Guyana's ethnic mix is the direct product of the colonial economy. Except for the Amerindians and a few Europeans, the country's ethnic groups are the descendants of groups brought in to work the early plantations. An economy based on sugar production required a large labor force. Attempts to enslave the Amerindian population failed, and the planters soon turned to African slaves. By 1830 there were 100,000 such slaves in British Guiana.
After the abolition of slavery became totally effective in 1838, the planters found a new source of cheap labor in the form of indentured workers, foreigners recruited to work for a specific number of years, usually five, with the possibility of reenlisting for an additional period and eventually being repatriated. Even before slavery was abolished, the importation of indentured workers began. They were recruited from Portugal, India, China, and the West Indies. Although the terms of indenture were nearly as harsh as slavery, the planters succeeded in bringing about 286,000 persons into the country by the early twentieth century. More than 80 percent of these indentured workers were East Indians; their arrival would profoundly affect Guyana's ethnic composition and the nature of Guyanese society in general.
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