Guyana: Culture & History
Guyana is located on he northern portion of South America. It has as its capital, Georgetown where most of its people reside. Guyana has a population of a little over three-quarters of a million people of which 51% is East Indian, 43% Afro-Guyanese, 4% percent Amerindians and 2 percent are Europeans and Chinese and Americans. Its major industries are sugar, bauxite, alumna, gold, timber, shrimp and diamonds. The size of Guyana foods is about eighty four thousand square miles. The official language of Guyanese is English, but there are some local dialects that also prevail.
Guyanese foods is distinctive and is usually based on seafood or Creole dishes like pepperpot, a spicy stew that is cooked in bitter cassava juice. East Indian dishes such as roti and curries are prevalent along with Chinese foods. The beverages found there include beer, Russian Beer rum, brandy, whisky and delicious fruit punches. The visual arts, especially painting and sculpture, are highly developed, and one displayed at special exhibitions in Georgetown. Cricket and soccer are the major outdoor sports while poet and novelist E.R. Braithwaite has international acclaim.
The majority of the East Indian populations are members of the Hindu religion along with a substantive group being members of the Muslim religion. The majority of Afro-Guyanese populations are of the Christian faith but some of them are Black Muslim, Methodist and Seventh Day Adventists.
The original inhabitants to this country were the Arawak Indians who were later joined by the Carib Indians. They called this country Guiana, which means "land of waters". The Caribs were more warlike and eventually killed or drove the Arawaks to the Antilles, Greater and Lesser islands.
Europeans in their zest for gold and diamonds fought some epic battles for the control of Guiana. The chief European antagonists were the Spanish, French, Dutch and the British. European settlement first took place in 1615, when the Dutch West Indian Company erected a fort and depot on the lower Essequibo River. Guyana has three main rivers, which are the Essequibo, Demerara and the Berbice. The main cities in Guyana are Georgetown, Berbice, Bartica, all of which lie around the main rivers, and Linden, which is a bauxite town, located in the interior.
The Europeans brought diseases to the country and one of the main diseases was smallpox, which decimated the Indians. Other Indians were killed trying to protect their lands and there were forced to flee into the interior. Sugar thus became the dominant crop in the country. The Dutch established the colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice. While the Dutch were busy establishing sugar cane fields around the Demerara River, the British were busy establishing sugar and tobacco plantations west of the Berbice River. Inevitably, these two European powers constantly clashed and parts of the land changed several times. However, by 1796, Britain had become the main power and those sugar plantations that had flourished for the Dutch now became British controlled. After the Napoleonic wars had finished, the three colonies were ceded to Britain at the Congress of Vienna, and, and in 1831, were consolidated as British Guiana. The Dutch traded with the Indian peoples of the interior, and established riverside plantations that were worked on by African slaves.
Slavery was abolished in 1834, which forced many plantations to close or look for another labour source. The British solved one problem by shipping indentured workers from India. They were some 250,000 laborers entered Guyana between 1846 - 1917, which dramatically transformed the country's demographic balance, and creating the basis for persistent ethnic tensions. Indentured laborers were also brought into Guyana from Portugal and China, but in lesser numbers, and, all indentured laborers were brought in to replace the freed black slaves. Many of the Afro-Guyana former slaves moved to the towns and became the majority urban population. The majority of the Indo-Guyanese remained in the rural areas.
Almost 90 percent of Guyana's inhabitants live in the narrow coastal plain while the majority of the country is blessed by its vast tropical rainforests and savanna teeming with wildlife. Should the government decide not to destroy nature's immense beauty, Guyana could become the eco-tourism destination of the future. In addition, Guyana has many falls; the most famous is the Kaiteur Falls, which have a hydro-dam that produces electricity for most of the country.
Guyana achieved its 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 was diversified through the production of rice, timber and bauxite. Guyana experienced a brain drain as early as the late 1960s, and, as there are so few people for such a large country, it is experiencing a problem of how to stay competitive in the world. It has also encountered border disputes with its neighbours, Venezuela and Suriname.
Guyana has a huge foreign debt and the I.M.F., its European cohorts and transnational companies have been exerting intense pressure to let the Guyanese government grant concessions to mining and logging its natural resources.