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

Indo-Guyanese are Guyanese people with Indian heritage. Linguistically they are collectively known as the speakers of the Indo-Aryan Hindustani languages such as Hindi and Urdu. Ethnically, originated from different parts of India, they were a more specifically known as the Indians or Hindi people. 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 were imported into British Guiana.[5]

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.[6]

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.[7]

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. Eventually their attitude changed and Indian women and Chinese men established sexual relationships with each other as happened in Mauritius.[8] Chinese men had to marry women of other ethnicities due to the lack of Chinese women migrating to British Guiana.[9] Creole sexual relationships and marriages with Chinese and Indians were 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]

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.[12][13]

On plantations white European managers took advantage of and used indentured Indian woman for sex.[14] 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.[15][16]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

The Guyanese-Indian journalist Gaiutra Bahadur wrote about the experiences of Indian coolie women.[20][21] Sex was utilized as a potent instrument by Indian coolie women such as when they obtained favors from overseers by having sex with them,[22] and the women could either have been "imperiled" or "empowered" when forming sexual relations with overseers.[23]

Sexual abuse, horrible living standards, and tough work were all things Indian coolie women had to contend with.[24][25]


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.[26]

Cultural origins and religion[edit]

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 from the port of Calcutta in North India, and 3.2% from the port of Madras in South India)[27]

The religious breakdown was 85% Hindu, 15% Muslims.[27]

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[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).[28] 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.[29]


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.[30] 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, pulari with achar (dry pickled mango mixed with garam masala). Dishes 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. pp. 272–273. ISBN 077351354X. ISSN 0846-8869. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  9. ^ History Gazette, Issues 1-2; Issues 4-27. University of Guyana. History Society. History Society. 1989. ISBN 077351354X. 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. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Rebecca Chiyoko King-O'Riain, Stephen Small, Minelle Mahtani, eds. (2014). Global Mixed Race. NYU Press. p. 53. ISBN 0814770479. Retrieved June 1, 2015. 
  15. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ 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. 
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Pillai, Suresh Kumar. "THE SILENCED MAJORITY: INDIAN CULTURE AND RACIAL CONFLICT IN GUYANA": 16. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  19. ^ Pillai, Suresh Kumar (2004). "NDENTURED INDIANS Emergence of Hindu identity in Caribbean Countries": 15. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  21. ^ BAHADUR, GAIUTRA (Dec 6, 2011). "Writing a Life, Living a Writer's Life". NiemanReports. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  22. ^ "Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture". SOUTH ASIAN LITERATURE FESTIVAL. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  23. ^ ivetteromero (March 30, 2014). "Gaiutra Bahadur's "Coolie Woman" Longlisted for the Orwell Prize". Repeating Islands. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  24. ^ Bahadur, Gaiutra (April 11, 2014). "An Excerpt From Gaiutra Bahadur's 'Coolie Woman: The Odyssey of Indenture'". The Aerogram. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  25. ^ ALI, GRACE ANEIZA (Spring 2014). "Gaiutra Bahadur Charts the 'Coolie' Woman's Odyssey". OF NOTE magazine. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  26. ^ Country studies - Indo-Guyanese
  27. ^ a b From the Ancient Heartland of India to the New World by Aditya Prashad of Toronto, Canada; published on May 5, 2001
  28. ^ infosurhoy - Guyana: Indo-Guyanese community thriving
  29. ^
  30. ^ Countries and their culture - Guyana