All About Guyana, with Videos
Guyana is a small nation located on the northern coast of South America. It’s rich in natural beauty, history, and tradition. It has pristine beaches, lofty mountains, and amazing wildlife. Much of the country remains an undiscovered paradise for naturalists and eco-tourists, with the rare opportunity for the discovery of new species. The country awaits for adventures, vacations, and explorations for those wanting to visit somewhere that's off the beaten path yet still part of the Caribbean.
Guyana’s fist human inhabitants arrived around 9,000 BC. These were hunters who were attracted to the area because of the naturally occurring jasper – an excellent medium for fashioning spear points.
By 5,000 BC, people were living on the coast. According to excavations of shell mounds, these people were fishermen who survived largely on fish species from the Atlantic Ocean and the Orinoco River.
Around 4,000 years ago, two distinct groups converged in Guyana. One, from the Amazon, brought with them the craft of pottery making. The second group, the Arawaks, introduced farming to the area.
The Karinya, ancestors of the modern Caribs, settled on Guyana’s northwest coast around 200 B.C.
Many of Guyana’s indigenous peoples were displaced by European explorers in their quest for gold. The region was discovered by Columbus in 1498, yet it was first colonized by the Dutch in 1616. For the next two hundred years, the nations of Holland, Spain, France, and England battled for control of Guyana.
In 1814, the Dutch finally ceded the land to Britain. The various settlements of Guyana were combined into a single colony in 1831, British Guyana.
Guyana gained her independence from Great Britain in 1966 yet chose to remain a part of the British Commonwealth.
Guyana leapt from obscurity in the 1970s. In 1974, People’s Temple leader Jim Jones began building Jonestown in a remote area in order to achieve his dream of a “socialist paradise.” Some 1,000 disciples followed Jones to live and work in the commune. On November 18, 1978, 909 Jonestown inhabitants were found dead, victims of cyanide poisoning. 276 children and Jones himself were among the numbers. Until the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, the “Jonestown Massacre” stood as the greatest loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster.
Guyana’s 751,223 inhabitants represent a diverse melting pot. At least nine different ethnic groups comprise the population. The oldest is the Amerindians, the original settlers, followed by the Dutch and other European explorers. The sugar cane plantations brought in slaves from Africa. When the slave trade was halted in 1834, indentured laborers from China and Portugal came to work the fields.
Each group has left its mark on the rich and varied culture, religions, and traditions. The major language spoken in Guyana is English, followed by several Amerindian dialects and Caribbean Hindi. Religions represented include Hindu, Protestant, and Roman Catholic.
Overall, the culture of Guyana is much the same as nearby Caribbean nations. They all share the same language, foods, traditions, and music.
Guyana means “Land of Many Waters,” and aptly so. The nation is bordered on the north by the Atlantic and contains vast sections of the Essequibo, Courantyne, Berbice, Rupununi, and Demerara Rivers, along with numerous natural lakes and immense waterfalls.
Near the mouths of the large rivers, especially the Essequibo, are numerous islands. The estuary of this river alone has hundreds of isles, with Hogg Island being the largest. It has a size of 23 square miles, 250 inhabitants, a school, and a church.
The land has an amazing diversity, with grassy savannah, rugged mountains, sandy hills, and a fertile strip of marshland along the coast. Guyana’s dense rain forest is one of the largest unspoiled rainforests in all of South America.
Other South American nations that border Guyana are Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil.
Over 80% of Guyana is covered with thick jungle and forest, making the nation one of the most biologically diverse in the entire world. In fact, fifteen different environments have been identified and categorized: riverine, lacustrine, marine, coastal, mangrove, montane, white sand forest, brown sand forest, savannah, littoral, estuarine palustrine, swamp, cloud forest, dry evergreen scrub forest, and moist lowland. Some of these areas are so dense that they’re all but impenetrable, and biologists believe that man has never intruded into several of the isolated regions.
Much of Guyana, unlike other parts of South America, has remained pristine, allowing it to support a wide array of flora and fauna. Guyana is home to over 8,000 plants species. Almost half of these are unique to Guyana and are found nowhere else. Because of this, ecotourism is gaining in popularity, along with eco adventure vacations..
Guyana is home to many rare and formerly undiscovered animal species, including the giant river otter, the golden frog, and harpy eagles. Large land animals include capybaras, giant armadillos, tapirs, jaguars, giant anteaters, bush dogs, ocelots, Saki monkeys, and savannah deer.
Caimans, manatees, leatherback turtles, Ridley turtles, and arapaimas, the world’s largest freshwater fish, ply the waterways. Also, 1,600 bird species have been documented. Amazingly, many of the insects and other invertebrates have never been identified.
Guyanese cuisine is just as rich and diverse as the people who call the land home. Each group has added its own colorful elements of ethnicity to the traditional foods. Many dishes are flavored with curry, introduced by the Asian Indians. When the African slaves arrived, they spread the custom of consuming yams, plantains, and dasheen. Rice and noodles were introduced largely by Chinese immigrants.
Traditional dishes largely consist of ingredients found locally, while a few new Guyana dishes include ingredients from other cultures. One popular food is the rice, peas, and meat or fish that’s prevalent on Caribbean islands. Another is pepper pot – a concoction of onions, sugar, vinegar, peppers, and cassava juice stewed with beef or pork an. Another typical Guyanese dish is made of okra and fresh fish, much like gumbo. One of the foods with African roots is foo-foo, or pounded plantains. It’s often served as an addition to yams, soups, or shrimp in coconut broth.
Because of all the sugar cane produced in Guyana, desserts are popular. Many also include fresh coconut or coconut milk, oranges, bananas, or pineapple.
Popular beverages include fruit juices, peanut punch, ginger beer, pineapple wine, coconut water punch, and, of course, the locally produced Demerara rum.
Like most of the tropics, Guyana’s weather is generally hot and humid. Along the coast, however, trade winds from the northeast offer cooling breezes. The average temperatures for the country as a whole range from 75 to 90 degrees, with cooler temperatures at the higher elevations.
Guyana experiences two rainy seasons a year. The first is from May to August, followed by a second from November to January. Flooding is a major problem during these periods, with total rainfall often exceeding seven feet.
Guyana adopted its official constitution in 1980. Citizens are allowed to vote at the age of 18. Since there are no term limits, many elected officials retain their positions for years. The heads of government are the president, serving as head of state, and the prime minister, head of the party.
The two major political parties are the People’s Progressive Party, made up largely of those from Indian descent, and the People’s National Reform Congress Party, comprised mostly of citizens from African descent.
In 1970, Guyana became a socialist state, the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Today, in this new Guyana, almost every aspect of the country is controlled by the government.
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