Anthropology: History and Culture of Guyana

Guyana is officially the Federal Republic of Guyana. It is a country in the north of the South American continent and the capital Georgetown. Guyana crosses the Atlantic Ocean to the north, Brazil to the south and southwest, Venezuela to the west, and Suriname to the east. With 215,000 square kilometers (83,000 sq mi), Guyana is the third smallest and most autonomous country in southern South America after Uruguay and Suriname; it is also the second most populous country in South America after Suriname.

The region known as the “Guianas” consists of a large plateau north of the Amazon River and east of the Orinoco River known as the “land of water”. There are nine indigenous peoples living in Guyana: the Wai Wai, Macushi, Patamona, Lokono, Kalina, Wapishana, Pemon, Akawaio and Warao. Historically, the Lokono and Kalina tribes were ruled, Guyana was colonized by the Dutch before British rule in the late 18th century. It was ruled like British Guiana with a very prosperous economy until the 1950’s. It gained independence in 1966, and officially became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations in 1970. The legacy of the British Empire is reflected in the political and social administration, including the Indians, Africans, Amerindians, Chinese, Portuguese, and other Europeans, and various ethnic groups. In 2017, 41% of Guyana’s population lived below the poverty line.

Only this country has the South American nation in which English is the only official language. Most of the people speak Guyanese Creole, a language derived from English, as the original language. Guyana is part of the English Caribbean. It is part of the Caribbean rural region that maintains strong cultural, historical, and political ties with other Caribbean countries and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) headquarters. In 2008, the country joined the Union of South American Nations as a founding member.


There are nine indigenous peoples living in Guyana: Wai Wai, Macushi, Patamona, Lokono, Kalina, Wapishana, Pemon, Akawaio and Warao. Historically, the Lokono and Kalina tribes ruled Guyana. Although Christopher Columbus was the first European to see Guyana on his third voyage (1498), and Sir Walter Raleigh wrote an account in 1596, the Dutch were the first Europeans to establish colonies: Pomeroon (1581), Essequibo (1616), Berbice (1627)  and Demerara (1752). After the British took power in 1796, the Dutch officially banned the area in 1814. In 1831 the combined colonies of Demerara-Essequibo and a separate colony of Berbice, became one British colony known as British Guiana.

Since independence in 1824, Venezuela has replaced the land west of the Essequibo River. Simón Bolívar has written to the British government warning of immigrants from Berbice and Demerara living in the country the people of Venezuela, as the supposed heirs of Spanish claims in this 16th-century area, which they claim to be theirs. In 1899 an international court ruled that the land belonged to Great Britain. The British territorial claim is based on Dutch involvement with the local colony and dates back to the sixteenth century, provided by the British.

Guyana gained independence from the United Kingdom as a state on May 26, 1966 and became a republic on 23 February 1970, still a member of the Commonwealth. Shortly after gaining independence, Venezuela began communicating, economically and militarily, in Guyana with the aim of forcing its territory in Guayana Esequiba. The US State Department and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), along with the British government, also played a key role in influencing political control in Guyana during this time. The American government supported Forbes Burnham during the early years of independence because Cheddi Jagan was identified as a Marxist. They provided secret financial support and political campaign advice to Burnham’s People’s National Congress, damaging the Jagan’s People’s Progressive Party, which was largely supported by the East Indian Guys.

In 1974, the Guyana government leased 1,500 acres (3,800 hectares) of land to Peoples Temple, a new American religious organization led by pastor Jim Jones. The settlement, informally named “Jonestown”, eventually grew to about a thousand people, most of whom emigrated from America. In 1978, Guyana received worldwide attention when 909 people committed suicide in Jonestown by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. The day before that, the U.S. Congress Leo Ryan was visiting and visiting the residence as part of the investigation. As he prepared to leave for Port Kaituma airport, a group of Peoples Temple members opened fire on the visiting team, killing Ryan and four others.

In May 2008, President Bharrat Jagdeo signed the UNASUR Constitutional Treaty of the Union of South American Nations. The Guyan government officially ratified the agreement in 2010. [18]

Culture of Guyana

Guyan culture reflects the influence of Africans, Indians, Amerindians, British, Portuguese, Chinese, Creole, Latin American and Dutch. Guyana is one of the few places in southern South America considered to be part of the Caribbean region. Guyan culture shares many similarities with island cultures in the West Indies. Indo-Guyanese or Guyanese Indians are Indians who are originally from Guyan fetching their ancestors from the Indian subcontinent. They are descendants of hardworking workers and settlers who migrated early in 1838 from India during the British Raj era.

Culture of Guyanese

Most of the Indian settlers then British British Guiana were from North India, mainly from the Birmur and Awadh provinces of the Indian Belt in the present-day provinces of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, but a small minority came from South India. Most Indians came as contract workers in the middle of the 19th century, motivated by political unrest, the great benefits of Mutiny’s 1857, and famine. Others came as traders, landowners and farmers were driven away by many similarities.

Indo-Guyanese is the largest ethnic group in Guyana identified by official census, accounting for about 40 percent of the population in 2012. There is also a large dispersal of Indo-Guyanese peoples in countries such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

Literature and Musical Visual arts

Guyanese School educating

Guyana’s historical buildings reflect the British past. Even modern houses made of wood still imitate elements of style. Many of the buildings in Georgetown and New Amsterdam were made of local wood only.

Guyana’s music culture is a blend of African, Indian, European, and Latin elements. Calypso’s favorite genre of music with its twigs and mixes, as in other parts of the Eastern Caribbean. Various genres of popular music include reggae, calypso, chutney, Soca, local Guyan soca-chutney songs and Bollywood film songs (or Indian music). Because of globalization, sounds from neighboring countries can be heard such as Merengue, Bachata, Salsa and Reggaeton. Famous Guyan actors include Billy (William) Moore, Terry Gajraj, Mark Holder, Eddy Grant, Dave Martins and Tradewinds, Aubrey Cummings and Nicky Porter. Among Guyan’s most successful producers are Eddy Grant, Terry Gajraj and Dave Martin.

Visual arts come in many forms in Guyana, but their outstanding Amerindian themes, racial diversity and nature. Modern and contemporary artists living, or native Guyana include Stanley Greaves, Ronald Savory, Philip Moore, Donald Locke, Frank Bowling, Hew Locke, Roshini Kempadoo, Leila Locke, George Simon and Aubrey Williams.

The movie story in Guyana goes back to the 1920s when Gaiety, probably the first British Guiana movie, starring Brickdam Roman Catholic Presbytery in Georgetown, and starring silent films Charlie Chaplin. After Gaiety burned down about 1926, other cinemas followed, such as Metro on Middle Street in Georgetown, which became the Empire; London on Camp Street, which became Plaza; and Astor on Church and Waterloo Streets, which opened about 1940.

The Capitol on La Penitence Street in Albouystown had a bad reputation. Metropole was on Robb and Wellington streets; Rialto, which became Rio, on Vlissengen Road; Hollywood was in Kitty; and Strand De Luxe, on Wellington Street, was regarded as a magnificent exhibition space.

Cinema chairs were clearly separated. Next to the screen, with rows of solid wooden benches, was a low pit, where the attempt to look up at the screen for several hours gave a man a stiff neck. The next section, the House, is separated from the Pit by a lower partition wall. The house usually had a row of seats but with a wooden frame that turned upside down. Above the House was part of a box, with soft, private seats and, behind the Box, a Balcony, a favorite place for couples to hang out. These cinematic disciplines almost represent the various threads that exist in colonial society.

Bidiversiy and Environment

The following areas are divided into Guyana: coast, sea, ocean, estuarine palustrine, mangrove, riverine, lacustrine, swamp, savanna, white sand forest, brown sand forest, montane, cloud forest, lowland moist and evergreen forests (NBAP, 1999). About 14 nature sites have been identified as areas for the National Protected Area System. More than 80% of Guyana is still covered with forests, those forests also contain some of the world’s lesser-known orchids ranging from evergreen and occasional forests to evergreen rain forests. These forests are home to more than a thousand species of trees. Guyana’s tropical climate, unique geology, and vibrant ecosystems support a wide range of rainforests rich in wildlife species and natural habitats with high levels of endemism. About 8,000 species of plants occur in Guyana, half of which are found nowhere else.

New gold mine project in Guyana

Guyana has one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. With 1,116 vertebrate species and 814 species of birds, it has one of the richest wildlife mammals in the world. Guyana is home to six ecoregions: the Guayanan Highlands rainforest, the Guian rain forest, the Orinoco swamp forests, Tepuis, the Guian savanna, and the Guian mangroves. The Guanaana Shield region is less well known and more biologically rich. Unlike other parts of South America, more than 70% of the natural environment remains clean. Guyana is ranked third in the world in the 2019 Forest Landscape Integrity Index with a score of 9.58  out of 10.

The rich natural history of British Guiana was described by early explorers Sir Walter Raleigh and Charles Waterton and later by naturalists Sir David Attenborough and Gerald Durrell.

Southern Guyana hosts some of the cleanest forests in the northern part of South America. Most of the forests found are tall, the evergreen mountains and lowland forests, with large tropical forest spaces along major rivers. Due to the very low population density in the area, most of these forests are still extinct. The Smithsonian Institution has identified nearly 2,700 plant species from the region, representing 239 different families, and indeed more species are yet to be recorded. Biodiversity supports the lives of a variety of animals, recently published by biological research organized by Conservation International. The waters of Essequibo’s reported fresh, unspoiled waters support the remarkable diversity of aquatic fish and invertebrates, and are home to large otters, capybaras and several species of caimans.

Boundaries Disputes

Guyana is at loggerheads with Suriname, claiming that the area is east of the left bank of the Corentyne River and New River southwest of Suriname, and Venezuela claims the land west of the Essequibo River, formerly a Dutch colony of Essequibo as part of Guayzu Eselaiba of Vene. Part of the maritime territorial dispute with Suriname was resolved by the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea, and a decision was made on September 21, 2007. A decision regarding the Caribbean Sea north of both nations found both parties violated the terms of the treaty and refused to order any compensation from either party.

Map of Guyana, showing the Essequibo River and (shaded dark) the river's drainage basin.
credit: wikipedia

When the British explored British Guiana in 1840, they included the entire Cuyuni River basin within the colony. Venezuela does not agree with this as it states that all countries west of the Essequibo River. In 1898, at the request of Venezuela, an international arbitration tribunal was convened, and in 1899 the court ruled in favor of almost 94% of the disputed territory of British Guiana. Mediation was abolished, resolved and adopted into law by both Venezuela and the UK Venezuela reiterated a settlement claim, during the Cold War of 1960, and during the Guyana Independence. The issue is now being addressed by the 1966 Geneva Convention, signed by the Governments of Guyana, Great Britain and Venezuela, and Venezuela continues to demand Guayana Esequiba. Venezuela calls the region “Zona en Reclamación” (Location of Recognition) and Venezuela’s national geographical maps are often inserted, drawn by built-in lines.

Some of the rival areas including Guyana are Ankoko Island and Venezuela; Corentyne River  with Suriname; and the Tigri Area or New River Triangle with Suriname. In 1967 the Surinamese research team was found in the New River Triangle and forcibly removed. In August 1969 the patronage of the Guyana Defense Force found a research field and airstrip that had been partially completed within the triangle, and documented evidence of Surinamese intentions to penetrate all opposing areas. After an exchange of guns, the Surinese were expelled from the triangle.


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