THE COMPOSITION OF GUYANESE SOCIETY is a reflection of the country's colonial past. The colony was created by Dutch and British planters who grew sugarcane using the labor of slaves and indentured workers. Ignoring the country's vast interior, the planters constructed dikes and dams that transformed the coast into an arable plain. With the exception of the indigenous Amerindians and a few Europeans, the entire population consisted of imported plantation workers or their descendants.
Guyanese culture developed with the adaptation of the forced and voluntary immigrants to the customs of the dominant British. Brought to Guyana as slaves, Africans of diverse backgrounds had been thrown together under conditions that severely constrained their ability to preserve their respective cultural traditions. In adopting Christianity and the values of British colonists, the descendants of the African slaves laid the foundations of today's Afro-Guyanese culture. Arriving later and under somewhat more favorable circumstances, East Indian immigrants were subjected to fewer pressures to assimilate than the Africans had been. As a result, more of their traditional culture was preserved.
Although the culture of independent Guyana has become more truly national, the Guyanese people remain divided by ethnic mistrust. The Guyanese elite that has emerged to replace the colonial administration faces the enormous challenge of satisfying the aspirations of the people concerning economic development and educational opportunity.
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