History of Guyana

The recorded history of Guyana can be dated back to 1499, when Alonso de Ojeda's first expedition arrived from Spain at the Essequibo River. The history of Guyana has been shaped by the participation of many national and ethnic groups, as well as the colonial policies of the Spanish, French, Dutch and British. The African slave rebellions in 1763 and 1823 were seminal moments in the nation's history. Africans were enslaved and transported to Guyana as slaves; on the other hand, East Indians came as indentured labourers who worked in order to provide for their families back home. Guyana's recent history is characterized in particular by the struggle to free itself from colonial rule, and from the lingering effects of colonialism.

On May 26, 1966, Guyana gained independence from Britain.

Pre-colonial Guyana and first contacts

The first people to reach Guyana made their way from Asia, perhaps as far back as 35,000 years ago. These first inhabitants were nomads who slowly migrated south into Central 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 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 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. The warlike behavior of the Carib and their violent migration north made an impact. By the end of the 15th century, the Carib had displaced the Arawak throughout the islands of the Lesser Antilles. 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 independence. 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.