Identification. Guyana is an Amerindian word meaning "the land of many waters." Attempts to forge a common identity have foundered, and it is more accurate to speak of African, Indian, and Amerindian Guyanese cultures. There were small European, Portuguese "colored," and Chinese communities before large-scale migration to Canada and the United States in the late 1960s. British Guiana was referred to as "the land of six peoples." Location and Geography. Guyana is on the northeastern shoulder of South America, bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by Suriname, on the northwest by Venezuela, and on the south and southwest by Brazil. The capital city is Georgetown. In an area of 83,000 square miles (212,000 square kilometers), there are three regions: the narrow coastal belt of rich alluvium; the densely forested, hilly sand and clay belt; and the Rupununi grasslands between the rain forests and the frontier with Brazil. Over 90 percent of the population lives on the coastal belt, which is below sea level. The Dutch, using African slaves in the eighteenth century, made this area habitable. Every square mile of cultivated land has forty-nine miles of drainage canals and ditches and sixteen miles of high-level waterways. Demography. The population was 758,619 in 1980. It had declined to 723,800 in 1991, and an estimated 720,700 in 1996. In 1991, the population consisted of 49 percent Indians; 35 percent Africans; 7 percent mixed race peoples; and 6.8 percent Amerindians. Indians are of the following religions: Hindu, 65 percent; Muslim, 20 percent; and Christian, 15 percent. Massive migration has led to the virtual disappearance of Chinese, mixed, Europeans, and Portuguese. Linguistic Affiliation. The official language is English. No African languages survived slavery, nor have those of the indentured laborers (Indians, Madeiran Portuguese, and Chinese). Guyanese speak creole dialects of English with varying ethnic lexical imprints. However, all dialects are mutually intelligible. Symbolism. There are few national symbols or metaphors. The national hero, Cuffy, the leader of the Berbice Slave Rebellion in 1763, is primarily an African Guyanese hero whose statue in Georgetown evokes Indian antipathy. Indians tend to identify with an India of the imagination and the Hindu and Muslim religions. Africans often look to an imagined Africa. The utopian vision of Guyana—El Dorado—created by Sir Walter Raleigh in the 1590s, claims the imagination of most Guyanese today. History and Ethnic Relations
National Identity. The colonial rulers promoted images of Britishness to inculcate loyalty to the empire, but although various ethnic groups absorbed aspects of that culture, they retained their identities. The Portuguese attempted to selectively Anglicize their Madeiran Catholic culture to stress their European-ness. Most Africans adapted British culture to an essentially African core. Indians, coming after the Africans (between 1838 and 1917), sustained a stronger sense of their national identity. This process of "creolization" affected all groups but did not forge a national culture. Ethnic Relations. After adopting British cultural idioms, the African and mixed middle class deprecated the "backward coolie" culture of Indians. The Indians, steeped in ancient notions of caste, brought rigid ideals of color and physical features to their judgment of African people, although most Indian immigrants were themselves dark. Africans and Indians thus constructed distinct
identities. A brief political compromise in the early 1950s could not moderate their mutual incomprehension. In the early 1960s, both groups violently contested the space being vacated by the British; this has left a legacy of racial hatred. Ethnic relations since independence in 1966 have been undermined by the notion that politics consists of the allocation of the spoils of power to the ruling ethnic section. Alternating ruling...