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Guyana - History

It is believed that the first people who arrived in Guyana were nomads who travelled from Asia as far back as 35,000 years ago.  Two distinct groups eventually established themselves within the country, the Arawak along the coast and the Carib who inhabited the interior.  It was these people that Christopher Columbus encountered when he and his crew reached the northern coast of South America early in the 16th century. 

While the Spanish were the first to arrive, they showed little interest and it was the Dutch who created settlements starting in 1616.  The Dutch West India Company established trading posts and remained in control until the end of the 18th century.  When the Napoleonic Wars broke out, the territory changed hands between the Dutch, British and French.  The British however, were the eventual victors when Napoleon was defeated in 1815.  By 1831, the colonial settlements of Essequibo, Demerara and Berbice were united to become British Guiana.

With the abolition of slavery in 1834, much of the population refused to work any longer on the plantations for such low wages and instead created their own villages in the bush.  The British needed labourers for the plantations and so they brought in workers from India.  As a result, Indians now make up the largest racial group in Guyana.  Other immigrants from America, Europe and China also came to Guyana in the 19th century.

Guyana remained a colony until 1953 when a new constitution brought home rule.  Two political parties were established, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the People’s National Congress (PNC).  The PPP found support amongst the Indian populations while the PNC found favour with the ethnic African population.  The PPP won elections in 1957 and 1961 when internal self-government was granted.  In 1966, both parties formed an alliance, becoming an independent member of the British Commonwealth.  The name of the country was changed from British Guiana to Guyana.  In 1970, Guyana became a republic and elected a president. 

While parts of Guyana’s history have been clouded by tensions between its ethnic populations, today, the country is emerging as a unique tourist destination.  With 85% of the country covered by pristine rainforest and incredible wildlife viewing opportunities, ecotourism is a major draw for travellers to Guyana.  Visitors searching for adventure and nature lovers alike will find much to do in this country that offers a mixture of Caribbean and Amazonian cultures.


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