New Plateaus Geography Spotlight #2: Guyana

Okay, smarty pants. Where’s the country Guyana located? South America? Africa? Perhaps by all those little islands north of Australia?

Woop, should’ve stuck with your first guess.

Little-known Guyana is in South America. And here’s the first fun fact about this place: it’s the only country in South America with English as its official language. How about that? You can travel to South America and not have to work on your baños or buenos.

First, let’s picture South America in our heads…

Got it?

Cool?

Not yet?

Alright…….

Anyway, in case you can’t, it’s that awkward ice cream cone-shaped hunk of land below North America. You know,

this:
Well, this is pretty but it doesn’t help us find Guyana, does it?

And when we think of South America we come up with places like Brazil, Venezuela, Chile, Argentina, and Colombia, perhaps. Maybe some of you can even place them on the map above.

Guyana, though, is unknown to most. So let me give you a clue: Caribbean.
And with that, you might be able to gather that Guyana is on the north coast:
Can you spot it in its lovely lavender up there?

Caribbean is more than just its geography. It’s also describes Guyana’s people and culture. We’ll get to that shortly.

First, lets stretch this article out a bit to include the trio of countries chilling up there in ont he north coast of South America–because not only are they similarly less-known. They also share a common history.

Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
This region was just one of many fought-over territories in both hemispheres by the powers from Europe in the centuries back. The Dutch, Spanish, English, French, and Portuguese all came to The New World to expand their lands and find riches. This region along South America’s north coast was known to explorers as “Guiana” or “The Guianas” or the “Wild Coast”.

Let’s zero in:
This region comprised an area that stretched from modern-day Venezuela to Brazil. In the years to follow, the three siblings sandwiched in between more so retained the Guiana namesake and European connection. Totally unique from the other countries in South America, they are fairly shunned from our South American stereotype.

Starting with our feature of this post, Guyana–formerly known as British Guiana until its independence in 1966–is the only country in South America with English as the official language. In the middle we have Suriname, its name up until 1975 was Dutch Guiana. And today, Dutch remains the official language there. And to the east, we have French Guiana, so named by English speakers to differentiate the three Guiana territories. In France, though, it is simply known as Guyane and in fact, is France. That’s right, this is not a country, but a chunk of France like Hawaii is to the U.S. And of course, French is the language there.

So in a distance of 3-400 miles, you have three European languages represented in South America. (And if you widen it out a bit more, you can include Spanish from Venezuela and Portuguese from Brazil.)

Cool, huh? By the way, “Guiana” comes from an American Indian word meaning, “land of many waters”.

But now let’s get back to our country, Guyana.

Map of Guyana

The brief history of Guyana as an independent nation involved considerable U.S. involvement. First, the U.S. backed politician, Forbes Burnham, rose to victory against the Marxist candidate, Cheddi Jagan. Burnham would rule Guyana until his death in 1985.

In 1978, the American religious group, “People’s Temple”, committed mass murder/suicide of 913 of its members in a settlement called Jonestown. But that’s a whole other, sadder article.

Let talk about Guyana’s beauty…

Guyana, not surprisingly, is gorgeous, but will surprise with the array of landscapes: coastal beaches, savannah desert, hills, mountains, and jungle, wowing with sights such as:

Kaieteur Falls

It’s rainforests are famous for their pristine condition and extraordinary wildlife such as colorful macaws, jaguars, and the rare giant otter.

Scarlet Macaws

Natural resources, and the main source of Guyana’s economy, are crops and minerals with sugar cane, rice, and gold and aluminum as their chief exports.

Who are the Guyanese? Like all New World countries, they include the Aboriginal peoples who inhabited it before Europeans arrived. Today, with the history of British rather than Spanish involvement, the ancestry of the Guyanese is mainly split between two groups–African and Asian Indian. Native peoples make up 10% of the population and slivers of Europeans and Chinese fill in the rest.

People of Guyana

With this mixed bag, Guyana has a majority of people practicing Christianity, but only by a small margin. Hindus comprise 28% of the population, and 7% are Muslim. And with the racial/religious/political  division, the Guyanese have seen their share of riots come election time while race-loaded laws are frequently being tossed about.

Culturally, the musical/artistic stylings are dominated by Caribbean-influenced colors and sounds. And with English rule and majority African/Indian ancestry, you may think you’re on a Caribbean island more than South America when in Guyana. In fact, Guyana belongs to the organization, Caribbean Community (Caricom), and the headquarters for Caricom is in Guyana’s capital, Georgetown. So next time you hear or think “Caribbean”, remember that it’s not just islands.

Guyana: Just another small country in our big planet breaking the rules of all we thought we knew.

If you like this series of lesser-known countries, let me know and/or offer a suggestion.  And, hey, if you’ve actually been to Guyana, let us know!    🙂

have an awesome day,

-Brandon

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