THE EARLY YEARS
Kaieteur Falls on the Potaro River. Its 226-meter perpendicular
drop is one of the world's most spectacular.
Courtesy Embassy of Guyana, Washington
The first humans to reach Guyana belonged to the group of
peoples that crossed into North America from Asia perhaps as much
as 35,000 years ago. These first inhabitants were nomads who slowly
spread south into Central America and South America. Although great
civilizations later arose in the Americas, the structure of
Amerindian society in the Guianas remained relatively simple. At
the time of Christopher Columbus's voyages, Guyana's inhabitants
were divided into two groups, the Arawak along the coast and the
Carib in the interior. One of the legacies of the indigenous
peoples was the word Guiana, often used to describe the
region encompassing modern Guyana as well as Suriname (former Dutch
Guiana) and French Guiana. The word, which means ""land of
waters,"" is highly appropriate, considering the area's multitude
of rivers and streams.
Historians speculate that the Arawak and Carib originated in
the South American hinterland and migrated northward, first to the
present-day Guianas and then to the Caribbean islands. The peaceful
Arawak, mainly cultivators, hunters, and fishermen, migrated to the
Caribbean islands before the Carib and settled throughout the
region. The tranquility of Arawak society was disrupted by the
arrival of the bellicose Carib from the South American interior.
Carib warlike behavior and violent movement north made an impact
still discussed today. By the end of the fifteenth century, the
Carib had displaced the Arawak throughout the islands of the
Lesser Antilles (see Glossary).
The Carib settlement of the Lesser
Antilles also affected Guyana's future development. The Spanish
explorers and settlers who came after Columbus found that the
Arawak proved easier to conquer than the Carib, who fought hard to
maintain their freedom. This fierce resistance, along with a lack
of gold in the Lesser Antilles, contributed to the Spanish emphasis
on conquest and settlement of the Greater Antilles and the
mainland. Only a weak Spanish effort was made at consolidating
Spain's authority in the Lesser Antilles (with the arguable
exception of Trinidad) and the Guianas.
Data as of January 1992