Ethnic Division Dilemma – by Dave Martins

Ethnic Division Dilemma – by Dave Martins

Dave Martins

Dave Martins

From a boy of 10 or so, growing up on West Dem, it was there in front of me – the difference between Indians and blacks, what we refer to today as the ethnic divide; I never heard the term back then. Only on my return here did I come to understand the depth of this rift, and the dilemma it poses for Guyana. In the wake of the election, several prominent voices, including our former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran, have addressed the resolution of this topic; Freddie Kissoon in Kaieteur News has recently written a stirring column on the subject, citing East Indian myopia; I urge all Guyanese to read those columns. 

Additionally, private voices in assorted blogs and letters to the press have raised the same shout for an end to this rift that is seen by many, myself included, as the biggest impediment to political cooperation, and, therefore, development facing our country. Just this week one letter writer was pointing to Sri Lanka as an example of political accommodation between two leading rival groups that Guyana would do well to emulate.

As potent as such intimations are – and there have been several – the reality we face is that in the well intentioned calls for harmonious accommodation coming to two dominant opposing tribes or races, history, unlike the Sri Lanka exception, is not on our side. In almost every place where mankind has trod, groups holding different views of how life should be lived (culturally, politically, racially, religiously, etc.) have been at odds with that “other” as a result. It is worth noting that while there is sometimes a benign acceptance of differences between two dominant groups – pre-independent Guyana, for example – it is when the question of “taking power” or “taking control” comes into play that the difference then turns malignant. It is so wherever you find mankind, as we’re seeing right now in country after country in the Middle East, or Africa, or Asia, and now emerging even in Europe where immigration is altering the racial mix.

Some writers have argued that the ethnic voting we are saddled with in Guyana owes to the “dummification” of our citizens resulting in their refusal to break ranks with a party which has failed in its time at the government helm. It is stupid, goes that argument, for a group to embrace racist demagoguery. “To my mind,” one writer fumed, “once a government is obviously inept or incompetent that should naturally lead to their rejection at the polls. Why do Guyanese continue this blind voting purely on the basis of ethnicity? It’s frustrating. It’s illogical. What’s going on?”

The answer is that logic or reasoned thought is not in play. Ethnic voting is a result of a cultural position, in some cases firmly held for thousands of years, that has to do with the values, perceptions and ideals of that particular group. To therefore expect a shift based on reason is itself where a lack of logic resides; it is traditional in man, dating back to the cave, to stay with the tribe and to be suspicious, resentful and dismissive of the “other”. In August of this year we read of the Iraqi government being criticised for making appointments along sectarian lines…2,000 years on with armed conflict, and invasions, and the divisions remain.

Guyana’s ethnic voting we sometimes hear referred to as “a legacy from the British” is actually our own legacy, brought here by our ancestors, and still firmly held. The clear evidence is that when we migrate, and live in countries where there is no political suasion or social motivation for the divide, we persist with it; that’s how strong it is. One can see it in the settlement patterns by population in the diaspora. It is plain as day in the various community groups in North America that emerged with East Indian representation overwhelming in one club, and Afro populations dominating in another. Time and time again, with no factors in any way promoting one group or another, that is the make-up that prevailed – one of exclusion depending solely on ethnicity, and best-intentioned efforts to break the barriers inevitably fall by the wayside.

n my time in North America I was approached by two different fledging groups, one Indo-Guyanese the other Afro-Guyanese, to join the organization, and in both cases I stipulated it would have to be multi-racially based; in each case, I was assured it would be so. Today, both groups are operating successfully – one almost totally Indian; the other almost totally not. There are Guyanese associations all over North Amercia – Tradewinds have played for many of them – virtually all with that same racial demarcation. Fifty years on our own, and our divisions remain; efforts to change stumble. We maintain our ethnic divide. A recent post-election survey here of 530 politically active persons by Mosquito Online News showed that even among its own supporters, in this supposedly enlightened time, less than half of the people are finding success at improving race relations.

Closing this racial divide will obviously pay dividends; the benefits from any aspect – social harmony; business efficiency; development; crime reduction; etc. – suggest clearly the way for this society as we continue, as the song says, “to struggle we struggle”. Common sense will tell us so. Very significantly, Guyana’s new President Granger ending his remarks at the first sitting of Parliament, is reported to have said: “I pray for the unity of the Guyanese people. As difficult as that task may be, it is certainly something we should all pray for. The historic reality in the story of man is that ethnic positions are deeply entrenched and stubbornly resist conciliation, but one has to hope every hope and bend every effort that it can come to pass in Guyana. We have that possibility before us now, for the first time in many years. Given the ruin of what its continuance appears to hold, our choice is clear.”

Those stirringly expressed sentiments are a cogent summary of our dilemma. The tragedy for Guyana is that the ethnocratic stance of the regime of the past 22 years was following an equally ethnocratic regime, albeit of a different stripe, in the years previous. It is a sad and embarrassing history we have created, and it remains the most formidable residual barrier we face in our well-intentioned efforts to move this nation forward. It is a stance that ultimately leaves the two major groups in our country as adversaries rather than compatriots. It is found in a shoe that has unfortunately been seen to comfortably fit both sets of feet. It is a legacy of shame. Perhaps, with the possibility before us now, as President Granger put it, we can find some way out of this dilemma.

Letter-writer GK Lall gets it right when he refers to his “fervent, immovable belief that, unless there is racial healing and racial reconciliation, this land will continue to be a ramshackle collection of hostile peoples.” What a forbidding prospect that is.


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  • Dave Kaufmann  On 08/29/2015 at 2:02 am

    A FUNNY ting appen to BG since the days of Ramadin & Valentine . Dem a fuhget we is one Nation of many colors & cultures Mon !

    Now sing w/ Bob “One Love………………..”

  • de castro  On 08/29/2015 at 2:33 am

    Interesting post long on issue short on solution.
    Guyana racial divide/dilemma.

    Simple solution
    Increase its population with “economic migrants” that are semi fluent or who wish to speak ENGLISH or improve their English……student visas to guyana uni
    to study….etc etc business affiliates increased tourism …..the list is endless
    on how to overcome racial divide in society.
    Mix rather than match by accepting refugees “economic migrants” from wherever…”volunteers from mental slavery”…..preach love not hate.
    Songs of freedom… per Bob s lyrics.

    With a mere 750.000 souls and mass movements of goods services and peoples
    in the neighbourhood why not accept those who wish to enter an English speaking country.
    Today there thousands of refugees entering EU and UK…..why not offer them safe passage to guyana … of ethnic divide.
    Not to mention the hundreds of thousand Guyanese in the diaspora……economic migrants ?😬
    Just another suggestion/solution.


    • Thinker  On 08/29/2015 at 5:48 am

      What you are suggesting is also a very sensitive issue. With a population so small there will be fears of getting swamped by outsiders. Economic migrants are looking for better job prospects not to improve their English. The only people who would be interested especially if things got better would be Brazilians and there was already a problem in Surinam.

      As far as migrants to Europe goes , what would generally young people from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, West Africa find to do in Guyana? That would just add to already existing problems.

      • de castro  On 08/29/2015 at 5:10 pm

        OK then look north Carribean English speaking islands.
        Suriname Venezuela Brazil also neighbours by selection
        Also how to accommodate Guyanese in the diaspora.

        Are there many middle eastern refugees who would wish to journey to guyana …doubt it. ! Beggars not choosers !
        But in their midsts are doctors scientists educators etc….
        Refugees are “hand picked” by the developed world …..English
        is an advantage for attracting these “misfortunates”!

        Guyana an advantage as only English speaking on mainland.

        Our world is now “global” and “fears” of invasion by “aliens” history.
        Economic migrants once vetted and accomodated should be welcomed
        ……guyana s win win situ.
        Hey uncle sam a living proof/example of how economic migrants benefit
        their host/adopted states.

        Am myself an economic to UKPLC
        My children grandchildren exceeding my expectations which was
        “Education” “education” “education”…..

        Que sera

  • Clyde Duncan  On 08/29/2015 at 8:24 am

    Negotiate with the Caribbean Islands about forming one political and economic entity – country. Parts could be labelled “states” or “provinces”? Some of those islands may disappear with the rising ocean levels – why not negotiate from a position of strength, rather than swimming to Guyana for assistance with hand to mouth, down the road?

    • Thinker  On 08/29/2015 at 10:12 am

      This sounds like back to the future. Jagan wanted to have no part of the W.I. Federation because the Indian population would be vastly outnumbered.

      • de castro  On 08/29/2015 at 5:28 pm

        Yes look nearer home for “political” “ethnic” solutions.
        But do feel that it won’t be sufficient volunteer in numbers.
        Most prefer to drown than leave their paradises. Would you ?

        One united states of carribean will never work.
        Island mentality…..politricks.

        However Guyana’s initiatives could be encouraging in the region.

        On a more serious matter….
        If the idiot MADuro decides to invade Essequibo as per Gigi s
        suggestion it will certainly mean his removal by USA.
        Hope Obama obtains UN s mandate first.

        Am sure guyanese in USA and Canada will return to guyana when conditions
        improve……these are the people in the diaspora that granger should focus
        on firstly.
        Que sera

  • Winston Arthur Trechane  On 08/29/2015 at 11:46 am

    First let me say that the political leaders of the PPP/C, in particular Jagdeo, are all against racial unity “deep down in their souls”, and to top it off, Jagdeo is a common criminal who should be sentenced to face the firing squad. From this point no one can say that I’m making racist affirmations. David Granger is a suspected murderer whose “I pray for the unity of the Guyanese people. As difficult as that task may be, it is certainly something we should all pray for. The historic reality in the story of man is that ethnic positions are deeply entrenched and stubbornly resist conciliation, but one has to hope every hope and bend every effort that it can come to pass in Guyana. We have that possibility before us now, for the first time in many years. Given the ruin of what its continuance appears to hold, our choice is clear.” hypocritically goes contrary to the racism practiced institutionally since he has rigged the elections with the help of Jimmy Carter et al and is now usurping the people’s power.

    When politics and power-mongering politicians do nothing ostensibly to revert Guyana’s “ethnic divide” that is an atrocious omission of the spirit of their purpose. Guyanese politicians by all means reinforce racism with the express intention of stamping their agenda all over the sovereign jurisdiction. Granger’s immediate agenda is to make sure that the PNC/R remains in control of the country indefinitely. Of course this is impossible. That is the madness that constitutes the make up of politicians.

    Racial antagonism and hatred among Guyanese will only be cured and annihilated through a modification of the magnetic frequency of the DNA cells of Black and East Indian private individuals who will see much interracial manslaughter, rape and plunder of the rights and resources of Guyana’s sovereignty before they will be able to disseminate the psychic shift to a proportion of population that will be an effective force against the sinister-sustained “ethnic divide”.

    • HermBach  On 08/29/2015 at 2:41 pm

      Spot on sir-madam/mme!! Mimics my thinking 110%. The resolve to change anything must be embodied in a type of Universal Guyanese Consciousness– now I will sat to me Grainger that he DILIGENTLY WORKS on his ‘pray for unity’ promise, invest personal time in back rooms all over Guyana and work with the people – But NOT IN STUPID AND MEANINGLESS politically posturing UNPRODUCTIVE Parliamentary Debates that end up in the crony biased media —- Grainger, live your words, dont Pray, that’s like making an impossible wish.. Hope will not solve the problem… Get the people or get out of Office — maybe give the country back to the British if you don’t have the tools to get down and get dirty and ‘WORK HARD TO GET IT DONE!!

      • HermBach  On 08/29/2015 at 2:45 pm

        Apologies — Please excuse the typos above !! I’m sure you will be able to work thru the few I have made Cheers!

  • NDTewarie  On 08/29/2015 at 4:02 pm

    Martin, I agree with everything which you’ve stated and also with Lall’s quote when he refers to his “fervent, immovable belief that, unless there is racial healing and racial reconciliation, this land will continue to be a ramshackle collection of hostile peoples”, however, this atrocity was fostered unto us by the bakrahs who were so greedy for profit that they never gave an iota of thought about the danger they were planting in the minds of Black and Indians. Then this hatred was compounded by our apanjaat politics and later made into a cesspool by our today’s politicians.We can’t blame or look for blame on others, our situation is unique.
    I was born at Nabaclis and left that village when I was 10 years old. At my school we had no racial ill will to any of the races, we lived side by side. I moved to live in a dominantly East Indian village in Berbice. I was a teacher for over 30 years, I saw children, I never looked on them as Indians or blacks. One of my saddest times of regret in my life was during the disturbances when Indian youths pelted and scared away the few blacks from the village. These were people who lived like brothers and sisters among us. One was a great teacher who taught almost every one of the grown-ups and it brought tears to our eyes when they left. Such was the wrath and hurt of racial politics. I don’t know how it would end. Guyana is going through some a economical hemorrhage and if the old leader Cheddi Jagan was alive, such havoc would never have taken roots to be created. For as a poet once said:

    Jagan never succumbed or relent
    Even with his life almost spent
    He fought his foes with his bare hands
    And never groveled to their demands

    A true patriotic Guyanese one can never find
    With the welfare of all Guyanese on his mind
    Even on his deathbed nearing the end of his light
    Whispering to Janet, “Everything would be all right”

    He’s no ordinary man, he dreamt in his own way
    Like the Rev.Martin Luther King, he hoped one day
    The people of Guyana would rise up peacefully
    Become one people, one nation, with one destiny.

    Concluding I say:

    And when I die abroad or here
            I’m telling them “Let me stay ya”
          To my loved ones let them share
            And bury my shell also in Guyana


  • Gigi  On 08/31/2015 at 8:35 pm

    Most astute and pragmatic summary of Guyana ethnic dilemma. Any expectation of Granger desire to build unity is farce and can be seen in the reneging on the agreement made with its coalition partner, AFC.

    Guyana as it stands today is not worth saving because the wounds are too deep to heal; our history too ugly. What is worth preserving here? Nothing! There is nothing of intrinsic nor extrinsic value that is of wort. No rich and vibrant culture, no great museums and institutions, no opportunities to reach self actualization.

    Life is not infinite. Our time here on earth is limited and precious and as such we should be allowed to live it with purpose and meaning. Instead we are made to live like subhumans – warring, killing, robbing, exploiting, abusing each other just to survive and carve out a decent life in our limited time on earth. The bitter irony is that the life we are being forced to live and endure has no room for human decency. And for those of us who are aware of this, we are made worse off when we have to lose sight of it as our natural instinct to survive comes into play; and everything that matters or should matter is made ugly and vicious.
    Why are we fighting to hold onto this? This is what Guyana, as it stands today, represents. It’s ugly, it’s bleak, it’s hopeless, it’s useless! There is nothing of value worth saving here and the Guyanese people know this…let’s please move forward on a two state separation.

    • Linda  On 09/01/2015 at 1:19 pm

      Before you banish Guyana to the land of doom and gloom, take a look at where you’re living. You want any more doom and gloom than what’s happening in the good old U.S.A. You can stay there and live in your little community of East Indians who still look to India as the Motherland and that’s one of the prime reasons for the racial divide in Guyana. Guyanese, although South American in geographic location have taken on a West Indian culture because we’re the only English speaking country in South America. Many East Indians do not considered themselves to be South American NOR West Indian for that matter…..and that Miss GiGi is the crux of all that ails Guyana when you talk about racial divide.

      • Thinker  On 09/01/2015 at 5:52 pm

        This is the sort of response which plays into Gigi’s hands and aggravates racist feeling. There is nothing wrong with anyone looking back to their origins elsewhere for cultural continuity. The West Indian culture you talk about largely looks to Europe for cultural; norms not to Africa which is often held in disdain. Don’t knock what you don’t know about. People have the right to be proud. What the hell does South American mean. That is a matter of geography, not of culture. South America largely looks to the Iberian Peninsula as the major part of its heritage. Appreciation of things native to the Americas is largely of recent vintage. The reality is that Guyana is multi-ethnic and nothing can be a matter of cultural legislation. Our history is part of what we are.

        Gigi does not represent any major group in Guyana.

  • Thinker  On 09/01/2015 at 9:15 am

    Guyana is not Sri Lanka, the Ukraine, South Africa, Nigeria or Iraq. They have had worse histories of ethnic conflict. In any event it cannot be merely a two-way split. You can lament all you want but you have no practical plan other than selling out of Essequibo to Venezuela. You have referred to the citi zens of georgetown as dirty as pArt of your racist rants. WHO gets georgetown and Linden?

  • albert  On 09/01/2015 at 10:25 am

    Gigi I agree with Thinker. It is reasonable to assume that your idea is to work on selling Essequibo to the Venezuelans. Wonder how many pieces of gold is your reward. No Guyanese who know about the slums of Venezuela would want to live there.

  • NDTewarie  On 09/01/2015 at 10:42 am

    Firstly don’t hide behind pseudonym (a fictitious name by writer) Secondly you have such bitter animosity about Guyana that you should channel it to spelling. Learn to spell by ‘wort’ I think you meant “worth” Thirdly, you are a real hypocrite, you don’t have a blade of patriotism in your ex-pat body. People like you used Guyana and now, when you should help the rudderless left to hold the reins in Guyana, you scold and criticize them for trying. Gigi, if everyone do what you did, what would happen to Guyana? What is happening to Guyana has nothing to do with the PPP or PNC, it started long before when the bakrah brought slaves to work the plantations, not having an iota of the effects it would have on these peoples all because of greed. Then our leaders learnt from their colonial masters, and they learned well, but they too because of greed did a catastrophic job.
    When you said, “And for those of us who are aware of this, we are made worse off when we have to lose sight of it as our natural instinct to survive comes into play; and everything that matters or should matter is made ugly and vicious.”
    This is the most stupidest thing you wrote. its just hogwash, BS. You would do well as a preacher.
    Are you in Guyana? or snugly safe under your welfare blanket? You are a great student of doom and gloom I wonder how you survive a day with that kind of attitude?

  • Linda  On 09/01/2015 at 8:19 pm

    Does one really think that black Guyanese look to Africa as their motherland? They’re Guyanese first and foremost and my reference to us being from South America is just that. We are Guyanese South American….but because of the language barrier we were drawn to the West Indies and became a part of that culture. Do you think that the PPP government and their supporters (which we all know the majority to be East Indians) have any feeling of patriotism towards Guyana? Guyana was there for them to rape and pillage and left to die a slow death. They don’t give one crap about Guyana nor any other race of people living in Guyana. GiGi is a racist as you’ve said in your comments above and YES, she does represent a group in Guyana….the East Indians because that’s what they all think about Guyana. Now that they’re no longer in power to continue the thieving and raping of the country, they no longer have any use for it and just as she’s ready to hand it over to Venezuela the Indians left there are ready to bolt to other parts where they have their money nicely stashed away. No reason for them to stay in Guyana now. Their glory days are over.

    • Thinker  On 09/02/2015 at 10:05 am

      I dont need to remind anyone that we all came to Guyana under different circumstances. In one case the religion & culture of Europe was imposed on a group, in the other a culture came intact. One group does not have the right to expect another to confirm to its norms. One group believes that a snake tempted the first woman to encourage her husband to eat an apple and that a Redeemer had to come to save mankind. Should another necessarily have to give up its belief that a fish warned Manu about a coming flood enabling him to survive get a wife and populate the earth. Africans in the Americas would have been looking to Africa had they reached America differently and had Africa not itself been subject to cultural domination by Islam and Christianity. So we accept the world as it is and we learn to respect each other. Jagan certainly, whatever his shortcomings was interested in the progress of Guyana as a whole. He had heard of Burnham and he waited on the latters return to form a truly nationalist movement. So do not make wild statements about Indians not caring about Guyana. People can walk and chew gum at the same time. Cultural identification can co-exist with patriotism. I trust that these issues can be discussed sensibly without the rancour which I see present in just about every other Guyanese newsgroup.

  • Guyanalyst  On 09/04/2015 at 2:24 am

    Guyana has a growing “Mixed” population (now at least 20%). These are people who say in the Census that they are “Mixed”. However many Indo and Afro-Guyanese are also in reality – Mixed. We must remember that the boats that brought mostly men to work in the fields. This was especially so during Indentureship or contract labour. A lot of Amerindian mixtures were created from this reality.

    According to Census statistics, Indo-Guyanese made up 51.9% of the total population in 1980, but by 1991 this had fallen to 48.6%, and then to 43.5% in the 2002 census. Those of African descent increased slightly from 30.8% to 32.3% during the first period (1980 and 1991) before falling to 30.2% in the 2002 census. (Wikipedia).
    The PPP government did not release the final population statistics by ethnic groups for the 2012 Census (maybe for good reason). It has been suggested that the Indo-Guyanese population is now below 40% and falling, as many have emigrated. There has been a thriving “backtrack business”, fake passport business, and the selling of visas over the years.

    Guyanese, like Trinidadians, sometimes reflect the government in power. Indian women perm their hair and men shave their heads to fit in when Afro governments are in power or when they do not want to be called Dougla when their kinks show. The hair is straightened when Indian governments are in charge. It is really interesting… this claim of being Indian… For instance, was the former President Ramotar an Indian? He said in an interview that his mother was mixed Amerindian/African. Is Rohee an Indian? He is a Dougla, like so many “Indians” in Guyana and Trinidad. For many of these “Mixed” persons it is really a matter of choice. Politics and economics are the two sides of the same coin.

    Also who is an Afro-Guyanese? Many who say they fall in this category are obviously of “Mixed” heritage, but they identify as Blacks or Afro-Guyanese.
    Then there are the Amerindians who are about 10% of the Guyana population and growing. They also have many “mixed” Amerindians in the population. The Amerindian vote was important to the PPP strategy in the last elections and it was alleged that they hired some 2200 mostly young persons to help them get out the vote. You would note the new government’s focus on Amerindian languages and culture and empowering their traditional leaders rather than usurping them as was alleged in the past.

    It was reported in the Guyana 2002 Census that those claiming “mixed” were about 16%. It should be at least 20% today. So the Guyana population (until the 2012 numbers are released), could roughly be at 40% Indian; 30% African; 20% Mixed and 10% Amerindian/Other. The Mixed and Amerindian groups will eventually hold the balance of power in future elections as I think this trend will continue where neither those identifying with the two major racial groups would have 50% of the population.

    A Surinamese told me some years ago that the reason their multi-cultural society works is that in Suriname no ethnic group was over 30%. There has to be coalitions or shared ideals for the winning groups to succeed. The same could be said about Trinidad where the major racial groups in the 2011 Census were Indian 37.6%; African 36.3; Mixed 24.2%. The People’s Partnership created a Coalition which is now coming apart with this election. The major problem there is corruption and bad governance causing some 17 ministers to be dismissed or “replaced” since the last elections.

    I am very confident about Guyana, as I have ancestors in four of the six “races” that reflect the history of Guyana. Although I do not live in Guyana, I wish its citizens well and I hope that good governance and fairness prevails so that all Guyanese can enjoy the benefits bestowed to them through the toil of their ancestors.

    VIDEO – The National Anthem of Guyana w/ Lyrics

  • Thinker  On 09/04/2015 at 6:40 am

    Rohee would never be considered an Indian by anyone. The reality is that lots of Blacks are mixed but consider themselves black. Rohee could call himself black and none would argue with him. The former PNC official Winston Murray looked Indian but was in fact mixed. The point made to Gigi is that there is no fine demarcation which would enable any two state solution. No one wants to be cut off from a grand parent. So the best solution is to have real democracy with a possible swing vote to change governments when necessary.

  • Tata  On 02/24/2019 at 11:12 pm

    Mr Martins, I give you an A+ for a excellent summation of Guyana’s racial divide but a D for not having a solution to the divide. Ideally, every patriotic Guyanese would truly love the best for their homeland but unfortunately, the root cause of Guyana’s racial divide is a much bigger problem that involves “a people” searching for an IDENTITY.

    The sad truth in all of this, is that Guyanese of Indian ancestry never assimilated into Guyana’s culture or embrace Guyana as the land of their birth like other colonized Guyanese, but instead, have worshipped India as the goddess that gave them birth . Sadly, this has placed enormous strain on race relationship with other Guyanese who sees them as unpatriotic or just “moochers” with no love of country.

    On the other hand, I don’t feel this is a problem that can be fixed easily because not only is this a problem in Guyana but everywhere one find people of Indian ancestry. In America, Guyanese of Indian ancestry have enclaves where they nestle among Indian from India as segregated as they are in Guyana. In Queens, they live exclusively, among Indians from India. I live in America and my neighbors are of the United Nations. I would not have it any other way. I did not leave Guyana to live in Guyana.

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