Indo-Guyanese or Indian-Guyanese, are Guyanese nationals with heritage from South Asia. Most of the Indian settlers who came to Guyana were from the former Bengal Presidency of 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. A significant minority of the migrants also came from South India, specifically from the former Madras Presidency and surrounding kingdoms. The vast majority of Indians came as indentured laborers during the 19th century, spurred on by political upheaval, ramifications of the Mutiny of 1857, and famine. Others arrived as merchants, landowners and farmers fleeing many of the same woes. 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.
On May 5, 1838, the year in which the abolition of slavery was finalized 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 from Calcutta in the Bengal Presidency region of British India. 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 . 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 small villages in 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 to 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”.
With a need for labor, after the slave emancipation within British territories 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.
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.
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.
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 immigrant ancestors.
Cultural origins and religion
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. (96.8% of all the Indian Immigrants to Guyana left the port of Calcutta in North India, and 3.2% from the port of Madras in South India)
The religious breakdown was 85% Hindu, 15% Muslims.
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.
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.
Festivals and holidays
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. 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.
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. 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.
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, dal puri. Dishes that survived the colonial period include gulab jamun, prasad, kheer known as “sweet rice”, and seven curry, and other dishes associated with religious functions. In Guyana, among the Indo-Guyanese people, it is popular to eat fried vegetables such as okra or “okro”, pumpkin, bitter melon or “karela”, long beans or “bora”, and eggplant known as “baigan” or “balanjay.”
The Indo-Guyanese community has always had great admiration for Bollywood, the Hindi film industry. Bollywood movies and songs have had a huge 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, and Kumar Sanu have had very successful shows in Guyana.In 1980, Lata Mangeshkar, one of the most beloved singers in Guyana, 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 music, Soca music, Indian music, and Chutney soca. Popular music artists include Sundar Popo, Terry Gajraj, Rakesh Yankaran, and most definitely Babla & Kanchan. Indian instrumental influence can be seen in Guyana through the use of the tabla, harmonium, dholak, dhantal, and tassa drums.
Indo-Guyanese women have always been a great asset to beauty pageants in Guyana. Most notable Miss Guyana is Shakira Baksh, the 1967 Miss Guyana, who went on to become a runner-up at the Miss World 1967 pageant and later married popular British actor Michael Caine. Rafieya Husain, Miss Guyana World 2014, won the ‘Beauty With a Purpose Title’, received the Miss World Caribbean, and became a contestant in the Final 10 at the Miss World 2014 pageant. Alana Seebarran, Miss India Guyana, won the Miss India Worldwide 2012.
This section contains embedded lists that may be poorly defined, unverified or indiscriminate. Please help to clean it up to meet Wikipedia’s quality standards. Where appropriate, incorporate items into the main body of the article. (June 2015)
Cheddi Jagan, President of Guyana from 1992 to 1997
Waheed Alli, Baron Alli – life peer in the British House of Lords
Shaik Baksh, Minister of Education
Cheddi Jagan – former President of Guyana
Bharrat Jagdeo – former President of Guyana
Moses Nagamootoo – Prime Minister of Guyana
Reepu Daman Persaud
Shridath Ramphal – former Commonwealth Secretary General
Donald Ramotar – former President of Guyana
Tara Singh Varma – Dutch politician
Syed Kamall – British MEP for London since 2005
Kayman Sankar – politician and rice farmer
Gina Miller – British lawyer who took the UK Government to court over its handling of Brexit negotiations
Doodnauth Singh – former Attorney General of Guyana
Balram Singh Rai – politician
Ranji Chandisingh – politician
Lionel Luckhoo – politician and lawyer
Edward Luckhoo – politician and Governor-General of British Guiana and Acting President of Guyana
David Dabydeen – professor at the University of Warwick and historian
Clem Seecharan – professor and Caribbean historian
Bertrand Ramcharan – former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Bishnodat Persaud – professor at the University of the West Indies and former Director of the Commonwealth Secretariat
Dr. Deborah Persaud – virologist, named among the world’s most influential people in the Time 100 in 2013
Arts and entertainment
Anjulie – Canadian singer-songwriter
Dave Baksh – lead guitarist of the Canadian band Sum 41 (also plays with Brown Brigade)
Shakira Caine – actress, fashion model, and former Miss Guyana
Rhona Fox – actress
Terry Gajraj – chutney singer
Harischandra Khemraj – writer
Laxmi Kallicharan – writer
Sonnet L’Abbe – Canadian writer
Raymond Ablack – Canadian actor
Gordon Warnecke – British actor
Melinda Shankar – Canadian Actress
Sandhja – Finnish singer
Avi Nash – American actor
Andreas Athanasiou – Canadian NHL player for the Detroit Red Wings
Shivnarine Chanderpaul – former captain of the West Indies cricket team
Narsingh Deonarine – West Indian cricketer
Rohan Kanhai – former captain of the West Indies cricket team
Alvin Kallicharran – former captain of the West Indies cricket team
Kriskal Persaud – chess player
Harry Prowell – Marathon Olympian and British West Indies Champion in long-distance running
Mark Ramprakash – former England cricket player
Ramnaresh Sarwan – former captain of the West Indies cricket team
Dhanraj Singh – boxer
Devendra Bishoo – West Indian cricketer
Beni Sankar – businessman and former cricket player
Religion and Philosophy
Maya Tiwari – Hindu spiritual teacher
Hinduism in Guyana
British Indo-Caribbean community
Non-resident Indian and person of Indian origin