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Guyana Indo-Guyanese Guyana
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Total population
43.5% of the Guyanese population (2002)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Guyana: Overseas:
Colonial Languages: Indian Languages:
Related ethnic groups
People of Indian origin

Indo-Guyanese are nationals of Guyana with Indian or other South Asian ancestry. Linguistically they are collectively known as the speakers of the Indo-Aryan Hindustani languages such as Hindi and Urdu. Ethnically, originated from they were a more specifically known as the Arya Hindavi people (People of Hind) ethno/linguistic groups coming primarily from the north-central Indian region of Hind which is located in the Gangetic Plain of the Ganga and Yamuna rivers in North India, between the Himalayas and the Vindhyas. Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana identified by the official census, making up 43.45% of the population in 2002.[1]


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).[3] 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. Those from Chota Nagpur were the 'Hill Coolies' or Dhangars. The Dhangars were in great demand by tea garden planters to clear the jungle for the expansion of tea cultivation. Consequently, 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 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.[4]

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 was imported into British Guiana.[5]

As 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 were horrendous, pushing them into isolated communities.[6]

The indentured servants, were required to sign a contract, the terms bounding their service to a plantation for five years, while earning a fixed daily wage. Once this five-year period has 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.[7]

The prospect of sexual relations with Indian women was at first unappealing to the original mostly male Chinese migrants to Guyana although there was a lack of Chinese women, but eventually their attitude changed and Indian women and Chinese men established sexual relationships with each other like what happened in Mauritius.[8][9] Creole sexual relationships and marriages with Chinese and Indians was rare,[10] 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.[11][12] Marriages between Indian women and Chinese men in 1892 numbered six as reported by Immigration Agent Gladwin.[13] In Guyana, while marriages between Indian women and black African men is socially shameful to Indians, Chinese-Indian marriages are considered acceptable as reported by Joseph Nevadomsky in 1983.[14] "Chiney-dougla" is the Indian Guyanese term for mixed Chinese-Indian children.[15] Some Indian women in Guiana had multiple partners due to the greater number of men than woman, an account of the era told by women in Guiana is of a single Chinese man who was allowed to temporarily borrow a Hindu Indian woman by her Indian husband who was his friend, so the Chinese man could sire a child with her, after a son was born to her the Chinese man kept the boy while she was returned to her Indian husband.[16][17] In Guyana the Chinese did not maintain their distinctive physical features due to the high rate of Chinese men marrying other ethnicities like Indian women.[18][19][20]

The severe imbalance with Indian men outnumbering Indian women led some women to take advantage of the situation to squeeze favors from men and leave their partners for other men,[21] one infamous example was a pretty Christian Indian woman named Mary Ilandun with ancestral origins from Madras, born in 1846, who had sex with Indian, black, and Chinese men as she married them in succession and ran off with their money to her next paramour, doing this from 1868 to 1884.[22] Indian men used force to bring Indian women back in line from this kind of behavior.[23]


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 caste-conscious immigrant ancestors.[24]

Cultural origins and religion[edit]

Between 1838 and 1917 over 500 ship voyages with 238,909 Indentured Indian immigrants came to Guyana; while 75,898 of them or their children returned to India. The vast majority of the Indian Immigrants that came were from the Hindustani (or Hindi) speaking areas of North India. The most popular Hindustani dialect spoken among these immigrants was Bhojpuri (spoken in east Uttar Pradesh and west Bihar), followed by Awadhi (spoken in central Uttar Pradesh). 62% of the Indian Immigrants to Guyana 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 prepartioned Bengal, 3% from what are today Orissa and Jharkhand states, 3% from what is today Tamil Nadu state, 3% from Central India, 1% from prepartioned Punjab and the remaining 1% from the rest of India.[citation needed] (96.8% of all the Indian Immigrants to Guyana left from the port of Calcutta in North India, and 3.2% from the port of Madras in South India)[25]

The religious breakdown of the Indian immigrants to Guyana were 85% Hindus and 15% Muslims.[25]

While no solidified caste groups survived the early colonial period, Indenture documents of the Indian immigrants to Guyana found that 11% were Hindus who were classified as Brahmin, Bhumihar, Chatri, Rajput and Thakur castes. 1% were Hindus of the merchant or writer castes, 30% were Hindus of the medium agricultural castes, 9% were Hindus of the artisan castes, 2% were Hindus of the petty trading castes, 2% were Hindus of fishermen and boatmen castes, 25% were Hindus who were from menial or dalit castes, 3% were Hindus who were Madrasis, 2% were Hill Coolies or Tribals, and the remaining 15% were Muslims regardless of their caste origins.[25]

The only acknowledgment the colonial government and the plantation managers gave to caste differences was their distrust of the Brahmins as potential leaders. East Indian workers were housed together and placed in work gangs without consideration of caste.[citation needed]

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 and Kurbani (sacrifice of the sheep).[26] 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.[27]


Among Hindus and Muslims, arranged, comparatively early marriages were common 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. Indian families are patriarchal and often function as corporate economic units.[28] For individuals who are Hindu, weddings are performed with the bride and groom dressed in traditional Indian clothing. 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 dal puri. Dishes that survived that survived the colonial period include gulab jamun, parasad (sweet coconut paste with raisins), kheer, dal puri, chicken curry, and seven curry, a dish of seven curries eaten at one meal, generally served at weddings, poojas, and religious functions.[citation needed]

Notable Indo-Guyanese[edit]



Arts and entertainment[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Population Composition" (PDF). Census 2002. Guyana Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2009-01-02. 
  2. ^ "Many Guyanese Asian backgrounds speak Hindi, Tamil, or Telugu." Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. 
  3. ^ History Today - Indian Labour in British Guiana
  4. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 105.
  5. ^ Despres, Leo, "Differential Adaptions and Micro-Cultural Evolution in Guyana," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 25:1, 22.
  6. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 102
  7. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 106-107.
  8. ^ 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. 272-273. ISBN 077351354X. ISSN 0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ 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 University Press. p. 272. ISBN 9766400067. ISSN 0846-8869. 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. 181. ISBN 0677219806. ISSN 0275-5793. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  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 University Press. p. 273. ISBN 9766400067. ISSN 0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  13. ^ D. A. Bisnauth (2000). The settlement of Indians in Guyana, 1890-1930 (illustrated ed.). Peepul Tree. p. 213. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  14. ^ Preethy Sarah Samuel (2000). Cultural Continuity Or Assimilation in the Familial Domain of the Indo-Guyanese. Wayne State University. Sociology (illustrated ed.). ProQuest. p. 38. ISBN 0549387625. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  15. ^ JCAS Symposium Series, Issue 13. Kokuritsu Minzokugaku Hakubutsukan. Chiiki Kenkyū Kikaku Kōryū Sentā (illustrated ed.). Japan Center for Area Studies, National Museum of Ethnology. 2002. p. 209. Archived from the original on 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  16. ^ Gaiutra Bahadur (2013). Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture. University of Chicago Press. p. 119. ISBN 022604338X. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  17. ^ Margery Kirkpatrick (1993). From the Middle Kingdom to the New World: Aspects of the Chinese Experience in Migration to British Guiana, Volume 1. Volume 1 of From the Middle Kingdom to the New World. M. Kirkpatrick. p. 156. ISBN 9768136278. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  18. ^ L. Liang-chi Wang, Gungwu Wang, ed. (1998). The Chinese Diaspora: Selected Essays, Volume 2. Volume 2 of The Chinese Diaspora (illustrated ed.). Times Academic Press. p. 108. ISBN 9812100938. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  19. ^ Tim Merrill, ed. (1993). Guyana and Belize: Country Studies. Volume 550 (Issue 82 of Area handbook series). Library of Congress. Federal Research Division (2 ed.). Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. p. 42. ISBN 084440778X. ISSN 1057-5294. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  20. ^ Jenny Pettit; Caroline Starbird (2000). Contemporary Issues in South America. University of Denver, CTIR. p. 48. ISBN 0943804906. Retrieved June 1, 2006. 
  21. ^ "How much was immigrant culture affected by the realities of life in Guyana and the norms of other racial groups present in Guyana between 1838 and 1905?". flax. British Academic Written English (Arts and Humanities). 
  22. ^ 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. 169-171. ISBN 077351354X. ISSN 0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  23. ^ Guyana Historical Journal, Volumes 1-5. University of Guyana. History Society, University of Guyana. Department of History. University of Guyana, Department of History. 1989. p. 9. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  24. ^ Country studies - Indo-Guyanese
  25. ^ a b c From the Ancient Heartland of India to the New World by Aditya Prashad of Toronto, Canada; published on May 5, 2001
  26. ^ infosurhoy - Guyana: Indo-Guyanese community thriving
  27. ^
  28. ^ Countries and their culture - Guyana