Guyana: Population, Environments, Economic Activities
by Robert Ramraj. Self-Published. 2003. Maps, Diagrams, Illustrations, 296 pages

This book, which was recently launched at an impressive gathering organized by the Association of Artists and Writers, is a comprehensive work on the Geography of Guyana. It is, indeed, a unique study. The various topics covered included physiology, hydrology, climate, population, transportation, the leading industries, environmental issues, the current economic situation and tourism. The author highlights several problems facing Guyana but declines to offer solutions.

It is very difficult for a reviewer to analyze competently every segment covered in this book. Many reviewers may, therefore, be involved, each commenting on his/her area of expertise. I will confine my brief analysis to the first section of the chapter on Population which gels partly with my own research on Indian immigration into the Caribbean.

The chapter commences with a brief description of the migration of people of Asian stock to the Americas and the areas of settlement. An excellent source for this topic, particularly on Guyana, is M.N. Menezes, British Policy towards the Amerindians in British Guiana 1803-1876 (1977). This book as a source would certainly have helped to broaden historical analyses. Unfortunately, this thoroughly researched book was not consulted. Instead, the author relied on Vere T. Daly’s A Short History of the Guyanese People (1975) which certainly lacks analysis.

The chapter then continues with a brief examination of the European presence in Guyana, particularly the settlements established by the iniquitous Dutchmen. The nuggets of information on the names of Dutch sugar estates are particularly useful, especially for those unfamiliar with the country’s history. The author then briefly examines the African presence and goes over familiar territory – the European slave trade, the middle passage, sale of slaves, the Berbice Slave Rebellion of 1763 and the African contribution to the development of Guyana. He presents a short list of Afro-Guyanese who have made significant contributions in their fields, including Forbes Burnham whose 28 years of nepotism, cronyism, racism and squandermania turned Guyana from the bread basket of the Caribbean to the basket case of the Caribbean.

The book then turns to the post-emancipation period with an analysis of the planters’ various immigration schemes geared to augment a gradually depleting labor force. Following a brief description of the Chinese and Portuguese presence, the author presents a comparatively lengthy one on the Indians. However, the author refers to Indians as “indentured servants” (p. 93), a term applicable to Europeans who were introduced into the Caribbean during the sugar revolution. The book contains a useful segment on the reasons for the Indian presence, the recruitment system and its concomitant abuses, caste distribution and a list of the factors which deterred emigration overseas.

Three points need to be addressed here. First, there is a gap (missing words, lines) between pages 94 and 95 which should be remedied in the second print. Second, there is some confusion regarding the so-called Des Voeux Commission (p. 96). The fact is that Des Voeux was a Stipendiary Magistrate whose denunciation of the indenture system produced a high-powered Royal Commission. Des Voeux was never part of the Commission nor was he the leader. Thirdly, there is need for some additional editorial work to detect repetition, spelling mistakes and missing words.

As regards the Indian presence in Guyana, the author provides a useful summary, with adequate documentation, of the indenture system and its abolition, and the contributions of notable Indians in their respective fields. He cites the militancy of Indian sugar workers from 1869 to the Enmore tragedy. Here I want to emphasize that their militancy not only questioned but also effectively demolished the myth of Indian docility. The over 600 strikes and 50 deaths in the period 1838-1938 showed that Indians were capable of violent protests. They were ‘knocked down’ several times but were never ‘knocked out’.

What is most commendable in this chapter is the section on demography. Here the author presents interesting statistical data, [through charts, tables, etc.] on Guyana’s population and its distribution, including fertility and infant mortality rates and more. This section is particularly impressive. By all accounts, this is an invaluable study which scholars, students and others with an interest in the field will welcome.
– by Basdeo Mangru
Assoc. Professor, York College, CUNY