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British Guiana, Commonwealth of Nations, abolition of slavery, Dutch colony, South American nation

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Guyana, country on the northern coast of South America. It was formerly a British colony known as British Guiana. In 1966, after more than 150 years of colonial rule, British Guiana achieved independence and took the name Guyana, from a Native American word meaning “land of waters.” The country’s full name is Cooperative Republic of Guyana. Today, Guyana is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an association of nations that once formed the British Empire. It is the only English-speaking country in South America. Georgetown is its capital.

Although Guyana is a South American nation, it has more in common with the smaller islands of the West Indies, with which it shares certain cultural, historical, and economic characteristics. Like most of the smaller islands that dot the eastern Caribbean, Guyana was not settled by the Spanish and Portuguese. Guyana was originally a Dutch colony that came under British control in the late 18th century.

The cultivation of sugarcane dominated Guyana’s economy beginning in the early 18th century. The introduction of sugar production brought dramatic changes in the population. The European colonists imported large numbers of Africans to work the fields as slaves. Later, following Britain’s abolition of slavery in the 1830s, workers arrived from the Indian subcontinent to work as laborers on the plantations. By the end of the 20th century, Indians and Africans were the largest ethnic groups in Guyana.

Since independence, political parties have formed along ethnic lines, and moderately left-wing governments have ruled Guyana. African Guyanese dominated the government until the 1990s, when a political party associated with Guyanese of Indian descent gained control of the government.


For younger readers

Gritzner, Charles F. Guyana … in Pictures. Lerner, 1992. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Jermyn, Leslie. Guyana. Marshall Cavendish, 2000. For readers in grades 6 to 9.

Morrison, Marion. Guyana. Scholastic, , 2003. For readers in grades 5 to 9.


Abrams, Ovid. Metegee: The History and Culture of Guyana. El Dorado, 1998. A much-needed history of the culture and customs of the country.

Herman, Marc. Searching for El Dorado: A Journey into the South American Rainforest on the Tail of the World's Largest Gold Rush. Doubleday, 2003. A story of adventure in post-colonial Guyana.

Manley, Robert H. Guyana Emergent: The Post-Independence Struggle for Nondependent Development. G. K. Hall, 1979. Schenkman, 1982. Brief review of Guyana's first ten years of independence.

Merrill, Tim L. Guyana and Belize: Country Studies. Library of Congress, 1993. An area handbook that analyzes the political, economic, and social institutions of the countries.

Schomburgk, Robert H. Description of British Guiana. Kelley, 1970. A minor classic of 19th-century exploration; first published 1840.

Singh, Chaitram. Guyana: Politics in a Plantation Society. Greenwood, 1988. Traces the history of Guyana from the 19th through the 20th centuries.


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