The Familial Relationship between Guyanese and Bajans: Part I

| October 10, 2013
Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

My attachment to Barbados started after I began researching the genealogy of my family. Several of my older relatives informed me that my great grandmother came from there. Those who knew her said that she had never lost her accent even though she went to Guiana as a child.

In turn, I wondered whether there was a close-knit Bajan community in Guiana responsible for reinforcing her accent during her lifetime.

Between 1886 and 1892, she, and two of her older brothers sailed the 392 miles from Barbados to Guiana leaving behind the rest of her family. All three had followed in the tradition of immigrating to Guiana that began in earnest in 1863. However, the intertwining relationship between Guiana, Barbados and its people begun more than 250 years earlier.

Shortly after disembarking on the uninhabited island of Barbados, Captain Henry Powell had to leave the British settlers and set sail in search of supplies, as the island was devoid of life sustaining vegetation. He sailed to Essequibo on the South American mainland, where his friend, the governor of the Dutch colony gave him roots, plants and seeds, along with forty Arawak Indians who were knowledgeable in land cultivation.

The flora introduced from Guiana flourished, and soon Barbados was producing cassava, plantains, potatoes, yams, pineapples, melons, bananas and other fruits and vegetation, as well as tobacco and cotton for exporting.

Later, a pattern of enforced migration from Barbados to Guiana emerged when enslaved people were transported to work on the sugarcane plantations. This pattern continued during the Apprenticeship System as white Barbadian landowners who had gained a strong foothold in Essequibo and Demerara, got their supply of workers from Barbados.

When the Apprenticeship System ended in 1838, Guiana became the favourite destination for former slaves to set up home as it was regarded as the breadbasket of the region. In addition, Guiana was facing a shortage of labour because many former Guianese slaves left the plantations to buy their own land, form village communities, and work for themselves.

Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals at the Barbados immigration department. Photo courtesy

Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals at the Barbados immigration department. Photo courtesy

With limited job prospects and little affordable land to develop in their own country, those who emigrated from Barbados not only came to fill the country’s labour shortage, but also to take advantage of the higher wages offered in Guiana. Moreover, the opportunity was there for them to buy land and gain a foothold in a country that is more than 200,000 sq km bigger than Barbados.

In addition, there was the lure of emigrating from an island that had always been a British colony to a newly established colony on the South American mainland. By 1892 immigration records state that of the 40,656 people that had immigrated to Guiana, the majority had emigrated from Barbados. In 1898 after hurricanes hit the island, another 375 Bajans accepted the Guianese offer of relief and relocated there.

Guiana was regarded as a land of opportunity, and throughout that early period of migration, welcomed economic migrants from other countries wishing to improve their financial status. After the temporary suspension of Indian indenture in 1840, about 1,000 Africans from Sierra Leone migrated to Guiana as contracted workers. They joined the 13,970 liberated Africans, who wound up in Guiana between 1807 and 1866 after being freed from American, Portuguese and French slave ships when the British slave trade ended. Other economic migrants came from the Portuguese colony of Madeira and Canton in China. Read Part II next week…

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