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Guyana in a Nutshell

Guyana (pronounced as it is spelled, guyana, not gheeana) is an Amerindian word which means "land of many waters". The country is aptly named because if its profusion of rivers, creeks, and other bodies of water. It is located in the northern part of the Amazon Basin of South America, so it is quite understandable that there should be many waterways to the Atlantic Ocean. The three main rivers are, from west to east, the Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice Rivers.


Guyana, formerly British Guiana, is the only English-speaking country in South America, and its neighbours are Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname (formerly Dutch Guiana) to the west, south and east respectively. Situated on the South American continent, Guyana is one of two country-states in the West Indies, Belize in Central America being the other. The rest of the West Indies are island states.

At 83,000 sq.miles (215,000 Guyana is about the size of the United Kingdom, and is the largest country in the West Indies. Of this area, some 90% of the population live in the coastal belt, some 270 miles long by 10 to 40 miles deep. This area is below sea level at high tide, so to stave off the relentless onslaught of the Atlantic Ocean, sea walls (or dykes) and sluices (or kokers) line the coastline.

Harpy Eagle

About 70% of the country is still tropical rain forest, and this geographical area is located south of the coastline, and above sea level. Savannah country is located to the south and south-east of the country. The latter two geographical zones of Guyana are especially rich in minerals including bauxite (to make aluminum), gold, diamonds, kaolin and manganese. The coastal region is intensively cultivated with rice and sugar cane. Geologically, Guyana is part of the remarkable and ancient Guiana Shield, which is beautifully described in the Guiana Shield Media Project web site.
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Kaieteur Falls  Weather

Its location just north of the Equator means that it is in the tropical zone of the Northern Hemisphere. Consequently, there are only two season types - dry and rainy, with the latter occurring twice - May/June and December/January. Fortunately, it is outside of typical hurricane and tropical storm paths, so it is able to escape the seemingly yearly devastation that often hits its other Caribbean siblings. Annual rainfall is around 80 - 100 inches.

Temperatures vary between about 70° to about 90°, all year round, although unlike summer in North America, the coastline is cooled by the NE trade winds. This means that, although hot, some relief can be had if one is in the shade. If you'd like, you can find out what the current weather situation is in Guyana.
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Some History

Like many places "discovered" by European settlers, Guyana was first populated by the indigenous peoples of the region -- the Amerindians. This term encompasses nine aboriginal tribes - Caribs, Arawaks, Warraus, Wapisianas, Arecunas, Akawaios, Macusis, Patamonas, and Wai-wais.

European settlement began in 1615 with the Dutch West India Company, although Sir Walter Raleigh's 1595 voyage into the New World led to his subsequent accounts of El Dorado, which is believed to be in or around what is now Guyana. The Dutch established plantations on the coastline, and brought West African slaves to work these cotton and sugar plantations. The French and the English laid claim to various parts of the region at this time, using slaves to work their plantations also. The influence of the Dutch, Amerindian, British and to a lesser extent the French, can be seen in the place names that persist to the present.

From 1781 onwards, the British became the major player, and in 1814 the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were ceded to Britain. In 1831 these colonies merged to become British Guiana. In 1834 slavery was abolished and the British then brought indentured labourers from India to work on the plantations, in place of the former slaves who left. Immigrants were also encouraged to come from Europe and China, and then from India.

Pakaraima Mountains, Western Guyana. Photo courtesy of Chis Chadwick

British Guiana gained independence on May 26, 1966, giving birth to the new country of Guyana. Flag of Guyana. Click on it for the anthem of Guyana.However, as some recently de-classified US State Department information indicates, this independence was not to come easily, or without the intervention of the Kennedy Administration. At the time, there were grave US concern about the possible spread of communism in the Hemisphere, especially in light of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Covert action with a view to politically eliminating the party that would have most likely led post-independence Guyana was certainly [at least] contemplated. Whatever action was taken has certainly tainted the political climate in the country to this day.

Guyana became a Republic within the [British] Commonwealth on February 23, 1970, when the full name of the country became The Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Guyana adopted its own constitution in 1980.

The course change leading to becoming a republic, was also accompanied by a change in economic philosophy to co-operative socialism. Many industries were nationalized in keeping with this philosophy, and world events coupled with growing pains for the new country saw a persistent recession until about 1990. During that time, many Guyanese emigrated and this did not help the situation at all, since the country lost a lot of its educated expertise as well.

Guyana Dollar
Current Exchange Rate

Today, Guyana is attempting new initiatives to try to reverse the effects of the 1970's and 1980's. To this end it is making encouraging progress on many fronts.

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  Population Demographics

As a result of the history mentioned before, the population of Guyana is comprised of 6 ethnic groups -- African (40%), East Indian (51%), Chinese, Portuguese, European, Amerindian, and Mixed. With the exception of the Amerindians, all Guyanese tend to live on the coastline. The population of Guyana is estimated to be around 825,000. Mainstream religion is broken down into Christian (57%), Hindu (33%), Muslim (9%). The national language is English, although there are many different languages and dialects, especially among the Amerindian peoples.
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Capital of Guyana and its chief port. It is located on the eastern bank of the estuary of the Demerara River, a site chosen by the Dutch for strategic reasons to protect their settlements along the river. Georgetown, the Garden City, is abundant with tree-lined streets, avenues, and even irrigation canals (trenches) needed to drain the city located below sea level. There are botanical gardens and parks for the inhabitants to enjoy.

Many of the houses and buildings in the city are wooden and of colonial architecture, although the suburbs are quite modern in design and construction. The population of Georgetown is about 200,000.

River by Night -- Photo courtesy of Chris Chadwick
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Last Updated on : Monday, September 6, 2010
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