Afro-Guyanese people

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Afro-Guyanese people are generally descended from the enslaved people brought to Guyana from the coast of West Africa to work on sugar plantations during the era of the Atlantic slave trade. Coming from a wide array of backgrounds and enduring conditions that severely constrained their ability to preserve their respective cultural traditions contributed to the adoption of Christianity and the values of British colonists.[1]

Afro-Guyanese people
Total population
29.3% of Guyana's population (2012)
Regions with significant populations
Guyana (Georgetown, Linden, Essequibo Coast and New Amsterdam)
United Kingdom, Canada, United States
English, Guyanese Creole, Dutch
Majority: Christianity
Minority: Islam, Rastafari, Comfa, Afro-American religions, Traditional African religions



The Dutch West India Company turned to the importation of African slaves, who rapidly became a key element in the colonial economy.[2] By the 1660s, the slave population numbered about 2,500; the number of indigenous people was estimated at 50,000, most of whom had retreated into the vast hinterland.[2] Although African slaves were considered an essential element of the colonial economy, their working conditions were brutal.[2] The mortality rate was high, and the dismal conditions led to more than half a dozen slave rebellions.[2]

The most famous slave uprising, the Berbice Slave Uprising, began in February 1763.[2] On two plantations on the Canje River in Berbice, slaves rebelled, taking control of the region.[2] As plantation after plantation fell to the slaves, the European population fled; eventually only half of the whites who had lived in the colony remained.[2] Led by Cuffy (now the national hero of Guyana), the African freedom fighters came to number about 3,000 and threatened European control over the Guianas.[2] The freedom fighters were defeated with the assistance of troops from neighboring French and British colonies and from Europe.[2]

Colonial life was changed radically by the demise of slavery.[3] Although the international slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807,[3] slavery itself continued in the form of "apprentice-ship".[4] In what is known as the Demerara rebellion of 1823 10–13,000 slaves in Demerara-Essequibo rose up against their masters.[5] Although the rebellion was easily crushed,[5] the momentum for abolition remained, and by 1838 total emancipation had been effected.[3]

The system of apprentice-ship was established to create a buffer period for plantation owners; to keep former slaves as labor but providing payment.[citation needed]


Even though there was still a demand for plantation labor, the labor conditions were no better post-emancipation, so former slaves were less inclined to work in the plantation system, favoring self-reliance or skilled work.[citation needed] Some ex-slaves moved to towns and villages, feeling that field labor was degrading and inconsistent with freedom, but others pooled their resources to purchase the abandoned estates of their former masters and created village communities.[3][4] Establishing small settlements provided the new Afro-Guyanese communities an opportunity to grow and sell food, an extension of a practice under which slaves had been allowed to keep the money that came from the sale of any surplus produce.[3] The emergence of an independent-minded Afro-Guyanese peasant class, however, threatened the planters' political power, inasmuch as the planters no longer held a near-monopoly on the colony's economic activity.[3]

Emancipation also resulted in the introduction of new ethnic and cultural groups into British Guiana,[3] such as Chinese and Portuguese indentured laborers, who upon completing their contracts, became competitors with the new Afro-Guyanese middle class.[citation needed] The largest group of indentured laborers came from India, and would later grow into a thriving and competitive class. Unlike future immigrant groups, former slaves were not granted land or passage to their home country, and this, in addition to other race-based treatment and favoritism, created tension among the ethnic groups.[6][7]

20th centuryEdit

By the early twentieth century, the majority of the urban population of the country was Afro-Guyanese.[8] Many Afro-Guyanese people living in villages had migrated to the towns in search of work.[8] Until the 1930s, Afro-Guyanese people, especially those of mixed descent, comprised the bulk of the non-white professional class.[8] During the 1930s, as Indo-Guyanese began to enter the middle class in large numbers, they began to compete with Afro-Guyanese for professional positions.[8]


Slavery had a devastating impact on family and social structure, as individual family member were bought and sold with little regard to kinship or relation. Marriage was not legally recognized for slaves, and even after emancipation, weddings and legal marriages were cost-prohibitive. Household compositions vary, and can be matriarchal or a nuclear family unit.[9]

Although the greatest numbers of Afro-Guyanese are Christian,[citation needed] there are also followers of obeah,[citation needed] a folk religion of African origin, which incorporates beliefs and practices of all the immigrant groups.[10]

Afro-Guyanese make up a significant portion of the public sector workforce.[11] Afro-Guyanese face challenges to private sector involvement, such as access to financing.[12] In politics, Afro-Guyanese make up a large portion of A Partnership for National Unity party voters.[13]

In 2017, a United Nations expert group determined that Afro-Guyanese face discrimination in law enforcement, employment, and education.[14]

Notable Afro-GuyaneseEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ MacDonald 1993, p. 31.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i MacDonald 1993, p. 6-7.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g MacDonald 1993, p. 9.
  4. ^ a b "Reflections on Emancipation". Stabroek News. 2009-08-27. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  5. ^ a b Révauger, Marie-Cécile (2008). The Abolition of Slavery The British Debate, 1787-1840. pp. 105–106. ISBN 9782130571100.
  6. ^ Yahya-Sakur, Nafeeza; Kurmanaev, Anatoly (2020-09-10). "Killings Reignite Racial Tensions in Guyana". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  7. ^ Chabrol, Denis (2019-05-13). "Afro-Guyanese must unite, learn about self-identity, lobby for oil money, land reform – renowned academic". Demerara Waves Online News- Guyana. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  8. ^ a b c d MacDonald 1993, p. 40-41.
  9. ^ "Guyana - FAMILY AND KINSHIP STRUCTURE". Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  10. ^ MacDonald 1993, p. 50.
  11. ^ Chabrol, Denis (2019-01-28). "Afro-Guyanese urged to own businesses, seek gov't support". Demerara Waves Online News- Guyana. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  12. ^ "Limited access to finance sparks formation of credit union catering to Afro-Guyanese". Stabroek News. 2019-07-07. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  13. ^ "Guyana – A Commitment to Racial Harmony, A Presidential Pronouncement". September 9, 2020. Retrieved 2021-02-12.
  14. ^ "Afro-Guyanese continuing to experience racism, discrimination". Stabroek News. 2017-10-07. Retrieved 2021-02-12.

Works citedEdit