Gender, Ethnicity and Place: Women and Identities in Guyana

Gender, Ethnicity and Place: Women and Identities in Guyana

Gender, Ethnicity and Place: Women and Identities in Guyana

Gender, Ethnicity and Place: Women and Identities in Guyana


This book is concerned with the nature of the relationship between gender, ethnicity and poverty in the context of the external and internal dynamics of households in Guyana.


The Venn Sugar Commission of 1948 estimated that each square mile of cane cultivation involved the provision of forty-nine miles of drainage canals and ditches and sixteen miles of the higher level of waterways used for transportation and irrigation… This meant that slaves moved 100 million tons of heavy, water-logged clay with shovel in hand, while enduring conditions of perpetual mud and water.

(Rodney 1981:2-3)

We open this introductory chapter on Guyana with a quotation from Walter Rodney for two related reasons. First, it is a powerful reminder that Guyana has never been just there, on the northern coast of South America. A colonial invention, its formation as a geographical object in the European imaginary was as a harsh place, with a population and landscape in constant need of beating back, of subduing and taming. But Guyana is not only a product of the imaginary. It is a ‘lived space’ (Lefebvre 1991), the exploitation of which formed an integral part of European, and especially British, material culture. The point made here, that to study Guyana is to interrogate its creation and its taken-forgranted reality, serves best to describe our approach to the dynamics of gender and ethnicity. It also reminds us that the current globalisation of flows—of labour, capital, values and ideas—against and within which these relations are continually re-invented, has a history we are all too apt to forget. In many ways, this study is an attempt to explore further the humanisation of the Guyanese landscape in the late twentieth century, building on the processes emphasised by Rodney but foregrounding differences and similarities in Indo-Guyanese and Afro-Guyanese women’s lives. We hope to show that not only is difference of major importance in coming to terms with understanding the effects of material processes, but also that the divide between supposedly exclusive groupings is performed in relation to significant others.

Second, Rodney’s words underscore the intertwining and mutual construction of place and identity. Just as Rodney makes explicit the connection between the construction of intricate waterways and the immense human sacrifice this entailed, so too are we principally concerned with mapping the often unacknowledged, yet always located, social relations through which Guyanese identities and differences are generated. A most obvious example is that what stands for Guyana—the carving out of a slim habitable strip on the

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