The Guianas–Overview

The overarching history of the Guianas for the last five hundred years is that of struggle against Europeans to maintain control over their rich natural and cultural resources.  Despite their remaining Colonial attachments, all three Guianan countries have extremely heterogeneous populations that are a mix of Caribbean Amerindians, Maroons (descendants of escaped African slaves), a high percentage of Indian immigrants (over 40% of Guyanans are IndoGuyanese and over 25% of Surinamese are Indo-Surinamese), and even some Jews.

While Americans are likely most familiar with Guyana as the site of the Jonestown Massacre, those at would probably rather promote the country’s biodversity (80% of the land is still rainforest), and its under-appreciated African heritage and its once-thriving industry of harvesting natural latex from the sap of the balatá tree. (From Wikipedia’s entry on Guyana: “Folk uses of balatá included the making of cricket balls, the temporary filling of troublesome tooth cavities, and the crafting of figurines and other decorative items [particularly by the Macushi people of the Kanuku mountains.]”)

Suriname is an ethnically, cultural and religiously diverse (25% are hindu) nation which is still very much a colonial outpost of the Netherlands.  In the 1667 Treaty of Breda, the Dutch chose to maintain their plantations in what is now called Suriname, declining the British offer to exchange them for the recently captured city of New Amsterdam [now New York].  Whoops.

French Guiana is still a French “overseas department,” and therefore ruled by a French prefect.   French is the official language, the official currency is the Euro, and the country is host to an important French spaceport.

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