The Guianas: French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname (South America)

The Guianas: French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname (South America)

Tue, 08/18/2020 - 18:13

The Guianas are a region on the north-central coast of South America. Made up of French Guiana, Guyana and Suriname, also known as the "Three G's," it is the least-explored region of South America, home to a melting pot of cultures and vast unspoiled tracts of nature.

The Guianas

The Guianas are a region on the north-central coast of South America. Made up of French Guiana, Guyana, and Suriname, also known as the "Three G's," it is the least-explored region of South America, home to a melting pot of cultures and vast unspoiled tracts of nature.

The Guianas are bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, on the east and south by Brazil, and the west by Venezuela.

The Guianas span some 900 miles of coastline, from the Orinoco River in the west to the Amazon River delta in the east. The region, covering an area of approximately 468,800 sq km (181,000 sq mi), includes the following three territories:

  • French Guiana: an overseas department and region of France, the capital city is Cayenne

  • Guyana: an independent nation formerly known as British Guiana, the capital city is Georgetown

  • Suriname: an independent country formerly known as Dutch Guiana, the capital city is Paramaribo

In the broader context, the Guianas also includes the Guayana Region in eastern Venezuela (or Spanish Guyana) and the State of Amapá in northern Brazil, known as Portuguese Guiana (or Brazilian Guiana).

Boundary disputes remain unsettled between Venezuela and Guyana, Guyana and Suriname, and Suriname and French Guiana.

Political map of The Guianas, including the Venezuelan (former Spanish Guayana) and the Brazilian (former Portuguese Guiana) Guianas.

Political map of The Guianas, including the Venezuelan and Brazilian territories

History

Before the arrival of European explorers, the Guianas were populated by Arawakan-speaking groups who migrated to the Caribbean islands.

Christopher Columbus first spotted the coast of the Guianas in 1498 on his third voyage to the Americas. Still, a genuine interest in the exploration and colonization of the Guianas, which came to be known as the "Wild Coast," did not begin until the end of the sixteenth century. They became the site of sustained European exploration and conquest in the early 17th century.

Throughout the seventeenth century, the Dutch made gains by establishing trading colonies and outposts in the region and the neighboring Caribbean islands under the banner of the Dutch West India Company. British settlers also succeeded in establishing a small settlement in 1606 and a much larger one in modern-day Suriname in 1650.

The French had also made less significant attempts at colonization, first in 1604 along the Sinnamary River. However, the settlement collapsed within a summer, and initial attempts at a settlement near modern-day Cayenne (French Guiana), beginning in 1613, were met with similar setbacks. Conflict among the British, Dutch, and French continued throughout the seventeenth century.

The Dutch were the most successful early colonizers, establishing trading posts and colonies along the Demerara, Essequibo, and Berbice Rivers. They also captured Suriname from the English, where they established a significant slave society by the early 18th century.

All the colonies along the Guiana coast were converted to profitable sugar plantations during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. War continued among the three principal powers in the Guianas (the Netherlands, France, and Britain) until a final peace was signed in 1814 (the Convention of London), heavily favoring the British.

After 1814, the Guianas came to be recognized individually as British Guiana, French Guiana, and Dutch Guiana. By this time, France had sold off most of its North American territory in the Louisiana Purchase and had lost all but Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana in the Caribbean region.

Ecology

The Guianan moist forests ecoregion covers most of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. It is one of the world's most extensive continuous tracts of relatively pristine lowland tropical rainforests. The climate is hot and humid, with two rainy seasons each year.

The ecoregion is mainly covered by lowland or submontane rainforests, including marsh forests along the rivers. There are an estimated 8,000 vascular plant species, of which half may be endemic. Mammal and bird species are rich and diverse.

Caribbean South America

Caribbean South America is a subregion of South America consisting of the countries that border the Caribbean Sea: Colombia and Venezuela.

By extension, the Guianas, while not directly bordering the Caribbean Sea, are commonly included in this region because of their close ties with Caribbean countries, e.g., through membership in the Caribbean Community.