One of the most diverse countries in the Caribbean region, Guyana is not technically “in the Caribbean”; rather, Guyana sits on the north eastern edge of South America –bounded by Venezuela on the west, Brazil on the west and south, and Suriname on the east. Strategically located, Guyana lies north of the equator with a 430-kilometer Atlantic coastline. However, Guyana’s coastal area has no well-defined shoreline or sandy beaches and is subject to shifting alluvial deposits from the many rivers flowing from the interior –hence Guyana’s reputation as the “Land of Many Waters”. However, the higher plateau area is a vast topography of Amazonian jungle that although rich in minerals is largely undeveloped and inaccessible by roads. The major natural attraction in Guyana is Kaieteur Falls, a waterfall on the Potaro River in central Guyana that, at 226 meters (741 feet), is the largest single drop waterfall in the world. To view a video excursion to Kaiteur Falls and a canoe excursion up the Essequibo River Click Here for Virtual Caribbean YouTube Video.
Culturally Guyana is more associated with the Caribbean than with Latin America and is the only English-speaking country in South America. It is also one of 4 non-Spanish-speaking territories on the continent, along with the countries of Brazil (Portuguese), Suriname (Dutch) and the French overseas region of French Guiana (French). Guyana’s population is made up of five main ethnic groups –East Indian, African, Amerindian, Chinese, and Portuguese. During the colonial era, the Portuguese were regarded as a separate group from the other Europeans (mainly British), no doubt because of their origins as indentured labourers. This practice underlines the notion of six peoples and today Guyana has a large racially mixed group descended from these early inhabitants.
Originally occupied bythe Amerindians for several thousand years, Columbus first sighted Guyana in 1498. From that point forward, Guyana struggled with multiple colonial occupations as each fought for access to the country’s vast natural resources. In a sense, the six peoples continue to reflect a legacy of those multiple colonial occupiers. As stated on one of Guyana’s official websites, Guyanese Pride:
Guyana’s past is punctuated by battles fought and won, possessions lost and regained as the Spanish, French, Dutch and British wrangled for centuries to own and exploit the country. Independence was achieved in 1966. Guyana became a Republic in 1970.There was some geographical separation, the Indians staying mainly in the rural areas, the Africans going to the cities. There was also functional separation, the Indians remaining on the plantation as sugar workers and dominating the rice industry, the African going into the civil service and the professions and as workers in urban industries and bauxite, the Portuguese and the Chinese in commerce, the Amerindian mainly in the interior. But in the last thirty years, there has been increasing integration. Large numbers of Indians have settled in the cities, entered the civil service and the professions, and taken clerical jobs.
The outcome of this mixing and mingling of peoples is a rich tapestry of cultural practices reflected in the foods, religions, and architecture of Guyana.