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.
Data as of January 1992