Guyana

 

Population: 770,000
Area: 215,000 sq km (83,850 sq mi)
Capital city: Georgetown (pop 350,000)
People: 51% East Indian, 43% Afro-Guyanese, 4% Amerindian, 2% European & Chinese
Language: English, Creole, Hindi and Urdu
Religion: 57% Christian, 33% Hindu, 9% Muslim
Government: Democracy
Prime Minister: Samuel Hinds
President: Bharrat JagdeoGDP: US$1.8 billion
GDP per head: US$2500
Inflation: 15.5%
Major industries: Sugar, bauxite, alumina, gold, rice, timber and shrimp
Major trading partners: UK, USA, Canada, France and Japan

The Golden Arrowhead
Guyana's National Flag has FIVE symbolic colors: GREEN represents the agricultural and forested nature of Guyana, WHITE symbolizes the rivers and water potential of the country, a GOLDEN arrow represents Guyana's mineral wealth, BLACK portrays the endurance that will sustain the forward thrust of the Guyanese people and RED represents the zeal and dynamic nature of nation-building which lies before the young and independent Guyana.

One People, One Nation, One Destiny
So reads the banner displayed proudly at the base of Guyana's COAT OF ARMS.
The design consists of an Amerindian head-dress symbolizing the indigenous people of the country, two diamonds at the sides of the head-dress representing mining industry, a helmet (monarchial insignia), two jaguars holding a pick axe, sugar cane and a stalk of rice (symbolizing Guyana's sugar and rice industries), a shield decorated with the National Flower (Victoria Regia Lily), three blue wavy lines representing the waters of Guyana and the National Bird (Canje Pheasant).

 

History


Guyana, a country of exceptional natural beauty, is a crossroad between the Caribbean and South America. Its Atlantic coastline stretches for over 450 miles, but the country dwells deep into the interior of the continent, where lush national forests and great rivers can be found. Guyana derives its name from an Amerindian word meaning "land of many waters."

The aboriginal inhabitants of the Guyanese coast were Carib Indians who had driven the peaceful Arawak north and westwards into the Antilles. European settlement didn't occur until 1615, when the Dutch West Indian Company erected a fort and depot on the lower Essequibo River. Sugar quickly became the main crop, and the fields were worked by mostly African slaves. While the coast remained firmly under Dutch control, the English were establishing sugar and tobacco plantations west of the Suriname River. To this early date the first regional conflicts between the two countries can be traced. In 1834, slavery was abolished forcing many plantations to close or look for another source of labor. The British solved the problem by importing workers from India. From 1846-1917, almost 250,000 laborers entered Guyana, dramatically transforming the country's demographic balance and laying the basis for persistent ethnic tensions.

Guyana achieved independence in 1966 and four years later became a cooperative republic within the Commonwealth. The sugar industry was nationalized and the country's economic base diversified through production of rice and bauxite. However, Guyana's economy was in almost permanent recession up until 1990 as it slid out of mainstream engagement with the rest of the world and experienced the exodus of much of its educated class. In 1992, elections installed the US-educated dentist Dr Cheddi Jagan as president. An aging Marxist, Dr Jagan was in danger of seeming an anachronism, but instead he led well Guyana's economic recovery. Dr Jagan's wife Janet became president of Guyana in 1997, amid protests. In summer 1999, Jagan retired from the presidency and named Bharrat Jagdeo as her successor. In March 2001, Jagdeo was reelected president, but demonstrations and occasional violence - and fires that were possibly politically sparked - have shaken Georgetown and other areas since.


Economy


Severe drought and political turmoil contributed to Guyana's negative growth of -1.8% for 1998 following six straight years of growth of 5% or better. Growth came back to a positive 1.8% in 1999 and 3% in 2000. Underlying growth factors have included expansion in the key agricultural and mining sectors, a more favorable atmosphere for business initiative, a more realistic exchange rate, a moderate inflation rate, and continued support by international organizations. President JAGDEO, the former finance minister, is taking steps to reform the economy, including drafting an investment code and restructuring the inefficient and unresponsive public sector. Problems include a shortage of skilled labor and a deficient infrastructure.

Culture

During the period of Colonial rule, there was much more similarity, in a cultural sense, between Guyana (then British Guiana), Suriname (then Dutch Guiana) and French Guiana (which still bears the name and is part of France) than to the rest of South America, which was and still is predominantly Spanish in culture.

The population is a little over 700,000 and composed of very different ethnic groups.The Native South American Indians (Amerindian) Tribes were the original inhabitants. Slavery brought numerous Black Africans to The Caribbean and to Guyana's shores. The practice of Indenture ship brought East Indians, who still speak Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil dialects. Chinese, Portuguese and a few other White Europeans, mostly from Great Britain, round out the population diversity.

These various ethnic groups have remained somewhat distinct, but the lines are continuously being blurred. Each group brings to the table its own style of life and culture, but an extremely strong nationalistic pride has forged and bound them into "One People, One Nation, One Destiny", which is the National Motto.

Today Guyana is a Charter Member of The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the lifestyle of the inhabitants is completely Caribbean in nature and distinctly separate from the cultures of South America. Culturally and politically this nation is a part of the Caribbean. The diversity of its population reflects in the variety of lifestyle, influenced by each distinct ethnic group.


Languages

A total of 14 different languages and dialects are spoken here. English is the Official Language. Guyanese is the Language of the people and is the most widely spoken. Guyanese and citizens of other Caribbean countries are often mistaken for each other due to the tone and lilting flow of their speech!

Style of Dress: Clothing reflects current fashions around the world, with designer gear being highly popular. Some clothing unique to Guyana is the Shirt-Jac, a combination of a shirt and suit jacket which is decorated heavily with embroidery. It is a practical invention born in response to the yearlong 80 degree average temperature that we experience here. Western dress is pretty much the standard fare.

Food

If the Language didn't convince you, then the food most definitely will!! It is Caribbean to the maximum. Strong influences of African, East Indian, Chinese and Amerindian cuisine dominate. Guyanese cooking reflects all of these intertwined with each other in a heavenly blend of spices tastes and scintillating taste.

Music

Guyanese Music covers the range from Caribbean, to African, East Indian and American popular music. Reggae, Calypso, East Indian, Rhythm and Blues, Folk Songs, Jazz, Blues, and Comfah music (very rhythmic music played at occult séances) are among the sounds you will hear in Guyana.

Post-Colonial Implications

Border Disputes


All of the area west of the Essequibo River is claimed by Venezuela; Suriname claims area between New (Upper Courantyne) and Courantyne/Kutari rivers.

In the pre-1899 period, the British Government, which ruled Guyana then, claimed ownership of the entire basins of the Essequibo River, including those of its main tributaries, the Mazaruni and Cuyuni. Venezuela, which had claimed almost the entire area west of the Essequibo River, was awarded the upper Cuyuni basin by the international Arbitral Tribunal which made a "full, perfect and final" settlement to the border dispute in 1899.An official border, with the full participation of the Venezuelan Government, was surveyed and drawn shortly after. However, in 1962, Venezuela declared that it no longer recognized the 1899 Award, and re-stated its claim to Guyanese territory west of the Essequibo River. Since then, a controversy has dragged on and has now reached a stage where the Secretary General of the UN is in the lengthy process of finding a practical solution to the existing issue.

From time to time, the Government of Suriname has made claims to New River triangle, an area of about 6000 square miles (about 15,600 square kilometers) of Guyana's territory located on the south-eastern corner of the country. Suriname has also claimed the entire Courantyne River as its territory, and this itself has caused some controversy. Recently, Suriname has also laid claim to a section of Guyana's territorial sea.

A quote from Guyana's president Bharrat Jagdeo in a statement on June 8, 2000 explains well the country's position on the matter:
". . . I wish to reiterate that Guyana has always viewed as important the development of harmonious, peaceful and productive relations with our neighbors. Let me underscore the need for friendly relations between Guyana and Suriname which should be conducted on the basis of understanding and mutual respect within the context of the rules and principles of international law. However, I would like to assure the citizens of Guyana that my Government will not accept any threats or, or the resort to, the use of force by any external actor against this nation state. My Government stands firm on the maintenance of Guyana's sovereignty and will take whatever action necessary to preserve and protect its territorial integrity".

Authors

Bascom, Harold
Works:

Apata

In 1959, the year Queen Elizabeth of England visited the country, newspapers in British Guiana reported a manhunt taking place deep within the forest. Apata is an imaginative reconstruction of the life of the man at its center, a charismatic young Guianese whose hopes of a brilliant future are frustrated by the color of his skin. Despite his obvious abilities, he cannot complete his education, and is forced instead to take up ignominious work for Glenn, a white homosexual trader. Trapped by a system of prejudices, and deeply humiliated, Apata is pushed into a cycle of crime that leads to the life of a fugitive, and a grisly demise.

Harold Bascom's Apata is the story of victims and outcasts everywhere, a gripping adventure that confronts a confusing and hurtful period when different cultures collided.

Carter, Martin
Works:

Poesías Escogidas. Selected Poems. Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres, trans. David Dabydeen. 1999

Monar, Rooplall
Works:

Backdam People.1987.

Janjhat.1989.

High House and Radio.1992.

Estate People.1994.

Melville, Pauline

Works:

Shape-Shifter.1990.

The Ventriloquist's Tale.1997.

The Migration of Ghosts.1998.

 

Travel Tips

Visas: Visitors from most countries, except the Commonwealth Caribbean, require a visa.
Health risks: Malaria is endemic in the interior; some risk of cholera, dengue fever and typhoid.

The best time to visit Guyana may be at the end of either rainy season, in late January or late August, when the discharge of water over Kaieteur Falls is greatest. Some locals recommend mid-October to mid-May, which may be wet, but not as hot. If you want to travel overland to the interior, come during the dry seasons.

Minibuses and collective taxis link Georgetown and most towns on the coastal belt. Guyana's road network, apart from a paved two-lane stretch from the capital to Linden, is poor and deters all but the hardiest of cyclists. With almost 1000km (620mi) of navigable river, Guyana has ferry services galore. Car hire is available in Georgetown and taxis are a must if crossing the city at night.