The Settlement of Indians in Guyana 1890-1930

Written by Simon Lee for Caribbean Beat on

After the emancipation of slaves throughout British Caribbean territories in 1838, some 239,149 Indians arrived in what was then British Guiana between 1838 and 1917, to service the sugar plantations as indentured labourers. Most came from agricultural backgrounds in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, Bengal and Madras. By 1911 the Indians were the largest ethnic group (followed by Afro-Guyanese, Portuguese, Amerindians, Europeans and Chinese), and racial tension between the Indian and African communities had become a disturbing fact of Guyanese life. Dale Bisnauth, Guyana’s current Minister of Education, has provided an exhaustive study of the Indian community during the period in which it became the most significant element in Guyanese society. This vital document on the region’s largest Indian settlement and culture traces the history of ethnic hostility against a background of colonial exploitation and divide-and-rule strategy, and makes an important contribution to understanding not only the South Asian diaspora but also the complexities of Caribbean society.