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|Regions with significant populations|
|Georgetown, New Amsterdam|
|English (Guyanese) · Portuguese|
|Related ethnic groups|
A Portuguese Guyanese is a Guyanese whose ancestors came from Portugal, or a Portuguese who has Guyanese citizenship.
The history of Portuguese Guyanese community relates directly with the end of slavery. After the abolition of slavery in 1834, the planters of British Guiana sought alternative sources of labour. They were eager to recruit white labourers in order to bolster the proportion of white to coloured residents in the colony.
In 1834, the first Portuguese people arrived from the Portuguese island of Madeira, having been sponsored by a coalition of planters and by the colonial government. Between 1834 and 1882, some 30,645 Portuguese arrived in Guyana, the vast majority from Madeira, but others from the Azores Islands. Mixed race Portuguese speaking elements from Cape Verde and Brazil also were brought in.
The Madeiran Portuguese, or simply Madeirans as they came to be known, soon shunned working in the fields given the high mortality rate due to tropical diseases. They settled in Georgetown, New Amsterdam and other towns in Guyana and dedicated themselves into the venture of the retail and wholesale trades. By 1851, 173 out of 296 shops in Georgetown were Portuguese-owned, while the figure was 28 out of 52 in New Amsterdam. In 1891, Portuguese numbered 4.3% of the population of Guyana.
The Portuguese of Guiana faced considerable discrimination from both the black Creoles and the white British ruling class. The former believed them to be opportunists and lackies of the white establishment while the latter considered the Portuguese inferior due to their Catholic and Mediterranean racial roots. The Portuguese are white, but the white ruling class knew that, although the Portuguese were racially European, they were also indigent peasants from Madeira.
Tensions boiled over on a number of occasions and Georgetown experienced a spate of race riots, most notably in 1856 and 1898. On both occasions, disgruntled black Creoles directed their anger against Portuguese-owned shops and widespread looting occurred leading to damages of over $30,000 and over $200,000 respectively.
Eventually, although the Portuguese were called by the British as inferior, the Portuguese were given more privileges by other whites and assimilated - becoming part of Guyanese society. They anglicized their surnames and began to speak English as their primary language. However, during the struggle for independence, the Portuguese came to be identified with the British colonial establishment while the ethnic Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese fought over power. The 1964 killing of the civil servant Arthur Abraham (Guyanese), an ethnic Portuguese, led many to emigrate before Britain introduced restrictions.
Some have advanced the idea that the Portuguese presence in the Guianas predates 1834. Portuguese Sephardic Jews had settled in neighbouring Dutch Guiana in the 17th century before the Dutch arrived. Portuguese Jewish communities also exist in Aruba, Barbados, and Curaçao. Some of the Portuguese in Guyana may have their origins in these Dutch-speaking Portuguese groups. They were known as the "Curaçao Portuguese" within the larger Portuguese community.
The number of Portuguese Guyanese (4.3% of the population in 1891) has been declining constantly over the decades.
- Ivor Mendonca is a descendant of Madeiran immigrants to Guyana.
- A reliable reference for the afformed information is "The Colony Of British Guyana and Its Labouring Population" by H. V. P Bronkhurst.
Another riot between Portuguese and Africans occurred in 1889 when a Portuguese was set free after killing his coloured wife. He was set free not long after a coloured man was hanged for killing his Portuguese wife. The Africans and the coloured people saw this as discrimination against them, so they attacked the Portuguese shops and stalls, after a rumour had started that a Portuguese shopkeeper had murdered an African boy.