Scherin Barlow Massay

Social Anthropologist – Scherin Barlow Massay

In Barbados news. The 1911 census stated that 35% of Caribbean born Africans in Guiana were from Barbados. Many went to work in the cane fields as agricultural labourers, in the interior, in the gold mines, and in the bauxite industry, while others worked as artisans and in the police force.

The Bajan communities that sprang up in Georgetown would have been homogeneous, sticking together because of cultural similarities, and family cohesion.

Newer immigrants settling there would have reinforced this sense of identity and difference as they did during the 1930s and 1940s when another movement of working class Bajans to Guiana found work within the police force, in the civil service and as teachers.

When people emigrate from one country to another, the sense of belonging to the country they have left becomes acute as does feelings of separation from the family unit.

Nonetheless, the most popular way of keeping that knowledge alive is through oral narratives, which then becomes common knowledge from generation to generation and becomes part of the cultural identity of that family.

It is different for those who remain in the home country because the remembrances of those who have migrated are normally only acknowledged within the generation that knew of the event. Today, most Bajans are unaware of the familial history between the two countries that date back nearly 180 years.

Bajan and other Caribbean nationals arrive at Guyana's Cheddy Jagan International Airport. Photo courtesy

Bajan and other Caribbean nationals arrive at Guyana’s Cheddy Jagan International Airport. Photo courtesy

Today, too, the relationship between Bajans and Guyanese has soured mainly because of the troubled economic conditions now facing Guyana, which is now one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.

Beginning in the 1960s mass emigration of skilled labour and academics to North America and England has contributed to Guyana’s woes, as have crime, corruption, drugs and ethnic frictions between people of African and Asian descent.

Even though the country has inexhaustible natural resources, its ecological wealth does not trickle down to the majority of Guyanese who have seen their country’s natural resources farmed out to foreign countries.

Most African-Guyanese are dissatisfied with the political direction of their country and so for economic reasons, and because they cannot get into countries such as Canada and North America, flock to countries within the Caribbean who have a more stable economy.

Barbados, because of its stable economy and familial relationship has become a favourite destination for African- Guyanese. However, when it comes to their Guyanese relatives, Bajan attitudes have demonised them as social pariahs.

In the mid seventeenth century, half of the African captives arriving in Barbados were Igbos from the Bight of Biafra. An Igbo Proverb says; ‘Those whose palm kernels are cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble’.

Based on the history and close familial links between the two countries that lesson seems to have been lost, along with the fact that the division of African people started wherever the slave ship landed, and perceived differences and nationalistic pride turned us into Guyanese or Bajan. Before that, we were and still are Africans.