Multiracial Identities in Trinidad and Guyana: Exaltation and Ambiguity

Multiracial Identities in Trinidad and Guyana: Exaltation and Ambiguity

Latin American Issues
Volume 13 (1997) (The Caribbean(s) Redefined)
Article IV

Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar, Associate Professor of Sociology
Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario

For people of formerly colonized countries, race mixing among the populace has always been a reality. This is particularly true for Caribbean peoples. This paper addresses the ambivalent existence of multiracial identities for Caribbean people in the regions of Trinidad and Guyana, two areas with particularly diverse populations including significant numbers of people who are of (East) Indian background, as well as (in Guyana) an indigenous Amerindian population. The current relevancy of this issue is highlighted by tensions between African and Indian populations in each area, following the elections of predominantly Indian-based governments in Guyana in 1992 (PPP) and Trinidad & Tobago in 1995 (UNC/NAR coalition). As racial terrains shift in the realms of power, people often resort to constructions of “pure” identities to support an “us” versus “them” agenda. An exploration into multiracial identity challenges this re-ordering of racial monoliths and homogeneous social organization; it provides an opening for discussion of similarities rather than differences, of interlinkages and a shared history of colonization.

For the purposes of this article, the term “multiracial” is intended to signify an identity which has arisen out of a colonial history. Prior to Columbus, any notion of “race” among the Amerindians would have differed considerably from that which was developed over time by the Europeans for very specific imperialist reasons. Multiracial Caribbean people are those who are descended from more than one racial group found in the Caribbean. The very notion of multiracial identity is only significant if importance, privilege, difference, or debasement has been accorded to particular racial groups over others during the course of Caribbean history.

My analysis of Caribbean multiracial identity is based on the works cited as well as a series of interviews I conducted with multiracial Caribbean and Caribbean-Canadian people during 1994-1995. It is a preliminary investigation of a subject area which requires much deeper study, a study which I hope to flesh out from this skeletal framework of initial inquiry. Caribbean scholarship has largely ignored and overlooked multiracial/mixed race identity with the exception of a few articles and papers (Khan, Puri, Reddock, and Shibata), and a rather significant body of work dealing with the Coloured/Mulatto/gens de couleur class and its historical/political significance (Braithwaite, Brathwaite, Brereton, Cohen & Green, Heuman, and Sio). In comparison, within the body of Caribbean literature there is an attempt to examine, however superficially, multiracial identity and its problematic/complex meaning beyond African/European bipolarity. This is mostly evident in the works of Edgar Mittelholzer, V.S. Naipaul, Jan Shinebourne, Lawrence Scott, and Merle Hodge. However, large gaps remain in the areas of theory and primary research examining how racially complex Caribbean people negotiate and navigate their identities in a social and political atmosphere which both exalts them (“All o’ we is one”, “One people, one nation, one destiny”, “Out of many, one people”) and denies them full recognition as a legitimate racial “group” in an arena where one’s racial allegiance purportedly informs community and political alliance, personal and business networks, state power and consequently, access to resources.


  • I. “Raceing” in Trinidad and Guyana: Historical Developments
  • II. “Douglas
  • III. The “Cocoa Panyols
  • IV. “Bovianders”
  • V. Representations of the Multiracial Person
  • VI. “Brotherhood of the Boat”? The Common Origin Debate in Trinidad
  • VII. Erasure of Multiracial Identity in Trinidad, Erasure of Multiracial Identity in Trinidad and Guyana
  • VII. Conclusion
  • Notes

Read the entire article here.

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