Setting the scene -
The Republic of Guyana 2008
With thanks to Wikipedia
Republic of Guyana (left) is a country of exceptional beauty,
perched on the north-east corner of South America. It lies between Suriname
to the east, Brazil to the south, Venezuela to the west and the Atlantic
Ocean to the north and is the only English speaking country in the
continent. Culturally, Guyana is Caribbean and is part of the West Indies.
The Amerindians are the original inhabitants.
‘Guyana’ is an Amerindian word meaning ‘Land of
Many Waters’ - very appropriate for a country with lakes, wetlands and
mighty rivers. In the rainforests and jungles of the interior, humankind has
had little impact. Jaguars still roam the forests and the cries of howler
monkeys echo eerily. Flashes of scarlet, yellow and blue burst through the
forest’s intense green as macaws fly like arrows across a clearing. Toucans
and awesome Harpy Eagles are but two of the 700 species of indigenous birds.
Dense rainforests and tumbling rivers display extraordinary beauty such as
the Kaieteur Falls (shown below) - where the 140 metres wide Potaro River plunges
majestically 250 metres downward.
Georgetown, the capital city, has a vibrant
character and graceful beauty reflecting its exceptional cultural history
and diversity. Designed by the Dutch, Guyana’s capital has wide tree-lined
avenues, lily-covered canals and many fine examples of colonial buildings.
Guyana is not affected by hurricanes, tornadoes
or earthquakes, but flooding occurs during the rainy season. The country
covers 216,000 square kilometres (183,000 square miles) and has four
distinct ecological zones: The Coastal Land is a low, narrow plain about 25
kilometres (15 miles) wide and is partly below sea level. The coastline is
dissected by rivers and many smaller creeks and canals. This plain remains
one of the country’s most productive sugar and rice plantation areas.
The Sand Belt lies south of the coastal plain
and occupies about 25% of the country. The soil is suitable mainly for
valuable timber, and bauxite (aluminium ore) mines are found here.
The Highlands contain the country’s mountain
ranges where the richest gold and diamond mining fields are to be found.
There is heavy rainfall and constant heat. The population is sparse except
for loggers, miners and balatableeders. (Balata is the familiar name for a
bully tree whose gum is used in golf balls and machinery belts).
The Interior Savannahs comprise 5.5% of the
country and are made up of dry, gently rolling grassland, with clumps of
trees and several small villages.
Between 1616 and 1746, the Dutch established
three colonies in Guyana. The British assumed control in the late 18th
century and, in 1814, the three colonies became a single British colony
known as British Guiana. The Dutch and British transported enslaved Africans
to work on the sugar plantations. At the abolition of slavery in 1834, most
of the former slaves established free villages. This led to the introduction
of new ethnic groups into the country through indentureship, primarily from
Portugal, India and China. Gradually, a class of black professionals
developed and sought a role in the political life. A cosmopolitan population
developed, comprising Amerindians, Africans, Chinese, Europeans, Indians,
Portuguese and a variety of mixed ethnic groups.
Government and Economy
Guyana gained political independence from the
United Kingdom in May 1966 but was still a constitutional monarchy within
the British Commonwealth. Four years later, on 23 February 1970, it was
granted republican status and renamed ‘The Cooperative Republic of Guyana’.
It remains within the Commonwealth and has diplomatic relations and
associations with a wide range of nations and international organisations
including the European Union, the United Nations and the Organisation of
Guyana’s Constitution provides for the holding
of national and regional elections every five years. Every citizen of Guyana
or any Commonwealth citizen domiciled and resident in Guyana is entitled to
vote from the age of 18. On the basis of this Constitution, the President
became both Head-of-State and Head of Government. The current President,
Bharrat Jagdeo, was elected in 1999. The economy benefits from the country’s
natural resources including fertile agricultural lands, a range of
diversified mineral deposits and significant acreage of tropical forests.
Sugar and rice, bauxite, gold, and timber are the primary products exported.
The sugar industry accounts for 28% of all export earnings. After the
country gained independence in 1966, the economy enjoyed substantial growth,
with consistent internal and external balances. However, in the late 1970s,
Guyana experienced severe economic imbalances stemming mainly from global
shocks and the economy’s serious internal weaknesses.
By 1989 inflation had reached 120%. The
implementation of a rescue package from the International Monetary Fund
resulted in a reversal of these trends and a continuous growth and
development in the country. Guyana qualified as a Heavily Indebted Poor
Country (HIPC), making it eligible for substantial debt relief, resulting in
lower and more sustainable debt levels and reduced poverty. The second major
source of foreign exchange for the country is the money sent home from the
large migrant population that emerged in the 1970s. It is estimated that
500,000 Guyanese live and work in the USA and Canada (the total population
of Guyana is approximately 750,000). The shortage of skilled labour and a
deficient infrastructure are chronic problems for the economy.
Guyana’s education system, which at one time
was considered to be among the best in the Caribbean, deteriorated in the
1980s due to the emigration of highly educated people and lack of funding.
Although it showed a remarkable recovery in the 1990s, it still does not
produce the quality of students necessary for the country to modernise its
workforce. There is a lack of trained teachers at every level. The mission
statement for education is: ‘To illuminate illiteracy; to modernise
education; to strengthen tolerance.’ Education to secondary school level is
free and is modelled on the former British system. Government scholarships
are available for undergraduate study at the University of Guyana, as well
as other institutions and overseas universities. These are designed to
channel students into fields vital to the country’s development. Women have
continued to perform well at university level. At secondary level, although
more females enrolled than males, their drop-out rates caused concerns.
Government supported agencies launched special programs to provide school
drop-outs training in non-traditional skills. In 2001 more than 100 women
graduated from the first cycle and secured jobs with private companies.
Another group, mainly from secondary schools, benefited from a programme
funded by the Inter-American Development Bank which has equipped them with
new skills to enter the world of work.
Guyana has a comprehensive health care system
accessible in all 10 administrative regions of the country. There are five
levels of care: health post, health centre and district, regional and
referral hospitals. Emphasis is placed on primary health care and
complemented with curative medicine. Private institutions, the municipality
and non-governmental organisations also contribute to the health care
system. Included in the major concerns of the health care system are
maternal and child health, environmental health, health education, food and
nutrition and rehabilitation. Herbalists are also involved in the health
The maternal mortality rate during childbirth
is 124 for every 100,000 births. Comparable figures for other Caribbean
countries are 50 for Barbados, 75 for Trinidad and 100 for Jamaica. Guyana
is very much involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS and there is growing
concern about the increase in the proportion of women infected. A number of
nationwide programs highlight measures such as awareness raising,
dissemination of information, sensitisation and the change of attitudes
towards testing for HIV/AIDS. A Presidential Committee coupled with the
implementation of a National Strategic Plan has resulted in positive
Churches in Guyana
The population is 52% Christian (of which 65%
are Protestant and 35% Catholic), 34% Hindu, 9% Muslim and 5% other ethnic
religions. During the European colonisation of the New World, each nation
took its church to the colonies it owned and British Guiana and Dutch Guiana
became the only Protestant countries on the South American continent.
The first Europeans were the Dutch who, in
1616, brought with them the Dutch Reformed Church, the Dutch Lutheran
Churches and German Moravian Missions. They built the first Protestant
churches in South America. In 1803, the English gained possession of the
colonies of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice, and brought the Anglican Church
and Scots Presbyterian Church. In 1889, the foundation stone for the
landmark St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Georgetown was laid in British
Guiana. It is now known worldwide as the tallest wooden building in the
The Methodist Church, the Congregational
Church, the Church of the Brethren, The Salvation Army and other English
churches came as free churches. In the 19th century the Catholic Church came
as a free church and it became the church of the indentured Portuguese
In 1815, the Methodists were given permission
to enter British Guiana and work among the slaves. After emancipation they
took their place among other churches which were assisting in the building
of schools and churches. Before and after World War II, United States
missionary organisations began establishing their churches in the Guianas -
the Pilgrim Holiness (now renamed Wesleyan Church), the Church of the
Nazarene, the Assembly of God Pentecostal Church and the Southern Baptist
Church. Some Carib-speaking tribes of the Amerindians have created a new
Guyanese religion – the Hallelujah – heavily based on Christianity but
incorporating elements from the original Amerindian systems of belief and
Women in Guyana today are the beneficiaries of
those courageous women who dared to challenge customs, practices and
negative and inhuman structures which had hindered their growth and
development. These women participated in slave rebellions - struggling for
freedom in their own way against colonialism and discrimination, recognising
that these struggles were bound up with their quest for the rights of women.
In 1945, the first women’s political, social
and economic organisation was established. This marked a new era in the
status of women in Guyana. Its mission was to lobby for the improvement of
women socially and economically. Adult suffrage was finally achieved in 1953
and the first three women parliamentarians were elected.
In 1976 the foundation for further legislative
procedures was laid, aiming to remove all forms of discriminatory practices
against Guyanese women. In 1996, the first female Prime Minister was
elected, followed by the first female President one year later. There was
also a female Chief Justice and a female Director General of Foreign
Affairs, with an increased representation of women in Parliament and Local
Government. For the first time, a woman of Amerindian background held
Ministerial Office with the portfolio of Amerindian Affairs; the position of
Chancellor of the Judiciary was held by a woman who has the honour of being
the first woman judge to be appointed to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Guyanese women are represented at high levels at the United Nations and
other international meetings.
Guyana faces a great challenge with respect to
domestic violence against women and to a lesser degree against men. This
critical issue is now in the open, allowing for a more realistic assessment
of the situation. Legislation and different agencies are now in place to
respond to and manage this serious problem. Domestic violence has been
linked with human trafficking and this is being addressed through education
and other measures.
Two aspects strongly influence Guyanese
culture: the proximity to, and affinity with, the Caribbean islands and
their peoples, and the large, diverse ethnic population. So you will
frequently hear reggae, steel bands and calypso music in a carnival
Festivals, both religious and secular, abound.
Mashramani, is the big, annual secular event - a blend of music, art and
spectacular pageantry in which all Guyanese celebrate their national
independence. For Christians there is the traditional celebration of peace
and goodwill at Christmas, and Easter is celebrated with nationwide kite
flying. Hindus celebrate Deepawali, when the triumph of good over evil is
symbolised by the lighting of thousands of small lights and the singing of
tuneful religious songs. For Muslims, the celebration of Youman Nabi is the
observance of the birth of the Prophet, while Eid-Ul-Fitr is a festival
celebrating triumph after a period of fasting, when gifts of food are shared
with the poor.
The crafts and folklore of the Amerindians
still remain. Crafts such as pottery, painting, jewellery and basket work -
all in traditional styles - are widely available. Rich in folklore, their
stories are not for the faint-hearted. They often feature the Jumbee, a
terrifyingly grotesque spirit said to eat people unlucky enough to make
contact with them!
The Amerindians are generally not very well
assimilated into Guyanese society. Their thatched houses, often built on
stilts, form small communities each with its own Chief. The headdress the
Chief will wear is of feathers and is known as 'the Cacique Crown'. (More............here). Popular sports are
cricket and football, and the West Indies cricket team has Guyanese players. There is a good, varied cuisine from the contributions of many
ethnic groups, enhanced by the addition of spices and high quality local
produce. With all the diversity of their background and ethnic groups, the
people of Guyana are fulfilling their national motto – ‘One people, one
nation, one destiny.’