Guyana - Encyclopedia Information
Official name Cooperative Republic of Guyana
Formation 1966 / 1966
Population 800,000 / 11 people per sq mile (4 people per sq km)
Total area 83,000 sq. miles (214,970 sq. km)
Languages English Creole, Hindi, Tamil, Amerindian languages, English*
Religions Christian 57%, Hindu 28%, Muslim 10%, Other 5%
Ethnic mix East Indian 43%, Black African 30%, Mixed race 17%, Amerindian 9%, Other 1%
Government Presidential system
Currency Guyanese dollar = 100 cents
Literacy rate 99%
Calorie consumption 2753 kilocalories
The original inhabitants of Guyana were Carib Indians. The Dutch East India Company arrived in Guyana in 1615, followed by the English and the French. Although all of them made their own colonies in the region, the Dutch settlements were originally more dominant. Eventually, however, Britain managed to seize control of the Dutch colonies, and Guyana was renamed British Guiana in 1831. The British established sugar and tobacco plantations west of the Suriname River, but when slavery was abolished in 1834, many plantations were abandoned. So the British, looking for another cheap source of labor, shipped workers in from India, and almost 250,000 laborers from India were sent to Guyana from 1846 to 1917.
British Guiana became a crown colony in 1928 and was granted home rule in 1953. In 1950 under the leadership of Dr. Cheddi Jagan (1918–97), an Indo-Guyanese, the colony’s first political party, called the Progressive People’s Party (PPP), was formed; its aim was to liberate Guyana. In 1961 the British granted partial autonomy to Guyana, and Dr.
Jagan became the prime minister of the country. In 1966 Guyana achieved independence. Four years later in February 1970, it became a cooperative republic within the Commonwealth and thereby cut all ties with the British. Once independent, British Guiana was renamed Guyana.
After independence the first few decades saw racial unrest and disturbance between the Indians and the Africans of Guyana. Although the Guyanese are largely a peace-loving population, racial conflicts between the Indo-Guyanese and the Afro-Guyanese erupted in 1962–64 and then again after the elections in 1997 and 2001. Racial tensions are still a sensitive issue in Guyana.
Guyana was engaged in territorial and border disputes with Venezuela and Suriname in 2000. The dispute between Suriname and Guyana over the
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Guyana is flanked by Suriname, Venezuela, Brazil, and the Atlantic Ocean. In terms of area Guyana is the third smallest country in South America. The terrain of Guyana consists of rolling highlands, marshy coast, low-lying plains, thick rain forests, and savannah (areas dotted with trees). The highest point of Guyana is Mount Roraima, which stands 9,220 feet high. The longest rivers that flow through Guyana are the Berbice, the Demerara, the Essequibo, and the Corentyne.
Guyana enjoys a tropical climate and remains hot and humid throughout the year. There are two rainy seasons in Guyana: from May to mid-August and from mid-November to mid-January. Average temperatures range between 75°F and 88°F. In terms of flora Guyana is home to thick forests of trees like bamboo and mangroves, and flowering plants like yellow hibiscus and ginger lily flowers. Fauna are represented by a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals such as ocelots, tapirs, and monkeys.
Guyana has a moderate economy that is struggling with chronic problems such as lack of skilled labor and inadequate infrastructure. Agriculture is the backbone of its economy; the main crops include wheat, rice, sugar, vegetables, and fruits. The fishing industry is another significant contributor to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP). In addition Guyana has rich deposits of mineral resources like gold, diamonds, and bauxite, and many deposits remain untapped. Some of the major export items of the country are gold, diamonds, and bauxite, as well as rum, timber, shrimp, rice, sugar, and molasses.
Another problem that the country must confront is the trafficking of human beings for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Guyana is a country of origin, transit, and destination for young women and children trafficked primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
Guyana has begun to make good progress recently through the enactment of antitrafficking legislation, improvements in government coordination, and aggressive public awareness campaigns.With the help of international organizations, the government of Guyana has also introduced a number of progrowth economic policies that are focused on the development of agriculture and mining activities.
CULTURE AND LIFESTYLE
Guyana has a diverse cultural heritage that is influenced by various ethnic groups and is home to East Indians, Amerindians, Chinese, blacks, whites, and people of mixed race.
It is a multilingual society; some of the languages that are widely spoken in Guyana include English, dialects of Amerindian languages, Creole, Hindi, and Urdu. Over 50 percent of the Guyanese population follows Christianity, but the country is also home to Hindus and Muslims as well as people of other faiths.
The Guyanese love sports, and beach cricket (an informal version of the game) and football (soccer) are favorite outdoor games. Dominoes and boxing are equally popular indoor games.
Queh Queh songs are traditional Guyanese folk songs that are sung during weddings—usually the night before the wedding— by older people. Other folk songs sung by the ethnic Guyanese include boat songs, love songs, Amerindian songs (emphasizing the hunting skills of ethnic tribes), and “ring play songs” that are sung by children, usually in the rural areas on nights when the Moon is full. They are referred to as “ring play songs,” because the singers sit in a circle, and the lead singer sits in the middle of the circle. Sometimes even adults sing these songs during wakes or weddings.
Many Guyanese enjoy Caribbean music and dance, while the East Indian community enjoys their traditional folk songs and dances like the kathak (a classical dance that narrates the stories from religious literature), the bhangra (a folk dance of the Indian state of Punjab performed at the time of harvest), and the giddha (a folk dance performed by the women of Punjab’ they also sing about the woes, happiness, and loves of their life while dancing).
Some noted Guyanese literary figures include the poet A. J.
Seymour, novelist Wilson Harris, and historian Walter Rodney.
The Guyanese diet is greatly influenced by Indian and Chinese cuisine. It features a wide variety of Indian curries, a soft flat bread known as roti, seafood, garlic pork (a traditional Portuguese dish), meat, vegetable stew, and cooked vegetables, mashed potatoes, and pepper pot, a spicy stew that is cooked in the juice extracted from cassava (manioc). Popular beverages include wine, beer, rum, whisky, brandy, and fruit punches.
Ethnic Guyanese are extremely superstitious. They believe that when a bird called a belly-mema whistles, it means that there is a pregnant woman in the village.
They also believe that two pregnant women should not walk together unless one of them is carrying a piece of stick in her hand or their babies will die. Nor should a pregnant woman walk past a fire because her baby will be born cockeyed.
In order to ward off evil spirits after the birth of a child, the mother must keep a Bible and a pair of scissors under the child’s pillow. To protect the child from the evil eyes of people, a blue cloth with asafetida (a gum made from the resin of Asian plants) wrapped inside it should be tied around the child’s hand. Care must be taken while breast-feeding since any breast milk that falls on a boy’s penis will make him impotent.
Queh Queh songs are traditional Guyanese folk songs that older people sing the night before a wedding.
These songs discuss the bride and groom’s suitability for marriage, advise them on matrimonial affairs, and make jokes about their sexual skills.
Christians in Guyana solemnize their marriage in a church. On the day of the wedding, an elderly relative of the woman bathes her and dresses her in an ordinary dress. The bride is then escorted to a friend’s house to elude evil spirits that might try to possess her. At her friend’s place the bride changes into her wedding gown and gets ready for her wedding.
Tradition dictates that the bride avoid looking back while leaving the house lest she catch the attention of any wandering evil spirit. Before the bride drives away, rice and old shoes are thrown over her car to protect her from any harm and to wish her prosperity in her married life. The bride is driven straight to the church without stopping anywhere.
At the church the groom and his wedding party greet the bride, who is escorted to the altar by her father or guardian. When the couple is invited by the priest to exchange their wedding vows, the bride rises before her husband. The Guyanese believe that the person who rises first will die first, and every Guyanese bride hopes to protect her husband’s life at any cost. Once the couple has exchanged wedding vows and rings, they are united in matrimony and are congratulated by the assembled family members, friends, and guests.
A big reception follows the wedding. Singing, dining, drinking, and dancing are all part of the celebrations.
After the reception the bridesmaid who receives the bride’s handkerchief is believed to be the one who will marry next. The couple is expected to leave the reception hall before their guests. The bride is supposed to dance her way to the exit of the reception hall either with the groom or one of her male relatives. Elderly relatives of the bride do the household chores for her for the first three days after marriage.
When someone dies in Guyana, all the paintings and pictures in the house are covered with cloth or are turned toward the wall. The house is not cleaned until the coffin of the deceased is taken to the cemetery.
Most Guyanese bury their dead in a solemn ceremony. However to prevent the soul of the deceased (known as the jumbie) from wandering and haunting people, mourners either put mustard or corn seeds inside the coffin or place an object that the deceased liked the most when living in its hand.
The needle that was used to stitch the white shroud of the deceased is also placed in the coffin.
After burial people stop at unfamiliar places to mislead the jumbie and prevent it from following them home. To confuse the jumbie if it follows them, people leave their shoes at the entrance of their homes and enter the house barefoot. To keep the jumbie of their husbands away, widows wear blue napkins for 40 days and nights.
Hindu Guyanese cremate their dead.