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Guyana Travel Guide

Guyana — History and Culture

Guyana was a Dutch colony in the 17th century until it was claimed by the British Crown in 1815.  Remnants of these colonial eras are still evident in many cultural traditions as well as influence from the native indigenous tribes. 

History

The Arawak tribe on the coast and Carib people inland were the initial inhabitants of Guyana before the Dutch seized control. These indigenous groups were the first to meet Columbus when he arrived in the 16th century. The Spanish did not find Guyana attractive, so they didn’t settle, but the Dutch thought otherwise and began colonizing by 1616. They established a trading post on the mouth of the Essequibo River, which the Dutch West India Company controlled. They maintained power over Guyana until the 18th century when the Napoleonic Wars occurred. In 1815, Britain won and Guyana became British Guiana, until it finally gained independence several years later. However, the new nation was run like a colony until 1953.

Slavery was abolished in 1834, so plantations imported Indian laborers. These new people from India formed the largest racial group in Guyana, yet they lived mostly in the agricultural areas like Demerara. Today, there are European, American and Chinese immigrants as well as Africans descended from the slaves.

Guyana was granted self-governance in 1961 with full independence coming in 1966. Forbes Burnham emerged as the country’s leader and along with Desmond Hoyte, won every election from 1966 until 1992, when a Cheddi Jagan coalition ousted their political party. In 1997, Cheddi Jagan died and his widow, Janet Jagan took over. She stepped down two years later because of poor health and was replaced by Bharrat Jagdeo, the finance minister at the time. Samuel Hinds became prime minister in 1997.

Guyana currently deals with unresolved border issues with Venezuela which are currently monitored by the United Nations. There is another border dispute between Guyana and Surinam, concerning territorial waters with potential gas and oil deposits.

Culture

Guyana’s culture reflects Amerindian, Nepalese, Indian, Chinese, and African influences, as well as British, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish facets. Despite being in South America, Guyana is considered a Caribbean nation. The culture, particularly in the coastal areas, is quite similar to that of the West Indies.

The visual arts scene is thriving, and local artists have produced notable sculptures and paintings visible throughout Georgetown. Guyana’s traditional music is a mix of European, Latin, African, and native influences. Caribbean reggae, soca, chutney, as well as American pop make up the music scene.

Football and cricket are the main outdoor sports enjoyed by the locals, while dominoes is popular as an indoor game. Minor sports like table tennis, lawn tennis, netball, squash, boxing, and rounders are widely played.

 Most of the Afro-Guyanese community is composed of Christians, with many Anglicans. The Indian population practices Hinduism, while the Muslim community is a minority.

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