As the economy grew in Guyana, the Dutch
turned to new laborers as they invited people from all countries to settle the region
in 1746. Among these settlers were the British who
already had a significant presence in the region, many of whom arrived from the
Caribbean. This influx of British settlers essentially shifted power from the Dutch
to the British in what is today Guyana.
This move to welcome the British and other settlers
eventually ended Dutch power in the region. In only
a dozen years or so the British outnumbered the Dutch, so when war broke out between
the two nations in 1781 the land became a focal point of power. The Dutch maintained
control of the region with French assistance, but in 1795
the French took the Netherlands and hence their territories, including
Guyana fell under French rule.
At this same time the French were at war with the
British took the region in 1796. After shifting hands a few times and much
political debate in Europe following the Napoleonic Wars, Guyana
shifted to British control permanently in 1814.
The British, like the Dutch
before them, faced many of the same labor shortages so they sought slavery to work
the fields. However the British Empire had outlawed the slave trade in 1807, although
slavery maintained legal. After a few uprisings, slavery was ended in
Guyana in 1838. This led to an even more severe labor shortage, while it
also drastically altered the culture and economy. Many British land owners had no
labor to work and needed a new source of labor, while the former slaves shifted
to numerous different regions and industries to work.
Many of the former slaves moved to cities and towns, quickly urbanizing the country,
while others bought lands and began farming themselves. The
British, seeking new labor, encouraged Portuguese
and Chinese workers to immigrate. While these people did immigrate,
they also preferred the cities as the farms remained undermanned. This led to the
encouraged settlement of indentured Indian laborers, although
most of these people then stayed in the region after their term had ended, leading
to a large Indian population.
This transition and rapid ethnic change in the country forever altered the country's
cultural and social dynamics. The country shifted from rural to urban while it became
very ethnically diverse. The rural areas became home to British
landowners and Indian workers, the cities became a hodge-podge
of Afro-Guyanese, Portuguese, Chinese,
British, and others leading to a growing middle class and diversifying economy.
In the forests, the indigenous people continued to live fairly unaffected by all
of these groups who were tied to the coast.
Despite the growing diversity and changing economy, the British
minority still controlled the political situation in the region. This led to calls
for greater freedoms, rights, and powers within the government, especially from
the Afro-Guyanese population, which also made up the majority of the population.
This eventually led to some representation in the government, beginning in 1891,
although many of these Afro-Guyanese weren't actually eligible to vote, so the
power still remained in the hands of the British.
The tensions between the groups, most particularly between the
British and the Afro-Guyanese, rose. This led to greater organization in
both the political and social spheres as trade unions were formed and greater rights
and pay were demanded. These demands and changes continued with the end of World
War I, when Britain ended indentured servitude, hence ending the influx of
Indians to Guyana.
With these changes and demands there was a growing divide among the people. Although
Indians were no longer arriving as indentured servants, they
made up the largest ethnic group in the country by the 1930s. However this group
wasn't politically or socially active as they viewed themselves simply as Indians
living in Guyana. The Afro-Guyanese believed this land was
their home and had the right to rule it. They also lived a lifestyle much more in
line with that of the Europeans as they truly adopted European
culture, which was in contrast to that of the Indians.
These political and social changes were slowly accepted by the government as they
formed the Moyne Commission, which oversaw many of these issues. As these new freedoms
were gained the people began to form a more independent identity and by the end
of World War II many people began seeking independence.
As the people became politically aware, they also became very aware of their vast
differences. Just as the people were divided ethnically and culturally, so too they
became divided politically with a primarily Indian party and a primarily Afro-Guyanese
party. When elections took place the vote was essentially divided between these
Although political struggles existed from the late 1940s, the country didn't
experience many of the difficulties some countries face when adopting general elections
for the first time. Power shifted a number of times and parties slightly altered
their policies to gain more votes. All the while, it became clear that independence
was inevitably, the only question was when, and the answer was in 1966.
Immediately after independence, few incidents occurred, perhaps because the people
were divided enough to prevent a dictatorship, but got along well enough to prevent
war. The greatest challenges the government faced came in small localized rebellions,
including one led by the indigenous people in the country's southwest. The country
also moved rather quickly to a more socialist system, cutting off relations with
the United Kingdom and forming closer ties with Cuba in 1970.
By the mid-1970s this peaceful state was unwinding as the party in control began
to consolidate power and corruption began to rise. As political parties began to
align to fight the increasing corruption, a re-settled cult from San Francisco living
in Jonestown, Guyana committed mass suicide in 1978 (more
than 900 people died), bringing the country and their politics to the international
stage, especially since many suspected the government had ties to the cult.
This international observation put the political scene under a microscope as corruption
slowly disappeared, although power shifts were slower to develop. By the late 1990s
many of the leaders at the time of independence, including those of every major
party began retiring or passed away, leading to a new generation of politicians
and a new dynamic in the political realm.
Today the country is still divided ethnically, although on a cultural level the
dynamic is changing. The indigenous population is still fairly isolated in the forests
and most of them seek freedom from the central government, which they don't
believe represents them. Many of the Afro-Guyanese continue to live in the cities
and have adopted a very European-styled life. The Indians
are still more rural, but many of them are also moving to cities for work. The few
British and Portuguese who
call the region home also tend to remain in the cities, living a similar lifestyle
to the Afro-Guyanese, although these Europeans tend to have
more money and fall into the upper class from an economic viewpoint.