Peoples of Guyana

The Amerindians of Guyana

There were many more Amerindian nations in the pre-colonial period than those that exist today. These include the Trios, Tarumas, Miyonggongs, Piyanogottos, Atorads, Taurepang, and Kamarakoto among others. Many of these groups became extinct or fled Guyana for a number of reasons; some died from illnesses contracted through European contact, some were exterminated by warring enemy nations, some fled to neighboring lands during the era of tribal wars, and others migrated to Brazil at the behest of European missionaries. A great many also left because they resented colonial rule that allowed 'free nation' status to some and categorize others as slaves. The so-called "free nations" were the Arawaks, Akawaios, Caribs and Warraus and the Dutch colonizers permitted them to enslave all other Amerindians groups.

It was by this route that the first slave plantations operated during early colonization. Amerindians were immediately accessible and by establishing a system to enslave them, and using their own people to make this possible, the Dutch were able to institute a structure that would last for generations.

Later, after enslaved Africans became the choice of labor for the plantations, Amerindians provided invaluable assistance to the Dutch by helping to quell slave revolts and by recapturing runaway slaves. The also maintained security in the interior and contributed to making Guyana possible be defining the geographical boundaries we know today.

The population of Amerindians in Guyana stands at approximately 70,000. However, this figure is difficult to verify because members of the various communities travel frequently between neighboring countries and also create satellite communities close to and far from established villages.

Guyanese Amerindians can be categorized linguistically and anthropologically into three main human and language groups which are Arawakan, Criban and Warrauan. Each of these nations has its own langue and they are defined linguistically by the same categories. They also occupy relatively well-defined separate ecological niches that have influenced their distinct cultures.

The Portuguese in Guyana

On May 3, 1835, the ship Louisa Baillie docked in Demerara with forty immigrants from Madeira onboard, bound for work on British Guiana's sugar plantations. They came in response to the approaching abolition of slavery and subsequent labor shortages.

However, by 1845, most of the Portuguese had moved off the plantations and had bought small plots of land and moved into the huckster and retail trades.

In the early years, it was mainly in the rum trade that the Portuguese made their mark. By 1852, more than three quarters of the country's retail rum shops were owned by the Portuguese and they retained that monopoly well into the 20th century. The end of the 1860s and the 1870s saw the Portuguese well entrenched in the business community. Apart from being property owners, they were merchants, shop owners, importers, iron mongers, ship chandlers, leather merchants, boot and shoe makers, saddlers, coach-builders, timer merchants, brick makers, cattle owners, pork-knockers, charcoal dealers, bakers and photographers.

In 1858, the number of Portuguese in British Guiana was approximately 35,000, of which almost all were Catholic. They brought not only the agricultural expertise but their fait as well. In 1861, they built the Sacred Heart Church in Georgetown as well as other churches along the East Coast and East Bank, in Demerara and Essequibo.

The Portuguese held on to their language throughout the nineteenth century and a number of Portuguese newspapers kept the community in touch with events in Madeira and in the colony. Portuguese schools were established for both boys and girls, Together with other amateur and professional groups the Portuguese entered the cultural stream of music and drama in British Guiana society.

The Portuguese were also prominent in the world of sports - boxing, cricket, cycling, rugby, football, tennis, hockey, racing and rowing. In 1898, the Portuguese formed the first cycling club, The Vasco da Gama Cycling Club.

By the turn of the century, the Portuguese had created their own middle and upper classes, but they were never accepted into the echelons of white European society, even though they were European. The rapid economic progress of the Portuguese, their strong adherence to the Catholic faith and their clannishness bred respect but never whole-hearted acceptance among the population in either the 19th or 20th centuries. In the 1960s and 70s, the Portuguese suffered even more discrimination and many left Guyana in search of greener pastures.

The Chinese in Guyana

A walk down any business street of shopping center in Georgetown would bring you into contact with "local Chinese". These are the descendants of the original Chinese who came to British Guiana as indentured laborers between 1853 and 1879.

The Chinese brought with them the love of food and ability to cook, so Chinese restaurants can be found on almost every block in the capital and in most country district. Most of these restaurants are now run by newcomers from mainland China. In transporting their culinary expertise they transform national food found in Guyana by flavoring them with rum and ginger. In the case the 'Chinese cake', the original was the Chinese bean cake, towsa peng, but with its local incarnation it was made with black eye peas. They made ham choy (preserved greens) with the local mustard plant that they grew here and salted egg with the local duck's egg to replace the hundred year egg. Today, Chinese fare ahs been taken to new heights with the establishment of high quality eateries. The New Thriving chain has become a place of choice for Guyanese celebrations.

Over the years, the Chinese have adapted to the English customs through churches like St Saviour's Parish Church, originally know as the Chinese Church, when it was consecrated in 1874 as part of the parish of St Phillip's in Georgetown.

Through the Chinese Sports Club, which became the Cosmos Sports Club, and later acquired by the Guyana Motor Racing Club, Chinese boys and girls excelled at lawn tennis and table tennis giving Guyana the West Indies Championship on several occasions. Hockey was another popular sport and in the 1960s and 70s the National teams was made up almost entirely of players of Chinese origin.

Through the British Educational system, members of Guyana's Chinese community were able to make their mark as scholars, teachers, university professors, lawyers, doctors, dentists, farmers, shopkeepers, business leaders and political leaders. Many of the international businesses in Guyana are managed by Chinese.

The only Chinese customs that have withstood the test of time are practiced by individual families; wedding customs, the hospitality of the people and the celebration of any event whatsoever, by a feast of Chinese foods.