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Guyana - SOCIETY
With a land area of approximately 197,000 square kilometers, Guyana is about the size of Idaho. The country is situated between 1 and 9 north latitude and between 56 and 62 west longitude. With a 430-kilometer Atlantic coastline on the northeast, Guyana is bounded by Venezuela on the west, Brazil on the west and south, and Suriname on the east. The land comprises three main geographical zones: the coastal plain, the white sand belt, and the interior highlands.
The coastal plain, which occupies about 5 percent of the country's area, is home to more than 90 percent of its inhabitants. The plain ranges from five to six kilometers wide and extends from the Courantyne River in the east to the Venezuelan border in the northwest.
The coastal plain is made up largely of alluvial mud swept out to sea by the Amazon River, carried north by ocean currents, and deposited on the Guyanese shores. A rich clay of great fertility, this mud overlays the white sands and clays formed from the erosion of the interior bedrock and carried seaward by the rivers of Guyana. Because much of the coastal plain floods at high tide, efforts to dam and drain this area have gone on since the 1700s.
Guyana has no well-defined shoreline or sandy beaches. Approaching the ocean, the land gradually loses elevation until it includes many areas of marsh and swamp. Seaward from the vegetation line is a region of mud flats, shallow brown water, and sandbars. Off New Amsterdam, these mud flats extend almost twenty-five kilometers. The sandbars and shallow water are a major impediment to shipping, and incoming vessels must partially unload their cargoes offshore in order to reach the docks at Georgetown and New Amsterdam.
A line of swamps forms a barrier between the white sandy hills of the interior and the coastal plain. These swamps, formed when water was prevented from flowing onto coastal croplands by a series of dams, serve as reservoirs during periods of drought.
The white sand belt lies south of the coastal zone. This area is 150 to 250 kilometers wide and consists of low sandy hills interspersed with rocky outcroppings. The white sands support a dense hardwood forest. These sands cannot support crops, and if the trees are removed erosion is rapid and severe. Most of Guyana's reserves of bauxite, gold, and diamonds are found in this region.
The largest of Guyana's three geographical regions is the interior highlands, a series of plateaus, flat-topped mountains, and savannahs that extend from the white sand belt to the country's southern borders. The Pakaraima Mountains dominate the western part of the interior highlands. In this region are found some of the oldest sedimentary rocks in the Western Hemisphere. Mount Roraima, on the Venezuelan border, is part of the Pakaraima range and, at 2,762 meters, is Guyana's tallest peak. Farther south lies the Kaieteur Plateau, a broad, rocky area about 600 meters in elevation; the 1,000-meter high Kanuku Mountains; and the low Acarai Mountains situated on the southern border with Brazil.
Much of the interior highlands consist of grassland. The largest expanse of grassland, the Rupununi Savannah, covers about 15,000 square kilometers in southern Guyana. This savannah also extends far into Venezuela and Brazil. The part in Guyana is split into northern and southern regions by the Kanuku Mountains. The sparse grasses of the savannah in general support only grazing, although Amerindian groups cultivate a few areas along the Rupununi River and in the foothills of the Kanuku Mountains.
Guyana is a water-rich country. The numerous rivers flow into the Atlantic Ocean, generally in a northward direction. A number of rivers in the western part of the country, however, flow eastward into the Essequibo River, draining the Kaieteur Plateau. The Essequibo, the country's major river, runs from the Brazilian border in the south to a wide delta west of Georgetown. The rivers of eastern Guyana cut across the coastal zone, making east-west travel difficult, but they also provide limited water access to the interior. Waterfalls generally limit water transport to the lower reaches of each river. Some of the waterfalls are spectacular; for example, Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River drops 226 meters, more than four times the height of Niagara Falls.
Drainage throughout most of Guyana is poor and river flow sluggish because the average gradient of the main rivers is only one meter every five kilometers. Swamps and areas of periodic flooding are found in all but the mountainous regions, and all new land projects require extensive drainage networks before they are suitable for agricultural use. The average square kilometer on a sugar plantation, for example, has six kilometers of irrigation canals, eighteen kilometers of large drains, and eighteen kilometers of small drains. These canals occupy nearly one-eighth of the surface area of the average sugarcane field. Some of the larger estates have more than 550 kilometers of canals; Guyana itself has a total of more than 8,000 kilometers. Even Georgetown is below sea level and must depend on dikes for protection from the Demerara River and the Atlantic Ocean.
Guyana has a tropical climate with almost uniformly high temperatures and humidity, and much rainfall. Seasonal variations in temperature are slight, particularly along the coast. Although the temperature never gets dangerously high, the combination of heat and humidity can at times seem oppressive. The entire area is under the influence of the northeast trade winds, and during the midday and afternoon sea breezes bring relief to the coast. Guyana lies south of the path of Caribbean hurricanes and none is known to have hit the country.
Temperatures in Georgetown are quite constant, with an average high of 32°C and an average low of 24°C in the hottest month (July), and an average range of 29°C to 23°C in February, the coolest month. The highest temperature ever recorded in the capital was 34°C and the lowest only 20°C. Humidity averages 70 percent year-round. Locations in the interior, away from the moderating influence of the ocean, experience slightly wider variations in daily temperature, and nighttime readings as low as 12°C have been recorded. Humidity in the interior is also slightly lower, averaging around 60 percent.
Rainfall is heaviest in the northwest and lightest in the southeast and interior. Annual averages on the coast near the Venezuelan border are near 250 centimeters, farther east at New Amsterdam 200 centimeters, and 150 centimeters in southern Guyana's Rupununi Savannah. Areas on the northeast sides of mountains that catch the trade winds average as much as 350 centimeters of precipitation annually. Although rain falls throughout the year, about 50 percent of the annual total arrives in the summer rainy season that extends from May to the end of July along the coast and from April through September farther inland. Coastal areas have a second rainy season from November through January. Rain generally falls in heavy afternoon showers or thunderstorms. Overcast days are rare; most days include four to eight hours of sunshine from morning through early afternoon.
THE COMPOSITION OF GUYANESE SOCIETY is a reflection of the country's colonial past. The colony was created by Dutch and British planters who grew sugarcane using the labor of slaves and indentured workers. Ignoring the country's vast interior, the planters constructed dikes and dams that transformed the coast into an arable plain. With the exception of the indigenous Amerindians and a few Europeans, the entire population consisted of imported plantation workers or their descendants.
Guyanese culture developed with the adaptation of the forced and voluntary immigrants to the customs of the dominant British. Brought to Guyana as slaves, Africans of diverse backgrounds had been thrown together under conditions that severely constrained their ability to preserve their respective cultural traditions. In adopting Christianity and the values of British colonists, the descendants of the African slaves laid the foundations of today's Afro-Guyanese culture. Arriving later and under somewhat more favorable circumstances, East Indian immigrants were subjected to fewer pressures to assimilate than the Africans had been. As a result, more of their traditional culture was preserved.
Although the culture of independent Guyana has become more truly national, the Guyanese people remain divided by ethnic mistrust. The Guyanese elite that has emerged to replace the colonial administration faces the enormous challenge of satisfying the aspirations of the people concerning economic development and educational opportunity.
Guyana's population was counted at 758,619 in the census of 1980 and estimated to be 764,000 in 1990. This slow growth was in sharp contrast to the decades following World War II, when the population rose from 375,000 in 1946 to 700,000 in 1970. The natural increase in population in 1990 was 1.9 percent; this growth was almost completely negated, however, by the large numbers of Guyanese who emigrated. The population was relatively young, with 37 percent under fifteen years of age in 1985.
Guyana's birthrate, which averaged thirty-two live births per 1,000 residents in the two decades prior to 1940, jumped to an exceptionally high forty live births per 1,000 in the two decades after 1940. The rate began to drop after 1960 and by 1990 had fallen to twenty-five live births per 1,000.
Efforts to control malaria and to improve sanitation in the 1940s resulted in a dramatic decrease in infant mortality and in the overall death rate. In the 1930s, the infant mortality rate was 149 for every 1,000 live births. By 1946 this rate had dropped to eighty-seven per 1,000, and in 1990 it stood at thirty deaths per 1,000 live births. Statistics on the general death rate mirror the decline in the infant mortality rate. The death rate (including infant mortality) in 1944 was twenty-two per 1,000 residents; in 1963, eight per 1,000; and in 1990, five per 1,000, one of the lowest rates in the Western Hemisphere.
Indo-Guyanese women had a higher birthrate than Afro-Guyanese women in the years after World War II. However, by the early 1960s the fertility rate for Indo-Guyanese women had begun to drop. Statistics for the 1980s showed Indo-Guyanese women marrying at a later age and having fewer children than had been customary in the 1950s. By the 1990s, the difference in birthrates between IndoGuyanese and Afro-Guyanese women had disappeared.
A general decline in fertility rates among women in all ethnic groups was attributed to the increased availability and use of contraceptives. In 1975 the Guyana Fertility Survey found that 57 percent of women who had been married had used contraceptives at some time and that about 40 percent currently were using them. This high rate of contraceptive use was maintained in the absence of public or private family-planning campaigns.
Ethnic diversity is one of the most significant characteristics of the Guyanese population. As of 1980, Guyanese of East Indian descent (Indo-Guyanese) constituted 51 percent of the total population. Guyanese wholly of African descent made up 31 percent of the population. Those listed as of mixed ancestry constituted 12 percent. Since the mixed-ancestry category comprised individuals of partial African ancestry who were usually included in the Afro-Guyanese community, the Afro-Guyanese population in effect constituted 42 percent of the total population. The remainder of the population was composed of Amerindians (4 percent) individuals of European or Asian descent (3 percent).
A higher growth rate for the Indo-Guyanese population in the post-World War II period resulted in a change in the ethnic composition of Guyanese society. The Indo-Guyanese population grew from 43 percent of the total in 1946 to a majority--51 percent--in 1980. During the same period, the Afro-Guyanese proportion of the population decreased from 49 percent to 42 percent. Although the small European (mostly Portuguese) and Asian (almost entirely Chinese) sectors continued to grow in absolute numbers after World War II, they represented a decreasing proportion of the population.
Statistics indicate that Guyana is one of the most lightly populated countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The World Bank estimated that there were four people per square kilometer in Guyana in 1988, far fewer than the average of twenty people per square kilometer for all of Latin America. However, more than 90 percent of Guyana's population lived along the coast, on a strip constituting only 5 percent of the country's total land area. A more useful figure is the population density per square kilometer of agricultural land, which was estimated at forty-six in 1988. In Latin America as a whole, the average population density on agricultural land was fifty-five per square kilometer.
More than 70 percent of Guyana's coastal population is rural, living on plantations or in villages strung along the coastal road. The villages range in size from several hundred to several thousand inhabitants. The layout of the villages is dictated by the drainage and irrigation systems of the plantations, both active and abandoned. The villages are most heavily concentrated along the estuary of the Demerara River and the eastern environs of Georgetown, near the mouth of the Berbice River close to New Amsterdam, and along the extreme east coast near the Courantyne River.
The pattern of population distribution in Guyana is a product of nineteenth-century economic development, which was based on the cultivation of sugarcane. Because the swampy coast was fertile and sugar production was geared to export, the large sugar estates confined their operations to a narrow coastal strip. Most of the villages had ethnically diverse populations, but usually one ethnic group predominated. The urban population was predominantly African, but it would be misleading to suggest that all Afro-Guyanese were urban. Indeed, the majority of the Afro-Guyanese population was rural. A far greater majority of Indo-Guyanese, however, lived outside the cities. The interior of the country was left mainly to the Amerindians. Even the later exploitation of timber, bauxite, and manganese in the interior failed to effect any sizeable migration.
Guyana remained a primarily rural country in 1991. The only significant urban area, the capital city of Georgetown, was home to more than 80 percent of the urban population. The smaller towns served primarily as regional distribution centers. Georgetown had an estimated population of 195,000 in 1985 and an annual growth rate of 6.6 percent. Linden, the country's second largest town with a population of 30,000, was a bauxite mining complex on the Demerara River. The port of New Amsterdam in eastern Guyana had a population of about 20,000.
The proportion of the population living in urban areas increased only slightly between 1960, when it was 29 percent, and 1980, when it was 30.5 percent. By 1985, 32.2 percent of the population was living in urban areas.
Guyanese statistics indicated an average of 6,080 declared emigrants a year between 1969 and 1976, increasing to an average of 14,400 between 1976 and 1981. Figures for 1976 showed 43 percent of the emigrants going to the United States, 31 percent to Canada, 10 percent to Britain, and 9 percent to the Caribbean. Deteriorating economic conditions caused emigration to increase sharply in the 1980s. Unofficial estimates put the number leaving the country in the late 1980s at 10,000 to 30,000 annually. Many of these emigrants were reported to be middle-class professionals, largely Indo-Guyanese, who opposed government policies that favored employment of Afro-Guyanese in the public sector. This emigration resulted in a significant loss of skilled personnel.
Guyana's ethnic mix is the direct product of the colonial economy. Except for the Amerindians and a few Europeans, the country's ethnic groups are the descendants of groups brought in to work the early plantations. An economy based on sugar production required a large labor force. Attempts to enslave the Amerindian population failed, and the planters soon turned to African slaves. By 1830 there were 100,000 such slaves in British Guiana.
After the abolition of slavery became totally effective in 1838, the planters found a new source of cheap labor in the form of indentured workers, foreigners recruited to work for a specific number of years, usually five, with the possibility of reenlisting for an additional period and eventually being repatriated. Even before slavery was abolished, the importation of indentured workers began. They were recruited from Portugal, India, China, and the West Indies. Although the terms of indenture were nearly as harsh as slavery, the planters succeeded in bringing about 286,000 persons into the country by the early twentieth century. More than 80 percent of these indentured workers were East Indians; their arrival would profoundly affect Guyana's ethnic composition and the nature of Guyanese society in general.
Descendants of the Africans, the Afro-Guyanese came to see themselves as the true people of British Guiana, with greater rights to land than the indentured workers who had arrived after them. The fact that planters made land available to East Indians in the late nineteenth century when they had denied land to the Africans several decades earlier reinforced Afro-Guyanese resentment toward other ethnic groups in the colony. The AfroGuyanese people's perception of themselves as the true Guyanese derived not only from their long history of residence, but also from a sense of superiority based on their literacy, Christianity, and British colonial values.
By the early twentieth century, the majority of the urban population of the country was Afro-Guyanese. Many Afro-Guyanese living in villages had migrated to the towns in search of work. Until the 1930s, Afro-Guyanese, especially those of mixed African and European descent, comprised the bulk of the nonwhite professional class. During the 1930s, as the Indo-Guyanese began to enter the middle class in large numbers, they began to compete with Afro-Guyanese for professional positions.
Between 1838 and 1917, almost 240,000 East Indian indentured workers were brought to British Guiana. The indentured workers had the right to be repatriated at the end of their contracts, but as of 1890, most of the East Indian indentured workers had chosen to settle in British Guiana.
Although the great majority of the East Indian immigrants workers were from northern India, there were variations among them in caste and religion. Some 30 percent of the East Indians were from agricultural castes and 31 percent were from low castes or were untouchables. Brahmans, the highest caste, constituted 14 percent of the East Indian immigrants. About 16 percent were Muslims. The only acknowledgment the colonial government and the plantation managers gave to caste differences was their distrust of the Brahmans as potential leaders. East Indian workers were housed together and placed in work gangs without consideration of caste. Unlike the African slaves, the East Indian indentured workers were permitted to retain may of their cultural traditions. But the process of assimilation has made the culture of the modern Indo-Guyanese more homogeneous than that of their caste-conscious immigrant ancestors.
The Portuguese were among the first indentured workers brought to Guyana. Portuguese indentured immigration began in 1835 and ended in 1882, with most of the immigrants having arrived by the 1860s. Most of the Portuguese came from the North Atlantic island of Madeira.
Economically successful in Guyana, the Portuguese nonetheless experienced discrimination. Even though of European origin, they were treated as socially inferior by the British plantation owners and officials because of their indentured past and Roman Catholic religion. Despite discrimination, by the end of the nineteenth century the Portuguese were firmly established as an important part of Guyana's middle class and commercial sector.
Indentured Chinese workers first came to British Guiana from the south coast of China in 1853. Relatively few in number, the Chinese became the most acculturated of all the descendants of indentured workers. The Chinese language and most Chinese customs, including religion, disappeared. There were no clans or other extended kinship organizations, and soon most Chinese did not trace their ancestry beyond the first immigrant. Because almost all of the Chinese indentured immigrants were men, they tended to intermarry with both East Indians and Africans, and thus the Chinese of Guyana did not remain as physically distinct as other groups.
Like the Portuguese, the Chinese left the plantations as soon as their indenture contracts were fulfilled. Many entered the retail trade. Other Chinese engaged in farming and pioneered wetrice production, using techniques they brought from China. The Chinese tended to live in urban settings.
The Amerindians are the descendants of the indigenous people of Guyana; they are broadly grouped into coastal and interior tribes. The term tribes is a linguistic and cultural classification rather than a political one. The coastal Amerindians are the Carib, Arawak, and Warao, whose names come from the three language families of the Guyanese Amerindians. The population of coastal Carib in Guyana declined in the nineteenth century, but Arawak and Warao communities can be found near the Pomeroon and Courantyne rivers.
The interior Amerindians are classified into seven tribes: Akawaio, Arekuna, Barama River Carib, Macusi, Patamona, Waiwai, and Wapisiana. The Barama River Carib, Akawaio, Arekuna, and Patamona live in river valleys in western Guyana. Two Amerindian groups live in the Rupununi Savannah region: the Macusi in the northern half and the Wapisiana in the southern half. The Waiwai live in the far south of the country, near the headwaters of the Essequibo River. All of the interior Amerindians originally spoke Carib languages, with the exception of the Wapisiana, whose language is in the Arawak linguistic family.
By the 1990s, all of the Amerindian groups had undergone extensive acculturation. The coastal Amerindians were the most acculturated, sharing many cultural features with lower-class Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese. There had been considerable intermarriage between coastal Amerindians and Afro-Guyanese. The Waiwai and the Barama River Carib were probably the least acculturated of the Amerindians. Nevertheless, most Amerindians spoke English (or near Brazil, Portuguese) as a first or second language. Almost all Amerindians had been affected by missionary efforts for many decades. Finally, most Amerindians had been integrated in one way or another into the national economic system, though usually at the lowest levels.
One of the dominant characteristics of Guyanese society and politics, ethnicity has received much attention from social scientists and historians. It is an oversimplification to describe Guyanese society as made of up of separate racial groups. Terms such as Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese refer to ethnic identities or categories. Significant physical and cultural variations exist within each ethnic category. Thus, two Guyanese with quite different ancestry, political and economic interests, and behavior may share the same ethnic identity.
All of the immigrant groups in British Guiana adapted to the colony's dominant British culture. In many ways, the descendants of the various immigrant groups have come to resemble each other more than their respective ancestors. Moreover, the immigrants' descendants have spread out from their original social niches. Indo-Guyanese are to be found not only on the sugar plantations or in rice-producing communities, but also in the towns, where some are laborers and others are professionals or businessmen. Afro-Guyanese are likewise found at all levels of society.
Among the experiences shared by all of the immigrant groups was labor on the plantations. After the abolition of slavery, the nature of the labor force changed, but not the labor itself. East Indians performed the same work as the slaves before them and lived in the same kind of housing; they were subject to the same management structure on the plantations. All of the immigrants groups were exposed to the same dominant British value system and had to accommodate their own values to it. Africans saw themselves as belonging to different cultural groups; Indian society was differentiated by religion and caste. To the British, however, race was the primary social determinant, and East Indians found themselves categorized as a single race distinct from the Africans.
Perhaps nowhere was assimilation more evident than in language use. English, the official language, has become the primary language of all Guyanese, with the exception of a few elderly IndoGuyanese and some Amerindians. The universal use of English is a strong unifying cultural force. English also brings the nation closer to other countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, although it has isolated Guyana from Spanish- and Portuguesespeaking Latin America.
As the descendants of the immigrant groups became more Anglicized, cultural differences grew less pronounced, and even physical differences became blurred through intermarriage. The cultural differences that remained took on a symbolic importance as indicators of ethnic identity. Many of these cultural differences had not been passed on by ancestors, but developed in the colony. Guyanese Hinduism, for example, is closer to Islam and Christianity than anything observed by the ancestors of the Indo-Guyanese, yet it serves to rally ethnic solidarity.
Racial stereotypes developed early in the colony. British planters characterized Africans as physically strong but lazy and irresponsible. East Indians were stereotyped as industrious but clannish and greedy. To some extent, these stereotypes were accepted by the immigrant groups themselves, each giving credence to positive stereotypes of itself and negative stereotypes of other groups. The stereotypes provided a quick explanation of behavior and justified competition among groups. Africans were described as improvident when they refused to work for low wages or make long-term contracts with the plantations. East Indians were considered selfish when they minimized their expenses to acquire capital.
In modern Guyana, the association of behavior with ethnicity is less rigid than in colonial days. Where once there was a sharp and uniform distinction between behavior considered "British" and behavior considered "coolie," now there is a continuum of behaviors, which receive different ethnic labels in different contexts. What is considered "British" in a rural village might be considered "coolie" in the capital.
Along with stereotyping, the colonial value system favoring European, specifically British, mores and behavior has persisted. Eurocentrism was promoted by the colonial education system, which idealized British customs. The superiority of British culture was accepted by the ex-slaves, who perceived their Christianity, for example, as an indication that they too were civilized. From the late nineteenth century, the emerging middle class of urban AfroGuyanese , Indo-Guyanese, and others developed a nationalist ideology based largely on British values. They claimed a place in society because they met standards that had been set by the British.
The Africans brought to Guyana as slaves came from cultures with highly developed family systems. Slavery had a devastating effect on African social life and especially on family structures. Spouses could be separated, children could be sold away from their mothers, and sexual exploitation by planters was common. Although legal marriage was forbidden to the slaves, Africans attempted to sustain relationships between men and women and their children.
The monogamous nuclear family is but one family structure accepted among Afro-Guyanese. Although the Christian church wedding has become a important popular ideal, it is more likely to be achieved by middle-class than by lower-class Afro-Guyanese. For many, a church wedding comes not at the beginning of a union, but as a sort of culmination of a relationship. Many common-law marriages are recognized socially but lack the status of a legal wedding. Afro-Guyanese, especially in the lower socioeconomic groups, may have a series of relationships before entering into a legal or common-law marriage. Some such relationships do not entail the establishment of a separate household. The children of such relationships live with one of the parents, usually the mother.
Because of the variety of conjugal relationships that AfroGuyanese adults may form over the course of their lives, the composition of households varies. They may be headed by fathers or mothers and may include children from several parents. Afro-Guyanese households tend to be clustered around females rather than males because the men frequently leave their homes in search of paid work. A three-generation household is likely to include daughters with children whose fathers are away or do not live in the household. Children born out of wedlock are not stigmatized.
The plantation system had an effect on the family life of East Indians as well as on that of Africans. In rural India, the basic social unit was the large extended family. Caste position was the first criterion in choosing an appropriate mate. In the plantation housing of British Guiana, it was not possible to maintain extended households even if the kin were available. Considerations of caste became less important in choosing a spouse largely because there were so few women among the East Indian indentured workers.
A wedding is not only an ideal to the Indo-Guyanese; it is the usual rite of passage to adulthood. An elaborate wedding is a necessary affirmation of the social prestige of a Hindu family, as well as a major ritual in the life cycle. Muslim weddings are less elaborate, but also confer prestige on the families involved. Parents usually play a role in selecting the first mate. Religion and sect are important in choosing a marriage partner; caste notions may be as well. However, first marriages are not necessarily expected to endure.
An increasing number of East Indian marriages are regarded as legal, especially since Hindu and Muslim clergy have legal authority to perform wedding ceremonies. No social stigma is attached to civil wedding ceremonies, common-law unions, or conjugal unions between couples who remain legally married to others but have ended their past relationships by mutual consent.
The Indo-Guyanese family tends to be organized through male lines. Extended-family members do not necessarily share the same household, but they often live near each other and may engage in economic activities together. A young couple typically lives with the husband's family for several years, eventually establishing their own cooking facilities and later their own home. In contrast to Afro-Guyanese practice, three-generation households with males at the head are not uncommon among the Indo-Guyanese. The role of the woman is typically more subordinate in Indo-Guyanese families than in Afro-Guyanese households.
Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam are the dominant religions in Guyana. The majority of the Indo-Guyanese are Hindus, although a substantial number are Muslims. Some Indo-Guyanese have converted to Christianity, but conversion is often for professional reasons. Some converts continue their Hindu or Muslim rituals in addition to participating in Christian services. Most Afro-Guyanese are Christians, although a few have converted to Hinduism or Islam. Guyana's other ethnic groups are largely Christian. In 1990, some 52 percent of Guyanese were Christian, 34 percent were Hindu, and 9 percent were Muslim. Of the Christians, 65 percent were Protestant and 35 percent Roman Catholic.
Christianity's status as Guyana's dominant system of values is a consequence of colonial history. To the European planters, colonial administrators, and missionaries, the profession of Christian beliefs and observance of Christian practices were prerequisites to social acceptance. Even though the planters discouraged the teaching of their religion to the slaves, Christianity eventually became as much the religion of the Africans as of the Europeans. Indeed, after abolition, Christian institutions played an even more important role in the lives of the former slaves than in the lives of the masters. By the time the East Indians and other indentured groups arrived in Guyana, a new syncretic Afro-Guyanese culture in which Christianity played an important part had already been established. Only since the mid-twentieth century, with the growth of the Indo-Guyanese population and the efforts of their ethnic and religious organizations, have Muslim and Hindu values and institutions been recognized as having equal status with those of Guyana's Christians.
Among the Christian denominations active in Guyana in the 1990s, the Anglican Church claimed the largest membership: about 125,000 adherents as of 1986. Anglicanism was the state religion of British Guiana until independence. The Roman Catholic Church had a membership of about 94,000 in 1985. The majority of Roman Catholics lived in Georgetown, and the Portuguese were the most active members, although all the ethnic groups were represented. The Presbyterian Church was the third largest denomination, with nearly 39,000 members in 1980. Several other Christian churches had significant memberships in 1980, including the Methodists, Pentecostals, and Seventh-Day Adventists, each of which had about 20,000 members. There were smaller numbers of Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Congregationalists, Nazarenes, Moravians, Ethiopian Orthodox, and other mainstream Christians. Other sects in Guyana included Rastafarianism, which looks to Ethiopia for religious inspiration, and the Hallelujah Church, which combines Christian beliefs with Amerindian traditions. There were also at least 60,000 people describing themselves as Christian who had no formal church affiliation.
The majority of the East Indian immigrants were Hindu, and their dominant sect was Vaishnavite Hinduism. Status differences were attached to castes, and rituals varied with caste status. The higher castes worshipped the classic pantheon of Vishnu and Shiva. Vaishnavite Hinduism remains the predominant religion of the IndoGuyanese , although it has been considerably modified.
During the indenture period, the East Indian caste system, with its reinforced variations of rites and beliefs within the Vishnu cult, broke down. Hinduism was redefined, and caste-distinguishing practices were eliminated. Christian missionaries attempted to convert East Indians during the indenture period, beginning in 1852, but met with little success. The missionaries blamed the Brahmans for their failure: the Brahmans began administering spiritual rites to all Hindus regardless of caste once the Christian missionaries started proselytizing in the villages, hastening the breakdown of the caste system. After the 1930s, Hindu conversions to Christianity slowed because the status of Hinduism had improved and discrimination against Hindus had diminished.
Orthodox Hinduism stresses the festivities accompanying religious rites. Festivals may last several days and are usually held in times of crisis or prosperity. Because the sponsor of a festival provides a tent and feeds a large number of guests, orthodox Hindu rituals require considerable outlays of money. A Hindu family has difficulty fulfilling ritual obligations unless it has accumulated a surplus of cash.
Since the late 1940s, reform movements have caught the attention of many Guyanese Hindus. The most important, the Arya Samaj movement (Aryan Society), was founded in India in 1875; the first Arya Samaj missionary arrived in Guyana in 1910. Arya Samaj doctrine rejects the idea of caste and the exclusive role of Brahmans as religious leaders. The movement preaches monotheism and opposition to the use of images in worship as well as many traditional Hindu rituals.
Like the Hindus, Guyana's Muslims are organized into orthodox and reform movements. The Sunnatival Jamaat is the orthodox Sunni Islamic movement. The largest Islamic organization in the country is the Guyana United Sadr Islamic Anjuman. The reform movement, the Ahmadiyah, was founded in India in the late nineteenth century; its first missionary to Guyana arrived in 1908. The reform movement has had considerable success, even including some Afro-Guyanese among its converts. The rites of orthodox and reform Islam are similar, but the reform movement allows the Quran to be read in English and women to enter a designated section of the mosque. In contrast to the situation found on the Indian subcontinent, Muslims and Hindus experience little friction in Guyana. These two religious communities have a tacit agreement not to proselytize each other's members. In smaller villages, Christians and Muslims come together to participate in each other's ceremonies.
Until the 1970s, Hindu and Muslim holidays were not officially recognized. A number of non-Christian religious days are now public holidays. Hindu holidays include Holi, the spring festival, and Divali, the festival of lights. Muslim holidays include Id al Fitr, the end of Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting; Id al Adha, the feast of sacrifice; and Yaum an Nabi, the birthday of Muhammad. The dates for these holidays vary. An East Indian heritage day is celebrated and on May 5, an Amerindian festival is held on Republic Day, in February.
A number of folk beliefs continue to be practiced in Guyana. Obeah, a folk religion of African origin, incorporates beliefs and practices of all the immigrant groups. Obeah practitioners may be Afro-Guyanese or Indo-Guyanese, and members of all the ethnic groups consult them for help with problems concerning health, work, domestic life, and romance. Some villagers wear charms or use other folk practices to protect themselves from harm.
Traditional Amerindian religious beliefs vary, but shamans play a significant role in all of them. The shaman is believed to communicate with the world of spirits in order to detect sorcery and combat evil. The shaman is also a healer and an adviser, the representative of the village to the spiritual world and sometimes its political leader as well. Missionary activity to the Amerindians has been intense. As a result, the traditional beliefs and practices of all the Amerindian groups have been modified; some have even disappeared.
The House of Israel was established by an American fugitive, David Hill, also known as Rabbi Edward Washington, who arrived in Guyana in 1972. The cult had no ties to traditional Jewish religion but was a black supremacist movement. In the 1970s, the group claimed a membership of 8,000. The House of Israel had a daily radio program in which it preached that Africans were the original Hebrews and needed to prepare for a racial war. Opponents of the government claimed that the House of Israel constituted a private army for Guyana's ruling party, the People's National Congress (PNC). During an anti-government demonstration, a House of Israel member murdered a Roman Catholic priest because he was on the staff of a religious opposition newspaper, the Catholic Standard. The House of Israel also engaged in strikebreaking activities and disruptions of public meetings. Critics of the government alleged that House of Israel members acted with impunity during the government of Linden Forbes Burnham. However, under Hugh Desmond Hoyte, Burnham's successor, Rabbi Washington and key associates were arrested on a long-standing manslaughter charge and imprisoned.
Guyana acquired international notoriety in 1978 following a mass murder-suicide at the commune of the People's Temple of Christ, which had been led by the Reverend Jim Jones, of Oakland, California. In 1974 the People's Temple, a utopian commune, leased a tract of land near Port Kaituma in western Guyana to escape from mounting scrutiny of the group by California authorities. The government welcomed the People's Temple in part because of its interest in populating the interior of the country, especially the area claimed by Venezuela, where Jonestown was situated. Members of the People's Temple also became close to PNC leaders, and the group was allowed to function without interference from the government. Allegations of atrocities by commune leaders and charges that the commune was holding people against their will led a United States congressman, Leo Ryan, to go to Jonestown to investigate the allegations of abuse.
Fearing that Congressman Ryan's report on the commune would bring unwanted publicity and restrictions on his operations, Jones had the congressman shot as he was boarding an airplane to return to Georgetown. The United States immediately asked Guyana to send in its army. Before the army could reach Jonestown, however, Jones coerced and cajoled over 900 members of the commune to commit murder and suicide.
Through much of Guyana's history, the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches helped maintain the social and political status quo. The Roman Catholic Church and its newspaper, the Catholic Standard, were vocal opponents of the ideology of the People's Progressive Party (PPP) in the 1950s and became closely associated with the conservative United Force. However, in the late 1960s the Roman Catholic Church changed its stance toward social and political issues, and the Catholic Standard became more critical of the government. Subsequently, the government forced a number of foreign Roman Catholic priests to leave the country. By the mid-1970s, the Anglicans and other Protestant denominations had joined in the criticisms of government abuse. The Anglican and Roman Catholic churches also worked together, unsuccessfully, to oppose the government's assumption of control of church schools in 1976.
The Guyana Council of Churches was the umbrella organization for sixteen major Christian denominations. Historically, it had been dominated by the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. The Guyana Council of Churches became an increasingly vocal critic of the government in the 1970s and 1980s, focusing international attention on its shortcomings. The conflict between the government and the Guyana Council of Churches came to a head in 1985, when members of the PNC-influenced House of Israel physically prevented the council from holding its annual meeting. Later that year, police searched the homes of the major Christian church leaders. The PNC maintained the support of a number of smaller Christian denominations, however.
In contrast to the most prominent Christian clergy, who maintained connections with international denominations, Hindu and Muslim leaders depended on strictly local support. For them, resistance to political pressure was more difficult. In the 1970s, the PNC succeeded in splitting many of the important Hindu and Muslim organizations into pro-PNC and pro-PPP factions.
Free education from nursery school through university was a major reason for Guyana's 1990 estimated literacy rate of 96 percent, one of the highest in the Western Hemisphere. As of 1985, the average worker in Guyana had completed 6.8 years of schooling. Families of all ethnic groups and classes took interest in the schooling of their children, and education reform has had a central place in government policy since the 1960s.
The earliest record of schooling in Guyana dates back to Dutch rule and the arrival of a religious instructor in Essequibo in 1685. Because seventeenth- and eighteenth-century planters sent their children to Europe to study, local education developed slowly. Private schools and academies for the children of prospering non-British colonists were established and maintained in the colony during the nineteenth century; the first known reference to the establishment of public schools was made early in the 1800s.
By 1834 there were numerous schools, both elementary and secondary, in British Guiana's urban centers. After the cessation of slavery in 1838, many Africans quickly made use of the educational opportunities open to them. By 1841 there were 101 elementary schools, most of them under the direction of the London Missionary Society. A teacher-training school and a college were opened in the 1850s. Primary education became compulsory in 1876. Truancy, however, was common.
The British planters and bureaucrats discouraged the education of the Indo-Guyanese indentured laborers. The government stated in 1904 that Indo-Guyanese should not be prosecuted if they objected on religious grounds to sending their daughters to school. Planters used this policy to discourage workers from sending their children to school. Not until 1933 was the Indo-Guyanese leadership successful in changing government policy.
For most of the colonial period, secondary education was restricted to the upper and middle classes. With the exception of a very few scholarships, secondary education was paid for by parents, not the government. Thus, most of the students who completed primary school were excluded from a secondary education.
Guiding the development of the colonial school system was the traditional British view that the purpose of secondary education was to prepare the elite for its role in society. The two best secondary schools, Queen's College and Bishop's High School, both in Georgetown, employed the same curricula and methods used in British "public" schools. During most of the colonial period, there was little interest either in vocational training or in expanding educational opportunities. The requirement of a single, standard certificate based on a highly literary curriculum prevented education reform well into the twentieth century.
In 1961 the government took steps that greatly increased access to education. Many new secondary schools were opened, especially in rural areas, and school fees were abolished. Two years later, the University of Guyana was established. The percentage of children between the ages of twelve and seventeen attending school increased from 63 percent in 1960 to 76 percent in 1985. For those between ages eighteen and twenty-three, school attendance increased almost threefold, from 4.7 percent to 12.9 percent, between 1960 and 1985.
<>Education Policy and the Teaching Profession
The postindependence government placed particular emphasis on education, both to develop a skilled labor force and to increase opportunity for disadvantaged people. Primary and secondary education was supervised by the Education Department of the Ministry of Education, Social Development, and Culture. District officers inspected schools at the local level. The university and institutions of technical education were administered by the Ministry of Higher Education, established in 1980. In 1988 expenditures on education constituted 6.4 percent of government spending. Many leading members of the government, including presidents Burnham and Hoyte, were former schoolteachers; others were the children of teachers. Yet critics of the government asserted that the education system had undergone decline in the 1970s and 1980s, despite the priority given it by the government. Critics also charged the government with using the school system to disseminate political propaganda.
In 1976 the government abolished private education and became responsible for providing free education from nursery school through the university level. The government took over about 600 schools. The great majority of the private schools taken over by the government had been religious. Most of them had been Christian, and a few had been Hindu or Muslim. The takeover was opposed by the churches and by a large segment of the middle class, which feared a decline in education standards and increased competition from lower-class students.
Guyana had no shortage of teachers through the 1980s. The teaching profession remained an honored one, even though teachers were no longer the most educated members of their community. Teaching had long been a means of advancement for Afro-Guyanese, who made up the majority of teachers until the 1950s; they instructed both Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese children. IndoGuyanese began to enter the profession in the 1920s, but there was little room for advancement for non-Christians in the denominational schools. After World War II, Indo-Guyanese took a greater interest in schooling and a large number went into education. Schoolteachers became the largest professional group among the Indo-Guyanese; they tended to teach in government schools, where religious differences were less important. About 7 percent of the primary school instructors in the country were IndoGuyanese in 1935; by 1965, this segment had increased to 54 percent; surpassing the proportion of Indo-Guyanese in the general population.
Nursery school was available to Guyanese children for two years, beginning at age four. Children began primary school at age six. Primary schools had six grades: Preparatory A and B and Standards I through IV. Primary schools were attended five hours a day, Monday through Friday. A school year usually had 189 days, beginning in September and ending in July. The school year was divided into three trimesters: Christmas Term, Easter Term, and Summer Term. Primary education for students with disabilities was provided by the Thomas Lands School in Georgetown.
In 1984 there were 368 nursery schools and 418 primary schools in Guyana. In 1981 about 130,000 students attended primary schools, an enrollment rate of 96 percent. With 3,909 teachers in Guyana, the national teacher-pupil ratio was one teacher to thirty-three pupils.
Entry into secondary education was based on students' performance in a placement examination, the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE) administered to eleven-year-old students. For those students who scored poorly on the SSEE, a continuation of primary education for three years was also available in the so-called senior department of the primary schools, which were also known as all-age schools. Students who completed primary school or all-age school were eligible to continue in secondary school.
There were three kinds of secondary schools to which students who had taken the SSEE could be admitted: the general secondary school, the multilateral school, and the community high school. General secondary schools had a six-year program, with Forms I through VI. (Form VI was the equivalent of the senior year of high school in the United States.) At the end of the secondary program, students could take the Secondary Schools Proficiency Examination for entry into trade school, or examinations at the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level or Caribbean Examination Council examinations for university admission.
The multilateral schools, established in 1974, provided five years of education for students ages ten through eighteen. After a basic three-year course, students concentrated on science, technology, agriculture, home economics, or commerce for their final two years of study. The multilateral schools ended at the Form-V level. The final examinations were for the Ordinary Levels of the GCE.
A third type of secondary school was the community high school, open to students over twelve years of age. During the first half of the four-year program, students were taught basic academic skills as well as prevocational subjects. In the final two years, they concentrated on a vocational area, such as agriculture, arts and crafts, industrial arts, or home economics. The program included on-the-job training.
There were fifty-eight general secondary schools and thirty multilateral and thirty community high schools in Guyana in 1983. In 1981 there were 73,700 secondary students in Guyana, an enrollment rate of 57 percent. The teacher-pupil ratio was one to seventeen.
The principal institution of higher education was the University of Guyana; there were also several specialized schools and an elaborate adult education program. Established as an independent institution in 1963, the University of Guyana occupied its campus near Georgetown in 1969. The university had faculties of natural science, social science, arts, technology, and education. In addition to these areas, the university offered bachelor's degrees in public administration, social work, pharmacy, and education. The university also provided an undergraduate degree for law students. The first master's-level graduate program, in Guyanese history, was started in 1973. Master's degrees have also been awarded in biology, chemistry, economics, education, and political science. There were 2,004 university students in July 1983.
Training of primary and secondary school teachers was provided by three institutions: the Cyril Potter College of Education, the Lilian Dewar College of Education, and the University of Guyana. These institutions provided preservice training, postgraduate diploma courses, and a one-year course for trained teachers, culminating in presentation of a Certificate in Education. Primary teachers underwent a two-year program of study and secondary teachers a three-year program. The University of Guyana had diploma programs in education that provided certification in vocational training, music, art, physical education, and evaluation. Additional training was provided by the Institute of Education, and in-service training was common.
Among Guyana's vocational institutes were the Government Technical Institute, where mechanics, machine tooling, plumbing, electronic repair, construction, and business were taught; the Industrial Training Centre, run by the Ministry of Labour; the Carnegie School of Home Economics; and the Burrowes School of Art. Agricultural sciences and management were taught at the Guyana School of Agriculture under the direction of the Ministry of Agriculture and by the Burnham Agricultural Institute.
The government created the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College in 1973 and the Cuffy Ideological Institute in 1977 to advance its ideological objective of promoting socialism. The Workers' Education Unit was also formed to provide ideological programs at work.
Adult education was provided by the Extramural Department of the University of Guyana, the Extramural Department of the Kuru Kuru Cooperative College, and the Adult Education Association.
Guyana's high literacy and school attendance rates evinced a great interest in education. From the time of slavery, AfroGuyanese saw education as a means of escape from the drudgery of plantation labor. The schoolteacher became an important figure in village life and a cornerstone of the incipient middle class. Parents made economic sacrifices so their children could attend school. Literacy improved the position of villagers in dealing with the government and commercial institutions. An education created the possibility that one could become a clerk or administrator in the public or private sectors. For the very few who acquired a secondary education, entry into medicine, law, and other professions might become possible.
Until the 1930s, Indo-Guyanese often were opposed to primary schooling for their children. The Indo-Guyanese plantation workers feared both discrimination and the influence of Christian education on their children. They were also reluctant to forgo the labor their children provided. In addition, the planters discouraged the workers and their children from pursuing an education. In the 1930s and 1940s, however, a significant number of Indo-Guyanese became successful rice producers and began to regard the education of their children as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. Thereafter, the increasing enrollment of Indo-Guyanese children in elementary and secondary schools reflected the revision in parents' attitudes. New schools were built in the predominantly IndoGuyanese sugar-state areas.
Curriculum content was considered secondary to passing examinations and becoming eligible for a white-collar job. For this reason, parents showed little interest in a vocational curriculum that would prepare students for agricultural or mechanical jobs. Parents resisted attempts by the government to channel students into courses that it considered more relevant to Guyana's needs if those courses did not lead to a secondary education.
A high level of demand for expanded educational opportunities persisted in the postindependence period, especially at the secondary level. At the same time, parents continued to exhibit conservatism concerning curricula, not because they favored the traditional course contents, but because they continued to regard an academic curriculum as the best avenue to employment opportunities.
Although the 1990 average daily nutritional intake in Guyana, 2,450 calories, exceeded the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recommended level by about 10 percent, malnutrition remained a problem. Intake of protein calories averaged 62.7 grams, of which 23.1 came from animal sources.
Although the national food supply generally is adequate, a high incidence of malnutrition persists, especially in rural areas where deficiencies in vitamin A, iron, folic acid, and protein are common.
Not everyone in Guyana has the means to produce or purchase the food needed for an adequate diet. Also, some foods are not available in sufficient supply to ensure good nutrition. Malnutrition is still estimated to affect more than a third of all children under five years of age.
Peas, rice, and bread are staples in the diet of many Guyanese. Locally grown vegetables that are high in carbohydrates, such as cassava, plantains, and breadfruit, are widely consumed, but are available only in season. Green and yellow vegetables are plentiful, but are usually of poor quality. Chicken bought in local markets is frequently contaminated with salmonella.
Many of Guyana's health problems are the result of its human geography. Most of the population is crowded in the low-lying coastal plain, where cycles of flooding and drought have historically made sanitation difficult. The coastal plain is a hospitable environment for the malaria-carrying mosquito, and crowded housing on the plantations facilitates the spread of disease. It was not until after World War II that nationwide efforts to improve health conditions were made.
Among the endemic illnesses in Guyana are malaria, typhoid, filariasis, and tuberculosis. Measles remains a common infectious disease. The leading causes of death are circulatory, respiratory, infectious, and parasitic diseases. In the late 1940s, the government began a malaria-control campaign that largely eradicated the disease on the coastal plain. Nevertheless, in 1990 malaria remained a problem in the interior and had returned to some areas of the coast as well. Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) also was a growing problem. A total of 145 cases of AIDS had been reported by the end of 1990.
The infant mortality rate for Guyana in 1988 was 43.9 per 1,000 live births. This figure was considerably below the average rate for Latin America and the Caribbean (52 per 1,000), and was a great improvement over the rate of 141 per 1,000 in the 1930s. However, for low-income families, the rate was 72.6 per 1,000. Life expectancy at birth was estimated at sixty-six years in 1988, about the same as the average for Latin America.
Sewage treatment remains inadequate in many rural households, especially in the villages. More than 90 percent of the urban population, but only 65 percent of the rural population, had access to safe water in 1988. According to World Bank estimates, access to safe water in rural areas had declined 10 percent in the two previous decades because of poor maintenance of purification facilities. In 1960 the government initiated a successful environmental sanitation program in the Essequibo area, where parasitic-infection rates had run between 80 percent and 90 percent. In sugar-estate communities, potable water was supplied by the sugar industry.
Until World War II, medical facilities in rural areas were inadequate. The extension of workers' compensation to agricultural workers in 1947 and the subsequent establishment of the medical services on the sugar estates did much to improve rural health care. The World Bank estimated that 89 percent of the population had access to health care in the late 1980s. Some children under twelve had been immunized against measles (52 percent), and diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus (DPT) (67 percent), figures that are about average for the region. Health expenditures by the government were 3.7 percent of all expenditures in 1984.
In 1988 there were 21 hospitals, 47 health clinics, and 115 rural health centers in Guyana. The country counted 2,933 hospital beds for a bed to population ratio of approximately one to 280. Guyana's seven private hospitals and the largest public hospitals are in Georgetown.
Statistics for 1988 showed 164 physicians in Guyana, which made for a physician-to-patient ratio of one to 5,000. About 90 percent of the physicians were in public service. Most physicians in the private sector were also holding government jobs. Approximately half of the country's physicians were expatriates from communist countries, such as Cuba and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), who were assigned to work in Guyana as part of bilateral agreements. These foreign professionals experienced significant language and cultural difficulties in dealing with patients.
Guyana's 789 nurses made for a nurse-to-patient ratio of one to 1,014 in 1988. There were an additional 875 nursing assistants and 409 trained midwives. Because of the shortage of nurses, many health care functions that in developed countries would be performed by nursing personnel were assigned to nursing students. Thirty-eight pharmacists were licensed to operate.
A national insurance program was established in 1969. It covers most workers and self-employed people for disability, sickness, and maternity. The program is administered by the National Insurance Board. Workers with permanent total disabilities are paid their full salary; those with temporary disabilities get at least 60 percent of their salary. Employees with illnesses can receive 60 percent of their salary for up to six months. Women can take maternity leave for up to thirteen weeks with 60 percent of their salary. Guyana also has a pensions system that provides a basis of 30 percent of earnings starting at age sixty-five. Employers and employees alike pay into all of these insurance funds, which are administered by the National Insurance Board. Social security and welfare accounted for 2.7 percent of government expenditures in 1984.
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