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.
Data as of January 1992