Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Guiana is an Amerindian word meaning Land of Many Waters.
While I had heard of Guyana (pronounced Guy-Ana), I admit I knew little to nothing about it until I met Wendy Sargeant, a fellow writer and Houstonian. We are part of an informal writer's group who meet once a month and share stories through assigned prompts. In our last gathering, Wendy wrote a poem that at once I related to, and, that also sparked my curiosity given its focus on a culture and geographic local I am not familiar with. My writer's mind was sparked and I thought it would be wonderful to share her piece with my readers while giving myself the opportunity to learn and research more about this part-Caribbean, part-South American country.
Shutterstock: The flag of Guyana in the world map
My post is divided into two sections:
This first part will give a brief overview about Guyana to provide context to my reader.
The second part will segue into Wendy's poem, followed by questions that walk the reader through meaning, nuance and cultural exploration.
I hope you enjoy discovering the beauty and richness of this little gem as much as I did.
Shutterstock: Georgetown City Hall + view of old wooden gothic building
Guyana is the third smallest country on mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname, and the second least populous sovereign state in South America after Suriname. It is bordered by Venezuela, Brazil and Suriname, with the Atlantic Ocean flanking its north coast, and measures 83,000 square miles. The country is divided into ten regions with the capital Georgetown on the north coast, and its population, according to a world bank census in 2019, is 782,766. Guyana has a diaspora of 500,00.
90% of the people live on 10 % of the land as 75% of the country is a rainforest, the second most densely forested country in South America after Suriname. The country's five natural regions is home to a rich biodiversity with over 800 species of avifauna.
The five distinct regions are:
1- Fertile marshy plain on the coast
2- White sand belt inland
3- Lush rainforest highland
4- Desert and Savanah down south in the interior
5- Southwest desert along the lowlands of brazil
Kaieteur Falls, Guyana | Surama Mountains | wokrama Rainforest, Guyana |
© Sorenriise / Wikicommons © David Stanley / Flickr© © MM / Wikicommons
Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America. Other languages include Amerindian dialects, Creole, Caribbean Hindustani and Urdu. It is considered by geographers to be both South American and Caribbean (West Indies).
Guyanese Creole has an Indian/ African influence written in very simple phonetics-
For example, Georgetown is pronounced Jarjtown, Everyday is Evride, Rice field is Raisfil.
Guyana is multi-ethnic with East Indians forming 43% of the population followed by Black/ African descendants 30%, Mixed race 16%, Amerindian 10%, Europeans 1%.
Guyana is one of three countries outside Asia where Hinduism is practiced by over 1/4 of the population.
There is no one type of Guyanese and the Indo heritage lives side by side with the African, and Caribbean ethnic groups, in addition to nine groups of indigenous people.
This incredible melting pot of peoples is the soul of Guyana and the reason for its diverse cuisine, music and art.
photo credit: guyanatourism.com
Christopher Columbus first spotted the coast of Guyana in 1498 paving the way for a spike in interest in the region by the Dutch, French, English, Spanish and Portuguese, all seeking to establish settlements and plantations (sugar cane, cocoa, coffee and cotton), although the initial lure to Guyana in the early 16th century was the search for the mythical lost city of gold, El Dorado. What used to be Dutch Guyana is today Suriname, and the French oversaw French Guiana. The English took over the Dutch colonies of Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo in 1831 which became British Guiana.
This map, prepared and printed in 1908 at the office of the Ordnance Survey, Southampton, United Kingdom, provides a relatively detailed view of the geography of British Guiana (present-day Guyana), one of only two British colonies on the mainland of South and Central America (the other being British Honduras).
The expansion of plantations meant a need for African slaves whose treatment was notoriously bad. Many escaped and established a unique African culture, creating settlements of their own, pooling their resources to purchase abandoned land left behind by their former owners, and thus creating a shortage of plantation workers leading to the introduction of new ethnic groups, Portuguese workers from Madeira, who in turn settled in these lands and became competitors with the new Afro-Guyanese middle-class. Between 1853-1912, some 14,000 Chinese came to the colony. They were soon followed by indentured workers from India, after the Chinese Guyanese forsook the plantations for the retail trade and eventually assimilated into Guianese society.
British Guiana was governed by the British between 1814 and 1966 and became a Crown colony in 1928. It was granted home rule in 1953.
The country gained full independence on May 26, 1966. With independence, the country returned to its traditional name, Guyana.
In the 1970s and '80s, Guyana had a socialist-leaning government and underwent nationalization of private U.S and Canadian Bauxite holdings, coastal sugar cane plantations as well as an array of manufacturing and commercial enterprises, severely impacting the economic prosperity of the country. By the 1990's there was a return to privatization and government control was reduced but the country was struggling with a shortage of skilled labor and an unstable infrastructure.
Today, Guyana's most important economic activity is agriculture and mining (bauxite), with sugar cane, rice and gold making up 3/4 of all export earning. Guyana remains one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere although in 2015 Exxon, Century Group and C9X began to undertake wide oil exploration and a US survey estimated the region had recoverable reserves of more than 13.6 billion barrels of oil and 32 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It remains to be seen how this exploration evolves and whether it will benefit the country or become an exploitative deal.
The first image is a sunset on the Essequibo river. The center image shows the Victoria Regia Lilly, Guyana's national flower. It is the largest of all water lilies discovered in 1837 by German botanist Robert Schounburgk during an expedition to Guyana.
Mount Roraima, shown in the last image, is the highest peak of Guyana's highland range and is a plateaux (or table-top mountain) that is shared with Venezuela and Brazil, although 85% of this plateau is in Venezuela.
And finally, the national bird of Guyana is the Hoatzin-
It is also known as the reptile bird, skunk bird and stink bird due to its foul odor caused by the fermentation of food in its digestive system. It is also notable for having chicks with claws on two of their wing digits.
For more information on Guyana, here are some suggested sources:
Thank you for making it this far! Please leave your comments and continue on to Wendy's poem in a separate post.