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How much was immigrant culture affected by the realities of life in Guyana and the norms of other racial groups present in Guyana between 1838 and 1905?

1838 is a crucial date in the history of Guyana as on the 1 August, the emancipation of Africans and creoles who had been working in sugar plantations was finally carried through and protected by law. In order to preserve the status quo between 1834 and 1838, creoles were still bound to plantations through apprenticeship, which in many ways was similar to the conditions they had worked and lived in as slaves. This created great tensions between creoles and the colonial elites and as soon as the blacks were freed from their bondage, most sought to escape the plantation system permanently. Some became peasant and tenant farmers, and those who were lucky were finally able to rise through the social ranks. For example, they moved into the retail sector, become artisans and merchants; some even became white collar workers such as lawyers and doctors and a very few were able to gain considerable wealth and aspired to become as esteemed as the traditional white colonial elites.

However, despite this fresh fiscal activity, Guyana remained profoundly reliant on sugar plantations to fuel the majority of her economy. This meant that even before emancipation, plantation owners began to search for other sources of labour. The solution presented itself in the form of immigration from India, China and Portugal. The reasons these people had for immigrating varied from economic hardship to religious or political persecution. A majority of these immigrants (particularly the darker skinned Chinese and the Indians) filled the roles of the ex-slaves as indentured servants on the plantations. Largely, this meant that they experienced similar living and working conditions to the ex-slaves. Yet, generally, the Portuguese remained outside the plantation economy, preferring to focus their efforts on retail trade. Crucially, the colonial elites allowed the Portuguese to work outside the plantations due to their European background and their white skin. Elites placed them nearer the top of the 'racial and cultural stratification' whereas non-white immigrants, were more desirable for plantation work due to the prejudices of white colonial elites in Guyana putting non-white immigrants as the lower end of the social spectrum. Essentially the cultural elites in Guyana sought to compel other cultures to conform to their cultural traditions and accept their view of racial superiority according to skin colour.

When in Guyana, immigrants realized that their traditional religious practices, living arrangements, their language and nearly every part of their normal day lives would be challenged by a variety of influences and pressures from other cultures present within Guyana. Importantly, the majority of immigrants envisaged their stay in Guyana as a temporary affair which would last only as long as it would take to amass a fortune with which to return to their home country. Immigrant cultures, therefore, generally sought to preserve their traditional cultures as opposed to the creoles who had already accepted their place in Guyana as permanent. Consequently, Creoles often sought to mimic the cultural elites in order to increase their social mobility, whereas the immigrants generally attempted to resist the pressures of the elites in order to maintain their cultural heritage.

The degree to which different racial groups would be affected would vary from person to person and group to group. For example, the Portuguese attempted to live as a closed social group and cut off as much outside contact as possible. However, as their primary trade was retail, they did experience cultural pressures from those they conducted business with. Both the Indians and the Chinese were forced to live in cramped and unhygienic plantation accommodation once reserved for the slaves, under the constant cultural restrictions and pressures emanating from elites and local creoles. It was in these conditions that immigrants attempted to preserve their cultural identity. In order to ascertain how far immigrant cultures were affected by other racial groups, it most helpful to examine how far their traditions changed (or if they were able to preserve them intact) under different pressures in several areas of life in Guyana.

One of the most concerning challenges that immigrants had to face when they arrived in Guyana was the maintenance of traditional family structures. This is due to an acute shortage of females who boarded the labour ships bound for Guyana. 'From the outset it proved extremely difficult to get Indian women to emigrate." For example, the number of Indian females who arrived from 1880 to 1889 was 7,494 compared with the arrival of 16,408 males in the same period. However, the shortage of women was most evident among the Chinese as Brian L. Moore demonstrates:

This shortage meant that the Chinese population would remain largely insignificant in Guyana, and might even have been threatened with extinction. This had the effect of increasing the freedom of choice of partner for female immigrants. It also encouraged them to accept partners from other cultures. This represented a simple but significant departure from Chinese tradition, as in contemporary China, women rarely chose their partner. K. O. Lawrence claims that the shortage of female Indian immigrants was due to the fact that many were locked in pre-arranged marriages as part of an old Indian tradition. However, Brian L. Moore suspects both the Chinese and Indians believed that if their womenfolk were to immigrate to Guyana, they would be reduced to prostitution. In addition, as the majority of Indian wives of men in their early twenties were in their teenage years, families felt that it was undesirable to risk young girl's lives by allowing them to travel to Guyana.

Interestingly, the altered situation of the Indian immigrants in Guyana meant that traditional Indian marriages and even traditional patriarchal relationships were considerably adjusted. However, Brian Moore states that 'the Indian immigrants strongly resisted elite pressures to conform to the Anglo-Creole model of the male-female relationship." Instead, restrictions imposed on women through religious ideology, social institutions and ideas that were strongly rooted in Indian society itself were eroded in Guyana, allowing women freedoms that are commonplace in modern western society. Firstly, Women found personal security and increased appeal to males as plantation workers earning their own wage in their own right, another important break from traditional practice. Secondly, in addition to their newfound independence, the short number of women meant they increasingly found they could choose between suitors as men competed to marry the few women present in Guyana. Thus, arranged marriage, a staunch tradition that was central in Indian culture was reduced in Guyana.

Crucially, 'heathen marriages' were discouraged by colonial authorities who ruled that any children born under traditional Indian marriages were considered to be illegitimate and could not legally inherit property. This may be seen as a fundamental restriction on an Indian cultural activity that was an important part of their cultural identity; Indian marriages are a proud and joyous event with great amounts of money spent on them. Thereafter, legal or traditionally binding marriages were seen as practical in Guyana as wives increasingly left their husbands for, more prosperous men. In addition, women in Guyana tended to regard cross-race marriage far less controversially. Mary Ilandun, for example, had a colourful career, changing partners eight times, moving from Guyana to Barbados to Trinidad before finally returning to her original husband before his death, after which she received half of his estate. This was seen as such a serious problem by the colonial authorities that they felt it necessary to alter their immigration policy as Malcolm Cross shows:

The fact that the colonial authorities intervened clearly demonstrates how far some women pushed the boundaries within the reduced restrictions of a traditional Indian society which would normally keep such callous women in check. However, as a result of increased infidelity, crimes of passion (murdering a cheating wife for example) which were ingrained in Indian 'religio-cultural' tradition, increased to compensate. The laws of Manu sanctioned the punishment of adultery by death and these were upheld in Guyana just as they were in India. This demonstrates that although Chinese and Indian women had more power of choice over their partner, traditional religious laws were maintained and enforced in Guyana.

Significantly, the Portuguese population did not experience such severe shortages of female immigrants. This is because the Portuguese immigrants tended more to emigrate in families and therefore, women and children travelled in almost equal proportion to men. This meant the Portuguese were able to maintain their cultural individuality to a far higher degree than the other immigrant communities.

The colonial authorities tended not to interfere with the Portuguese population as much as other immigrant populations due to the similarities between their skin colour and their culture. This meant that men remained at the head of the nucleic family structure, while the woman remained in a more subordinate role, looking after the house and children and passing on cultural aspects to their children. On the whole, Portuguese women in Guyana married within the Portuguese community reducing the Portuguese interaction with other cultures.

The existence of interactions between other cultures in Guyana joined with the shortage of women in both the Chinese and the Indian populations caused significant cultural changes to take place. On the other hand, the Portuguese community contained almost equal numbers of men and women which meant they were able to preserve a more closed Portuguese society, effectively living outside the effects of other communities.

Schism was nearly achieved in the early era of Portuguese settlers and therefore cultural resistance of the elites and other cultures was high. However, as the Portuguese economic life was focussed upon retail and their primary custom came from the ex-slaves, or creoles, they would be forced to adapt a trait that was key to their cultural identity, their language. The language of their creole customers was Creolese and in order to conduct a good business, the Portuguese shop owners had to learn the native tongue. Later into the 1880s:

The fact that young Portuguese colonists began to adopt the native language and started using it in an offensive manner, shows that the Portuguese community was becoming more integrated into the host society. The fact that Portuguese youths began to assimilate a different attitude along with the new language shows that the Portuguese community was indeed influence by other cultures. However, the Portuguese began to take steps to resist these behavioural changes by sending their children to school; yet at these schools their children were taught in English.

The Indian immigrants faced a rather different cultural challenge to their. As Indian plantation workers came from various different regions of India, they spoke many different dialects and languages which made communication between them difficult. The colonial authorities offered English as the common Indian tongue, yet Bechu, a contemporary Indian immigrant who fought for rights for the Indian community, asks why the 'ignorant uneducated coolie should be required to learn a foreign language, and that the educated European should save himself a little trouble to acquire the language of the people whom he has so much to do." Instead of learning English, Indians in Guyana learned and used what Brian Moore calls Bhojpuri, an amalgamation of several different dialects. One contemporary English missionary stated 'nearly all these languages spoken in India are in free and constant use among them in the Colony, and only a very small portion among our immigrants can understand more than one language." As far as possible, the Indians resisted English education; generally any of the Indian community who choose to learn English became distanced from the community.

Interestingly, when Indian immigrants moved out of the plantations and came into contact with the creole community, Bhojpuri it was able to adapt to include Creolese words. In one sense, the fact that Bhojpuri became the lingua franca among the Indian population in Guyana might suggest that the Indian community was becoming integrated into a more homogenized society as Raymond T. Smith suggests may have been the case. However, due to the fact that Bhojpuri existed instead of the English and Creolese languages, one may conclude that M. G. Smith's version of a 'Plural Society' is a more pertinent description of the state of language. On the other hand, The Chinese immigrants experienced a different situation altogether. The Chinese population never significantly exceeded 5000, meaning they were far more susceptible to cultural influences from other societies. In turn, this led to them being easy subjects to press an English education onto:

However, plantation managers felt they were loosing workers by allowing immigrant worker's children to be educated and believed that education would make them more likely to cause social unrest. Yet, the Chinese took every opportunity to increase their social mobility which, due to the lack of a Chinese teacher, resulted in the near death of the Chinese language in Guyana. This is a clear indication that the weak Chinese population was unable to resist the power of the elites. The Indian and Portuguese population were able to protect the cultural education of their children because of the large sizes of their communities and their determination not to aspire to the English notion of elite society.

Almost instantly, the Portuguese had the advantage in resisting the influences of other cultures in Guyana. Excluding a short, unsuccessful bout as plantation workers, (they were seen as unsuitable for plantation work) they were largely left alone by the colonial authorities and within the retail sector they earned enough to remain outside the plantation economy and the creole community (except for their fiscal dealings with them). Resultantly, from within the retail sector, several Portuguese immigrants were able to build up quite a significant amount of wealth. With this wealth, many developed from renting buildings for use as shops and homes or living in housing that was similar to what contemporary creoles lived in, to becoming part of the middle-class, to building or buying stately properties:

The Portuguese immigrants filled these mansions with furniture and possessions that was usually imported from Portugal or Madeira reflecting both their cultural roots and their newly acquired wealth. Conversely, the Indians and the Chinese were forced to live in the old slave houses; 'some might move from "bound yards" to adjacent "free yards;" however, they were still within the confines of the old "nigger yard" where paternalism and quasi-feudalism died hard." Although plantation accommodation was of poor quality, which was frequently damp, hot and usually overcrowded, (a far cry from the thatched mud huts they were used to at home) by the 1860s the Indians added a little of their own home ingenuity and coated the floors with hardened mud and smeared them with cow-dung which destroyed vermin. This demonstrated that while in some accommodation, which was so cramped it made it almost impossible for the Indians to maintain their caste rituals, the immigrants altered their housing to recreate a more traditional Indian or Chinese home. Both furnished their housing with items such as rugs, drapes, and curtains that resembled a home away from home far from being in accordance of European tastes. The Indians even placed charms around the house to ward off evil spirits. Chinese immigrants were fond of candles and lanterns which they would usually make themselves; both were important statements of traditional cultural identity.

Housing became a very personal space for the immigrants in Guyana and all adapted their conditions to suit their own cultural tastes. However, it was clear that traditional housing would not be realized truly until the Chinese and Indians moved out of the plantations. Within them they were confined to living in cramped conditions, sometimes sharing with different cultures and often prevented them from carrying out their normal daily rituals that would allow them to maintain their customary cultural-religious traditions.

Nevertheless, despite the limitations of accommodation for cooking purposes, both the Indians and the Chinese were fairly innovative at adapting the materials they had to reconstruct conditions suitable for cooking their traditional foods. 'The Indians built clay hearths for cooking,' and the Chinese still used chopsticks for their meals instead of European cutlery. The Indians and Chinese tended to use rice in the majority of their meals and the Indians usually ate 'fish and vegetable curry, or curried rice,' as testified by Alexander Alexander, a Scottish colonist. However, he claimed that of all the dishes the Indians ate, 'the most popular is coffee with bread or biscuits, at the outset the coolies fought shy of it, but now they prefer it to their much-loved rice curry." Yet, this opinion may be questioned as it is unlikely that Alexander shared meals with a large enough consensus to make his claims. Regardless of maintaining their traditional meal structure, the Chinese sought to supplement their meals with exotic fruits, vegetables and meats that were found in Guyana. One may argue eating new exotic foods would alter Chinese eating habits and therefore influence cultural changes among their community in Guyana. Yet, in essence, the Chinese still retained the same staple diet of noodles or rice with meat and vegetables. Not surprisingly, the Portuguese were the most successful in maintaining their traditional diets. On the whole they were able to afford to pay to import foodstuffs from Portugal preserving their own culinary treats, largely on account of the regular traffic that was maintained between Madeira and the colony. Diet was an important statement of cultural resistance made by the immigrant populations. They all refused (with a few exceptions) to adopt European or creole eating habits, striving to sustain foods that suited their own cultural individuality, thus supporting the notion of cultural pluralism. Perhaps the general expectation of returning to their mother country was the greatest motivation to maintain a culinary connection with home.

Another important aspect of cultural adjustment that should be examined is how social organization was altered when immigrants moved to Guyana. For the Indian community, the fact that the idea and observance of a caste system 'lost its rigidity in Guyana,' was a crucial change for Indian culture as it was almost unbendingly adhered to in India. However, the constant supply of new Indian immigrants meant that the basic structure upon which the caste system was based was maintained. Many arguments were used by planters when recruiting Indians from different castes such as 'to regard merely the condition of their hands and muscles,' or to accept a majority of lower caste immigrants as they were more suited to agricultural labour. However, Brian Moore suggests that castes were adhered to in an 'inverse and perverse manner as higher castes were feared for their leadership qualities' and lower castes favoured for plantation work. This claim is supported by Walter Rodney states that 'high caste status and the job of driver (a position of authority on plantations) each separately provided advantages which were transformed into class mobility. Possibly planters sought to reduce the power of high castes such as Brahmans as they feared worker uprising and would take every precaution to avoid it. On this point, the Chinese posed a worrying problem for the planters because they began to organize themselves into clan organizations and secret societies such as was traditional when establishing themselves in other countries:

These secret societies attempted to maintain links with China. In addition, they followed a three point code: secrecy, to grant assistance in times of trouble and a respect for one another's wife. This was a greatly important feature of the Chinese socio-cultural organization, a feature which soon became a problem for plantation managers; these clan organizations very quickly began to take on criminal functions and at times, resembled the Chinese mafia. They conducted armed night raids on other plantations and creoles settlements, hoping to gain justice for the injustices they suffered as indentured labourers being forced to adopt a different culture. The gangs were therefore a symbol of Chinese resistance to cultural, social and economic pressures emanating from the host society.

Again, the Portuguese were largely able to maintain their traditional social structure of classes that was common throughout the European community. However, the colonial elites used their cultural power to ridicule rich Portuguese families through mediums such as newspapers and local gossip in elite institutions. In doing this they hoped to persuade the Portuguese to conform to 'ideals of Victorian morality;' however, Portuguese pride allowed them to withstand these attempted attacks on their cultural identity. However, local conditions and special laws introduced in 1862 and 1865 prevented the continuation of the Chinese clan organizations, an important defeat of their traditional socio-cultural organization. Similarly, although the Indians were able to transfer the basic 'varna' pattern of the caste system to Guyana, they were unable to transmit it with its traditional authenticity. Yet, one may claim that as with the Chinese clans, their caste organization meant that they had a basic structural framework for resisting the cultural influences of the elites and creoles present in Guyana.

In Guyana, leisure pursuits sometimes proved to be a unifying force for all cultures. All cultures enjoyed theatrical and musical performances, and all practised various forms of musical instruments in their spare time (of which there was little for plantation workers.) In addition, Indians enjoyed tales or sacred books read by a Pandit and the Chinese worried plantation owners by opening opium and gambling dens, (which were often connected to the criminal sections of secret societies) where they spent a great deal of their spare time (and wages). Opium smoking and gambling were considered to be twin evils by plantation owners who abhorred the practise taking place within their plantations. Yet as these were within in worker accommodation, there was little the elites could do to stop them. This presented quite a blatant disregard for the cultural superiority of white plantation owners and an interesting assertion of Chinese cultural identity. Quite antithetically, the Portuguese set up social clubs that were centred on the Church. The Portuguese strove to maintain the cultural exclusivity of these clubs and closed them to Portuguese members only. Normally, the clubs, societies and organizations of each culture remained closed institutions to external cultural influences, thus maintaining cultural identity idiosyncrasy. However, and importantly, creoles and Indians were occasionally found in Chinese gambling and opium dens demonstrating that examples may be found of intimate cultural interaction and adaptation.

The example that is largely ratifying of leisure pursuits existing as a unifying force in Guyana is cricket. Cricket became popular amongst all cultures that ventured to Guyana, whether they were the colonial elites or the Chinese immigrants. In the nineteenth century, far from producing a homogenizing effect on the cultures, teams were organized by race, not plantation or region. Interestingly, voluntary participation in cricket posed the best chance for the Chinese and the Indian assimilation the dominant elite cultural values. However, unlike the Creoles who often attempted to adopt these elite traits to improve their social mobility, the Indians and the Chinese did not seek 'acceptance, social mobility or respectability among whites; they merely took part to show the whites they could perform just as well, if not better than them." This also meant that both the Chinese and Indians didn't always play by rules such as 'Leg before Wicket' as they demanded to only lose through distinct rules that they could understand and adhere to. Although cricket appeared to unite the different cultures in Guyana in a homogenizing sense, the fact that teams were organized by race seems to support the idea that in Guyana in the mid to late nineteenth century, there existed multiple cultures running parallel to one another in a more pluralized society. In addition, the rejection of elite rules is a lucid assertion of cultural resilience to elites who sought to enforce their ideal design of society through the medium of cricket.

Another form of cultural resistance to the influences of elites and other cultures in society was the practise of religion. For the Indian immigrants, 'most of the religious duties and festivals were maintained, except for the namaz (prayers five times a day) and the full observance of the fast of Ramazan,' that were both impractical within the rigours of the plantation work schedule. However, there was a distinct need for homogenization of the various forms of Hindu and Muslim religions as it was almost impossible to preserve every distinct variation. Bhaktism was therefore most suitable for overseas Indians as its ideals favoured egalitarianism, inter-caste fraternization and collective activity which would be important during the breakdown of traditional caste and family structures. This homogenization is even clear in the Hindu and Muslim temples and mosques built in Guyana that were unlike their counterparts in India due to the existence of multiple deities 'in a pantheon of Sanskritic gods." On the other hand, the Chinese found it increasingly difficult to sustain their traditional religions:

Some Chinese who arrived in Guyana had already been converted to Christianity by missionaries who had reached China. In their small numbers, they were once again preyed upon by Christian missionaries. Crucial to the missionary effort was Tai Kam, a Chinese Anglican who arrived in the colony in 1864 and in 1866 was officially appointed missionary to the Chinese immigrants with a grant of £300 annually. Due to the efforts of Tai Kam and other prolific missionaries, 'by the 1880s, there were very few Chinese who were not Christians." The elites also used their cultural power to reward obedient Chinese Christian communities such as increased wages or paid holiday. In this way, Christianity was used as a method of social control. As the numbers of Chinese Christians rose, the number of night attacks by gangs fell, thus reducing a part of Chinese cultural resistance. Yet, despite the success of Christianity as a mechanism of control, the Chinese did not follow Christianity in its pure form. Instead they chose to have traditional Chinese weddings and funerals, in occasion paid respect to Taoist Gods in Chinese temples and continued to celebrate Chinese New Year, gamble and smoke opium, clear forms of resistance to the principles of Christianity. This selective nature of Christian worship represented limited cultural assimilation. Look Lai claims that such assimilation never amounted to 'a process of absorption by the larger culture, but a more subtle process of hybridization." Thus the adoption of Christianity by the Chinese did not signal the Chinese community as admitting the cultural superiority of the colonial elites.

As mentioned before, planters sought to avoid worker unrest at all costs. On the whole they recognized the how important religion was to the Indian immigrants and did not seek to displease their workers by preventing them from practising it:

Nevertheless, missionaries still attempted to infiltrate Indian communities. Planter policy was haphazard and as stated before, they generally disliked allowing their workers access to a Christian education for fear it may foster disturbances. Even so, Indian priests were becoming more adept at resisting Christian missionaries physically and philosophically. Generally the Indian population was successful in opposing the imposition of Christianity on their culture, in the hope their return to India in better fortune. Those few who were given a Christian education merely drifted away from the norms of Indian cultural pursuits and became more rooted in elite or creole culture.

Traditional religious expression, such as public festivals, such as the Indian's Diwali and displays like Chinese New Year, may be viewed an additional form of cultural resistance. However, it is evident that both cultures' religious celebrations experienced a process of homogenization to handle the problem of the sheer number of distinct, regional religious celebrations. For example, some large Indian festivals such as Daserah and Holi were collapsed into one, and many Chinese religious celebrations were dropped altogether due to the prominence of Christianity within their religious character. In addition, festivals and rituals that were unpopular with the elites were curbed with the use of draconian measures such as the introduction new laws and heavier policing around festival time. For example, the Tadjas, Muslim religious festivals, were being attended by creoles who were once Muslims themselves, often descended into acts of violence or at least loud shouting and arguments late into the night. The attendance of creoles was greatly despised by Indians Muslims who wanted the Tadjas to remain exclusively Indian. In reaction to the disturbances, colonial authorities introduced laws which outlawed the Tadja festivals or 'intolerable nuisances as they liked to call them. This led to the extinction of the Tadja from the Muslim religious calendar in Guyana.

Similarly, Chinese New Year was a festival of great importance to the Chinese; yet where they would normally prepare for weeks in China, they were only given a few days in Guyana. They still made lanterns for the lantern parade which were a crucial symbol of eminence in Chinese society; the more ingenious the lantern, the higher the social status of that family. The Chinese also set off a great number of fireworks at New Year, which was a great irritation to the elites. Not surprisingly, in reaction they introduced laws to curb the use of fireworks during Chinese New Year. Surprisingly, Portuguese religious festivals often tended to upset 'certain respectable neighbours." One such noisy example includes the use of guns and fireworks during Christmas celebrations to which the cultural elites retorted with 'the use of the sanction of law to curb these practises leading on one occasion to the arrest of several Portuguese revellers." Indian, Portuguese and Chinese festivals continued to be celebrated publicly, albeit to a reduced extent. Curiously the Portuguese also maintained quaint Madeiran religious customs in the face of criticism from the Anglo-Creole clergy such as the taking off of hats upon the sound of the Angelus at 0600, 1200 and 1800 and upon passing a church, thus signifying a proud resistance to elite cultural power. Religious festivals continued to be a starkly apparent challenge to the cultural dominance of the colonial elites and thus were a symbol of cultural resistance and of independent Chinese, Portuguese and Indian identity.

It was inevitable that all immigrant cultures would experience some form of cultural change by moving to another country, no matter how capable equipped they were to resist transitions. For example, the Portuguese became successful enough not only to one of the first cultures to step into the gold and diamond industries but also 'Portuguese prospectors and merchants were able to unite with middle-class blacks and coloureds in a campaign for constitutional reform." As the Portuguese became more prominent members of Guyanese society, they were forced to interact more with different cultures. Initially they were begrudgingly compelled to conduct business with creole customers in their language to make money thus progressing homogenization between their two cultures. The Portuguese were probably the culture that came closest to creating a society that ran independently from the rest of Guyanese society. They maintained a diet very similar to that found in Madeira, they kept their education within their own ranks and preserved the same family and social structure. Their success was built around separate ethnic institutions (which other cultures had but to a lesser degree) which served to separate them from the rest of society. But, 'by the end of the century, Creolese was beginning to break down the barriers which had for so long protected the bastion of Portuguese exclusivity." For instance, they took part in cricket with other cultures increasingly had to work with other cultures to further themselves in Guyanese society. They also had to adhere to laws passed against use of guns at religious celebrations and make various other concessions to the colonial elites.

The Indians were also fairly successful at protecting their cultural heritage: 'Wherever possible the Indians tried to fall back on their traditional cultural practices. There was very little effort to adopt those of the host society." They retained the same diet, refused to allow many of their children to receive an English education, adapted their accommodation to suit match their cultural background as far as possible, (as did the Chinese) and maintained the same basic family structure. However, limits on the number of female immigrants had considerable affects on the traditional power of males over their choice of partner; it allowed rolls of choosing a mate often to be reversed. In addition, although importantly they refused to speak Creolese or English, preventing complete cultural infiltration of their language, they were forced to fuse several different variations of the Indian language to form a practical language that could be spoken by all of the Indian community. This process of homogenization was also necessary to unify religious practise and celebration in Guyana. This signified a loss of a great amount of cultural diversity within their community. Crucially, the Indian caste system, although transported across the Atlantic basically intact, was irreversibly undermined by the practicalities of the plantation. In a slightly more egalitarian sense, those who were good at plantation work were often afforded a greater degree of social mobility.

Due to the weakness in numbers of the Chinese community, they experienced the greatest amount of cultural modification. The acute shortage of women caused a crisis in the sustainability of their community and also meant that their women were prepared to accept men from other races and take a greater power in choice of partner. The Chinese often willingly accepted a Christian education that altered not only their religious practises but their language too. Influentially, they managed to set up secret societies and gambling and opium dens that resisted the cultural advances of the elites and creoles. However, by the end of the nineteenth century with the adoption of Christianity and elite intervention, the secret society became extinct within the Chinese community in Guyana. They also maintained the same basic diet but with several exotic additions from creole diets and new fruits and vegetables found in Guyana.

Essentially, all three immigrant cultures were affected in some way by the presence of other cultures in Guyana. The Portuguese managed to develop a community that basically was running parallel to the rest of society but was gradually converging culturally with other communities. The Indians were able to put up fairly stiff resistance to the advances of both the cultural elites and the creoles but essentially were forced to adapt to survive the practicalities of living as a large and diverse community in a plantation environment. The Chinese were even less successful at preventing their culture from being influenced by the social conditions in Guyana. It is clear that by the nineteenth century in Guyana, immigrant communities had not changed enough for there to be a completely homogenized society as there were still sharp distinctions between each community. However, immigrant communities were affected significantly enough to claim that Guyana did not experience a pluralized society by the end of the nineteenth century. Instead one may claim that only in the next century when immigrants and creole began forcing their way into government in ample numbers that cultural assimilation and a more unified value consensus would develop on a larger scale. One may point to the 1905 riots which were carried out by and a number of workers (and creoles) across the working class cultural spectrum as an indication of the changing cultural situation in Guyana.


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  • Brian L. Moore 'Race, Power and Social Segmentation in Colonial Society: Guyana after Slavery, 1838-1891' (Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, 1992)
  • K. O. Laurence 'A Question of Labour: Indentured immigration into Trinidad and British Guiana 1975-1917' (James Currey Publishers, 1994)
  • Clem Seecharan 'Bechu: 'Bound Coolie Radical in British Guiana, 1894-1901' (The University of the West Indies Press, 1999)
  • Walter Rodney 'A History of the Guyanese Working People, 1881-1905' (The John Hopkins University Press, 1981)
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  • Steven Vertovec 'Official and 'Popular' Hinduism in the Caribbean: Historical and Contemporary Trends in Surinam, Trinidad and Guyana' in 'Across the Dark Waters: Ethnicity and Indian Identity in the Caribbean' (MacMillan Education LTD, 1996)
  • M. G. Smith 'The Plural Society in the British West Indies' (University of California Press, 1974)
  • Kean Gibson 'The Cycle of Racial Oppression in Guyana.' (University Press of America, Inc, 2003)
  • Lai Look Walton 'Indentured Labor, Caribbean Sugar: Chinese and Indian Migrants to the British West Indies, 1838-1918' (Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History & Culture S. 1993)
  • Raymond T. Smith 'British Guiana' (Oxford University Press, 1962)
  • H. J. M. Hubbard 'Race and Guyana: The Anatomy of a Colonial Enterprise' (The Daily Chronicle, 1969)
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