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History of East Indians Presence in Guyana March 7, 2017

Filed under: history,Uncategorized — Leguanite @ 4:45 pm
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Brigadier David Granger

The Indian presence began with the arrival of indentured immigrants in British Guiana on May 5, 1838 primarily to work on the sugar plantations.

The ethnic origins, occupational diversity and large number of Indians were important determinants of their own destiny and the development of the country. Many were recruited from the heavily-populated, Bhojpuri-speaking area that came to be known as the United Provinces − roughly the present-day Uttar Pradesh − and embarked at emigration depot at Calcutta (now Kolkota).
…The majority of immigrants came from the lower agricultural caste (including chamar); artisan caste (kumhar); cultivator caste (kurmi); grazier caste (ahir); landholding caste (thakur), and priestly caste (brahmin). There were also significant numbers of Muslims and outcasts. Owing to the relative shortage of women immigrants in the early days, there was a degree of miscegenation; some men married or cohabited with African women producing children of mixed blood referred to as ‘douglas.’

Indian indentured labourers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries successfully transplanted their skills from their old homes onto their new. In so doing, they not only displayed a high occupational profile in a number of non-plantation economic activities but helped to diversify the economy of this country.

Others, through thrift, were able to buy freehold land on their own when they left the plantations. As most immigrants had come from agricultural castes, they were able to embark on rice and coconut cultivation and animal husbandry on small holdings as independent peasants. By the end of the 19th century, Indians dominated coconut and rice industries and cattle and dairy farming. The food shortage created by the First World War firmly established Indian-grown rice both as a domestic staple and a major export commodity. This was nothing less than the start of an agrarian revolution that transformed both the economy and society.

Religion has always been central to Indian society. According to Tota Mangar, approximately 83 per cent of the immigrants who came were Hindus, about 14 per cent were Muslims and 3 per cent were Christians. Plantation managers and the colonial administration encouraged Indian religion by permitting free time for the celebration of some festivals such as Holi, and by providing building materials for the construction of mandirs for the Hindus, and masjids for the Muslims.

Indians have left a rich legacy of art, dance, literature and music. Traditional cuisine – the perennially popular curry, puri, roti, bara, kheer – and other vegetable dishes, are widely consumed. Festivals, including the colourful Holi, Diwali, Youman Nabi and Eid-ul-Fitr are today national holidays. Traditional Indian wear – the shalwar, sari, kurta – though no longer everyday wear, have remained very popular especially at festivals, weddings and religious ceremonies. The contributions to sport, especially in the present day feats of Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Ramnaresh Sarwan, have become national legends.

The descendants of indentured Indian immigrants and settlers who came to British Guiana between 1838 and 1928 constitute the largest group in the population. Today, they play essential roles in the economic, political and cultural life of the country.