include gulab jamun,[24] mohanbhog (parsad), gurma,[25] ladoo,[26] mithai, gulgula, doodhpitty,[27] barfi,[28] pera, gujiya (goja), sawine,[29] and kheer (sweet rice).[22] Indo-Guyanese have also adopted other dishes from other cultural groups such as stews, pepperpot, ground provisions, metemgee, chicken soup, cook-up rice, chow mein, lo mein, fried rice, pepper shrimp, and chicken in de' ruff. Guyanese breads, pastries and cakes are also popular among Indo-Guyanese, such as patties, pine tart, butterflap, tennis roll, plait bread, cheese roll, black bean (chiney) cake, cassava or pumpkin pone, salara, coconut drops, black cake, lime cookies, custard, and fudge.[30]


Bollywood movies and songs have had an 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, Kumar Sanu, Hari Om Sharan, and Anup Jalota have had very successful shows in Guyana. In 1980, Lata Mangeshkar 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, chutney soca, baithak gana, bhajan, Bollywood, Indian classical music, Indian folk music, and soca. Popular local Indo-Caribbean singers include Sundar Popo, Terry Gajraj, Mahendra Ramkellawan, Romeo "Mystic" Nermal, Kassri Narine, Joyce Ormela Harris, Komal Ram, Nisha Benjamin, Harry Panday, Ashni Matadin, Pita Pyaree, Ramdew Chaitoe, Dropati, Ravi Bissambhar, Rakesh Yankaran, Rikki Jai, Drupatee Ramgoonai, Rasika Dindial, and Babla & Kanchan. Indian instrumental influence can be seen in Guyana through the use of the tabla, harmonium, dholak, dhantal, and tassa drums.[citation needed]

Notable Indo-Guyanese[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Many Guyanese Asian backgrounds speak Hindi, Urdu, Tamil. Magocsi, Paul R. (1999). Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. ISBN 9780802029386.
  2. ^ Lomarsh Roopnarine, "Indian migration during indentured servitude in British Guiana and Trinidad, 1850–1920." Labor History 52.2 (2011): 173-191.
  3. ^ Lomarsh Roopnarine, "Indian social identity in Guyana, Trinidad, and the North American diaspora." Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora 12.3 (2009): 87.
  4. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 106-107.
  5. ^ "Indian Labour in British Guiana - History Today".
  6. ^ Despres, Leo, "Differential Adaptions and Micro-Cultural Evolution in Guyana," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 25:1, 22.
  7. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 105.
  8. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 102
  9. ^ "Guyana - Indo-Guyanese".
  10. ^ Smith, Raymond T.; Jayawardena, C. (1959). "Marriage and the Family amongst East Indians in British Guiana". Social and Economic Studies. 8 (4): 321–376. ISSN 0037-7651.
  11. ^ a b From the Ancient Heartland of India to the New World by Aditya Prashad of Toronto, Canada; published on May 5, 2001
  12. ^ "Infosurhoy".
  13. ^ "".
  14. ^ Jayawardena, Chandra (1980). "Culture and Ethnicity in Guyana and Fiji". Man. 15 (3): 436. doi:10.2307/2801343. ISSN 0025-1496.
  15. ^ Smith, Raymond T.; Jayawardena, C. (1959). "Marriage and the Family amongst East Indians in British Guiana". Social and Economic Studies. 8 (4): 356–364. ISSN 0037-7651.
  16. ^ "Culture of Guyana - history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social".
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Roopnarine, Lomarsh. "Indian social identity in Guyana, Trinidad, and the North American diaspora." Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora 12.3 (2009): 87+.
  • Sen, Sunanda. "Indentured Labour from India in the Age of Empire." Social Scientist 44.1/2 (2016): 35-74. online