Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation

Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation

Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation

Conflict and Solidarity in a Guianese Plantation

Excerpt

British Guiana is situated in the north-eastern corner of South America. It is bounded on the north by the Caribbean Sea, on the west by Venezuela, on the south by Brazil, and on the east by Surinam (Dutch Guiana). Although its geographical position suggests that it is a 'Latin American' country, every other consideration underlines its affiliations with the West Indies, and this view is implicit throughout this study.

British Guiana has an area of 83,000 sq. miles. It is traversed from south to north by four rivers: the Essequibo, Demerara, Berbice and Corentyne. The country is divided into three counties named after these rivers -- Essequibo, Demerara, and Berbice. The portion of Berbice which lies between the Berbice and Corentyne rivers is known as Corentyne. The Corentyne river forms the boundary between British Guiana and Surinam.

The population, estimated at the end of 1956 to be 506,900, is concentrated within a narrow coastal strip, seldom more than eight miles wide; about 88 per cent of the people live on about 2·5 per cent of the total land area, and nearly four-fifths of the population inhabit the rural settlements which cluster along either side of the public road that stretches through the coastal belt. High tides from the north and river floods from the south are a constant menace to this coastal area, and human life and agriculture have been made possible only by maintaining a costly sea-defence and drainage system.

The main crops are rice and sugar cane. Rice is cultivated over an area of 137,000 acres and is mainly a peasant crop; the average size of a rice farm is from 3 to 10 acres. Sugar cane, which occupies a total area of 81,108 acres, is almost exclusively grown on large, company-owned plantations, of an average size of 8,000-9,000 acres.

Employment in the sugar industry is seasonal, but the number of persons employed--estimated at about 27,000 each week --is greater than in any other form of economic activity. More than half this labour force lives on the plantations. In 1946, out of a total population of 375,701, 75,792, or roughly 20 per cent, were plantation residents, and the proportion at the present time cannot be much less.

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