Regions with significant populations
Guyana: Overseas:
Colonial Languages: South Asian Languages:
Majority: Hinduism
Minority: Islam, Christianity and others
Related ethnic groups

Indo-Guyanese or Indian-Guyanese, are Guyanese nationals who trace their ancestry to India and the wider subcontinent. They are the descendants of indentured servants and settlers who migrated from India beginning in 1838, and continuing during the British Raj.

The vast majority of indentured labourers in Guyana came from the Bhojpur and Awadh regions in the present-day states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. A significant minority also came from Southern India.[2] Among the immigrants, there were also labourers from other parts of South Asia. The vast majority of Indians came as contract labourers during the 19th century, spurred on by political upheaval, the ramifications of the Mutiny of 1857 and famine. Others of higher social status arrived as merchants, landowners and farmers pushed out of India by many of the same factors.[3]

Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana identified by the official census, about 40% of the population in 2012. A large Indo-Guyanese diaspora is also found in countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.[4]


Indian immigration to the British West Indies was triggered by Great Britain's decision in the 1830s to outlaw the enslavement of labour brought from Africa. Newly emancipated Africans were suddenly able to choose where to live and what to do, which led sugar plantation owners to look elsewhere for workers. After they recruited from other countries, colonial recruitment turned to British India.

The indentured labour system became the replacement system for slavery in British Guiana. Persisting for 75 years, this system of indentured servitude presented its own forms of injustices, creating conflict with Indian nationalists. They pushed for its end in 1917. One major distinction between slavery and the indentured immigrant experience was that the indentured labourers from India had agreed to immigration, signing contracts that bound them to a plantation for five years, while earning a small, fixed daily wage. After five additional years working in Guiana (for a total of 10 years), survivors would be entitled either to receive passage back to India or to stay in Guiana and receive land and money to start their own businesses.[5]

In 1838 some 396 Indian immigrants arrived in British Guiana from Calcutta.[6] Over the ensuing 80 years, a reported total of more than 230,000 indentured labourers arrived from India.[7]

For the first 25 years, indentured recruits were drawn largely from small towns in and around Calcutta, but people were recruited from as far as Sri Lanka.

As with indentured servitude in North America, the backbone of all recruiting operations were professional recruiters, assisted by paid local agents called "Arkatis" in North India and "Maistris" in South India. Intimidation, coercion, and deception were common, as were illegal practices, such as kidnapping and forced detention. An example of deception related to labourers who signed to immigrate to Surinam; recruiters would pronounce the country as "Sri-Ram," which would be perceived as the names of two Hindu deities with complex but very positive connotations.[8]

In addition to having to deal with lack of freedoms, intense heat, and brutal working conditions, these indentured servants were largely met with hostility from the newly freed African population. Their chance to earn a living was undercut by the very low wages paid to the Indian immigrants.[9]


Indian vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat visits the Whitby monument

On 5 May 1988, a bronze sculpture of the Whitby, the ship which carried the first labourers to British Guiana, was presented to the people of Guyana by the Indian government. It is located in the Guyana National Park in Georgetown.[10]

On 5 May 2019, the Indian Immigration Monument was unveiled by president David A. Granger. It is located in Palmyra near the Berbice Bridge. The compound near the monument has a visitor's gallery, several fountains and a playground.[11]


Although Indian settlers maintained their traditions, the culture of the community is unique to Guyana. The Indo-Guyanese community originates from various regions and cultures in India, and as a result, over time in Guyana, they have cultivated a distinctive modern Indo-Guyanese culture that cannot be exclusively attributed to any specific sub-group within contemporary India.

Cultural origins and religion

Between 1838 and 1917 over 500 ship voyages, with 238,909 indentured Indian immigrants, came to Guyana. Some 75,898 of them or their children were recorded as returning to the subcontinent.

The most popular dialect of Hindi 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; 20% from Bihar; 6% were from pre-partitioned Bengal; 1% from Haryana and Punjab; 2% from Chota Nagpur and surrounding areas (primarily Jharkhand and Odisha); 1% from Central India (primarily Madhya Pradesh); 1% from Native states (primarily Rajasthan); 2% from other parts of India; 5% from the Madras Presidency (Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh).

95% of all the Immigrants left from the port of Calcutta (Kolkata), and 5% from the port of Madras (Chennai). Note, no Immigrants left from the port of Bombay (Mumbai) to Guyana during the period of 1838 to 1917.

Very representative of the population in their regions of origin in India, of the Indian immigrants, 85% were Hindus and 15% were Muslims. [12]

The majority of immigrants came from lower agricultural castes, artisan castes, cultivator castes (kurmi), grazier castes (ahir), landholding castes (thakur), and priestly castes (brahmin). There were also significant numbers of Muslims and outcasts.[13]

The Indian immigrants made an enduring cultural imprint on Guyana. Once their labor contracts expired, they resumed their original occupations and recreated near-typical traditional Indian village life in their adopted homeland.

Festivals and holidays

Indo-Guyanese Hindus continue to observe holidays such as Diwali, Phagwah, Maha Shivratri, Hanuman Jayanti, Ram Navami, Navratri, Vijayadashami, Krishna Janmashtami, Radhastami, Saraswati Jayanti, Raksha Bandhan, Guru Purnima, Ganesh Chaturthi, Kalbhairo Jayanti, Kartik Snan, Vivaha Panchami, Mesha Sankranti, Makar Sankranti, Tulsi Vivah, Gita Jayanti, Datta Jayanti and Ratha Yatra, among others, while Indo-Guyanese Muslims observe the fast in the month of Ramadan as well as observing Eid ul-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Hosay (Ashura), Shab-e-barat, Mawlid, Chaand Raat and the Islamic New Year.[14] Indo-Guyanese Christians celebrate holidays such as New Year's, Christmas, Easter, All Saints' Day and the Feast of Corpus Christi, among others and depending on their denomination. Through colonial influence, celebrating holidays such as Diwali, Phagwah, Eid ul-Fitr, Hosay, New Year's, 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 5 May 1838. On this day, the workers arrived to work in sugar plantations.[15] Indo-Guyanese also celebrate Guyanese national holidays such as Independence Day and Republic Day.


See also: Hindu wedding and Islamic marital practices

There is no "preferential marriages between kin" among Indo-Guyanese, nor much significance tied to marriage outside of ones religion or caste compared to other Indian diasporic groups.[16] The duty of parents to provide the wedding for their children demonstrated "respectability and prestige" and while children generally had some say in who they married, they looked to their parents to "arrange for the rituals and meet the necessary expenses." The wedding of the first child is generally the largest and most opulent, becoming reduced and more economized for subsequent children. Parents may exaggerate the expenses put into these weddings, which are mainly on "clothes, food and drink", and dowry depending on the family and era. Weddings are qualified by the number of people fed, and a basic meal of roti, rice and a vegetable curry is considered the bare minimum.[17]

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.[18]


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, roti and dhal bhat (dhal and rice). Indo-Guyanese snacks include sal sev (also called chicken foot due to appearance, although there is no actual meat in it),[19] gantia,[20] plantain chips,[21] roasted nuts, and fried channa.[22] Appetizers and street foods include boil and fried or curried channa as well as bara, wrap roti, pholourie, and aloo (potato) or cassava/egg ball which are served with a chutney or sour. The rotis that Indo-Guyanese typically eat are paratha, dhalpuri, sada roti, dosti roti, aloo roti, and puri. Murgatani (multani) and rasam are popular soups in Guyana of South Indian origin. Dosa (dosay or chota) is a filled crepe that is eaten by Indo-Guyanese and is of South Indian origin as well.[23]

The main dishes at Hindu wedding, festivals, and prayer services are known as seven curry and consist of seven vegetarian curries: aloo and channa curry, eddoes (aruwi) curry, mango curry, baigan/balanjay curry, katahar curry, pumpkin or kohra (fried or curried), and bhaji (made with young malabar spinach, moringa, spinach or spiny amaranth leaves) served with dhal bhat (dhal and rice) or karhi and rice.[24] Seven curry is also served with paratha or dhalpuri roti. Individual curries of seven curry are also consumed on a daily basis by Indo-Guyanese as a main dish. Meat and seafood based main dishes include chicken, duck, goat, lamb, fish (especially hassa, gilbaka, banga mary, butterfish, houri, haimara, cuffum, cuirass, lukanani, patwa, pakoo, red snapper, as well as tinned salmon, tuna, and sardine), shrimp, crab, lobster, pork (except Muslims and some Hindus) and beef (except Hindus) curry or bunjal (a type of dried curry).[25][26] Fried chicken, fish, and shrimp are also eaten as a main dish along with dhal and rice. Khichri is also a popular quick dish that was seen as a staple in the days of indentureship. In Guyana, among the Indo-Guyanese people, it is popular to eat curried or fried vegetables such as okra, eddoe, breadnut, lablab beans, pumpkin, bitter melon, drumstick, long beans, calabash, potato, ridged gourd, sponged gourd, cassava, cabbage, cauliflower, green banana, green papaya, chickpeas, and eggplant. Roti or dhal bhat (dhal and rice) is always served along with any curry or fried dish.

Chokhas are also a popular breakfast and lunch dish among the Indo-Guyanese and prepared by roasting vegetables that are skinned after roasting, and then garlic, onions, and peppers are chaunkay-ed or tempered in oil and added to the mashed roasted vegetable and salt is added after. Popular chokhas include baigan/balanjay (eggplant), tomatoes, and coconut. Chokhas are usually served with sada roti. Fish and shrimp are also used to make chokha.

Desserts include gulab jamun,[27] mohanbhog (parsad), gurma (gurumba),[28] ladoo,[29] mithai, jalebi, gulgula, doodhpitty,[30] barfi,[31] pera, halwa, gujiya (goja), roat, sirnie, lapsi, vermicelli (sawine),[32] and kheer (sweet rice).[25]

Indo-Guyanese have also adopted other dishes from other cultural groups such as stews, pepperpot, ground provisions, bake and saltfish, sardines and bread, fried chicken, metemgee, chicken soup, cook-up rice, chow mein, lo mein, fried rice, pepper shrimp, and chicken in de' ruff. Guyanese breads, pastries, cakes, and frozen treats are also popular among Indo-Guyanese, such as patties, pine tart, butterflap, tennis roll, fried bake, cassava bread, plait bread, cheese roll, black bean (chiney) cake, cassava or pumpkin pone, salara, coconut buns, black cake (rum cake), lime cookies, custard, fudge, snow cone, ice cream, and custard block (ice block).[33]


See also: Indo-Caribbean music

Bollywood movies and songs have had an 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, Asha Bhosle, Alka Yagnik, Shreya Ghoshal, Udit Narayan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Kumar Sanu, Hari Om Sharan, and Anup Jalota have had very successful shows in Guyana. In 1980, Lata Mangeshkar was greeted with crowds of fans and was presented with the key of the city of Georgetown, Guyana on her visit. Indian soap operas and dance and music shows have recently grown in popularity in Guyana due to channels such as Zee TV, StarPlus, Sony Entertainment Television, and Colors TV. The most popular genres of music among Indo-Guyanese people include chutney, chutney soca, baithak gana, bhajan, Bollywood, Indian classical music, Indian folk music, and soca. Popular local Indo-Caribbean singers include Sundar Popo, Terry Gajraj, Ramdew Chaitoe, Dropati, Ravi Bissambhar, Rakesh Yankaran, Rikki Jai, Drupatee Ramgoonai, and Babla & Kanchan. Indian instrumental influence can be seen in Guyana through the use of the tabla, harmonium, dholak, dhantal, manjira, khartal, and tassa drums.[34]


Indo-Guyanese literature includes novels, poetry, plays and other forms written by people born or strongly affiliated with Guyana, who are descendants of indentured Indian servants.[35] As a former British colony, English language and style had an enduring impact on the writings from Guyana, which are done in English language and utilizing Guyanese Creole.[36] Notable writers include Joseph Ruhomon and Shana Yardan.[35]

Notable Indo-Guyanese

Main article: List of Indo-Guyanese People

Return to India

After India gained its independence in 1947, many labourers of Indian origin in British Guiana and other Caribbean colonies like Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica wanted to return to India. In particular, some returned for religious reasons, including the spiritual importance of the Ganges River and other Hindu pilgrimage sites. Among the returnees were people who had lived in the Caribbean for over 60 years, with family and grandchildren born abroad.[37] Of these countries, only British Guiana chartered a ship for the returnees.

The Indo-Guyanese who remained in India settled in villages and in cities like Prayagraj, Varanasi, Lucknow, Kanpur, Basti, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh, Ballia, Chhapra, Faizabad, Patna, Chennai and Kolkata.[38]

See also


  1. ^ "Many Guyanese Asian backgrounds speak Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Telugu. Magocsi, Paul R. (1999). Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples. ISBN 9780802029386.
  2. ^ News, Stabroek (28 May 2009). "The Indian presence in Guyana". Stabroek News. Retrieved 4 July 2023. ((cite web)): |last= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ Lomarsh Roopnarine, "Indian migration during indentured servitude in British Guiana and Trinidad, 1850–1920." Labor History 52.2 (2011): 173-191.
  4. ^ Lomarsh Roopnarine, "Indian social identity in Guyana, Trinidad, and the North American diaspora." Wadabagei: A Journal of the Caribbean and its Diaspora 12.3 (2009): 87.
  5. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 106-107.
  6. ^ "Indian Labour in British Guiana - History Today".
  7. ^ Despres, Leo, "Differential Adaptions and Micro-Cultural Evolution in Guyana," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 25:1, 22.
  8. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 105.
  9. ^ Roopnarine, Lomarsh, "East Indian Indentured Emigration to the Caribbean: Beyond the Push and Pull Model," Caribbean Studies, 31:2, 102
  10. ^ Mahendra Sukhdeo. "Project proposal: installation of a monument for the unknown Fiji Girmitiyas". Academia: 4. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  11. ^ "One year since opening, Indian immigration monument a favourite spot for Berbicians". 6 May 2021. Retrieved 9 December 2021.
  12. ^ From the Ancient Heartland of India to the New World by Aditya Prashad of Toronto, Canada; published 2001
  13. ^ "The Indian presence in Guyana". Stabroek News. 28 May 2009. Retrieved 17 March 2022.
  14. ^ "Infosurhoy".
  15. ^ "".
  16. ^ Jayawardena, Chandra (1980). "Culture and Ethnicity in Guyana and Fiji". Man. 15 (3): 436. doi:10.2307/2801343. ISSN 0025-1496. JSTOR 2801343.
  17. ^ Smith, Raymond T.; Jayawardena, C. (1959). "Marriage and the Family amongst East Indians in British Guiana". Social and Economic Studies. 8 (4): 356–364. ISSN 0037-7651. JSTOR 27851230.
  18. ^ "Culture of Guyana - history, people, clothing, women, beliefs, food, customs, family, social".
  19. ^ "Find Out How the Mouthwatering and Moreish Chicken Foot or Sal Sev is Made". 28 November 2018.
  20. ^ "Gantia – Indian Mix | Chief Brand Products".
  21. ^ "Plantain Chips - Real Nice Guyana". Archived from the original on 18 October 2020.
  22. ^ "Fried Channa - Real Nice Guyana". Archived from the original on 18 October 2020.
  23. ^ "Chota (Guyanese Pancakes/Dosa) with Gluten Free Option". 17 October 2020.
  24. ^ "The Most Anticipated Meal at an Indo-Guyanese Event – 7-Curry (With Video)". Things Guyana. 15 March 2019.
  25. ^ a b "Food and snacks of Guyana: Indo-Guyanese and other dishes |". 28 January 2017.
  26. ^ "Curry recipes - unique and rare curry recipes | CurryAnything".
  27. ^[dead link]
  28. ^ "Gurumba - Real Nice Guyana". Archived from the original on 18 October 2020.
  29. ^ "Ladoo step by step Recipe Video". YouTube. Archived from the original on 5 December 2021.
  30. ^[dead link]
  31. ^ "Barfi Recipe". August 2015.
  32. ^ "Sawine (Vermicelli cake)". 5 November 2013.
  33. ^ "Queens, NYC | No Passport Required PBS Food". PBS.
  34. ^ The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music: South Asia : the Indian subcontinent.
  35. ^ a b Creighton, Al (8 May 2011). "The Indian ethos in Guyanese literature". Stabroek News. Retrieved 30 November 2022.
  36. ^ "Peepal Tree Press - Feature Display". 3 July 2006. Archived from the original on 3 July 2006. Retrieved 13 March 2021.
  37. ^ "On return home, no happy endings for indentured labourers", Guyana Chronicle Online, 20 January 2008
  38. ^ "Not a happy homecoming", The Tribune India - Spectrum, 20 April 2008

Further reading