Since it is one of the smallest and poorest nations in South America, Guyana often finds itself overlooked by the rest of the world. However, massive oil discoveries have been made beneath its waters in recent years. Hence, in the foreseeable future, it will become one of the richest countries not just in South America, but probably, in the entire world. And when that happens, more and more people will surely begin to pay attention to this country. But why wait until then? Check out the following list of nine interesting facts about Guyana, and get acquainted with the country right now.
1. Guyana means “land of many waters”
Guyana derives its name from the word “Guiana,” which comes from an indigenous Amerindian language. It means “land of many waters,” alluding to the more than 50 rivers flowing through the country, an interesting fact about Guyana. Among these rivers, the major ones are the Corentyne, the Berbice, the Demerara, and the Essequibo.
In the past, “the Guianas” was used to refer to the region comprising of the entire territories of Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, as well as parts of Columbia, Venezuela, and Brazil. Today, the official name of Guyana is the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
2. It is South America’s sole English-speaking country
In a continent where Portuguese and Spanish are the most widely spoken languages, Guyana is the only country that speaks English. None of the other 11 sovereign states in South America have English as their official language. In this country, English is used for government, administration, media, education, and services. However, in an informal setting, you’ll find the use of the English-based creole language known as the Guyanese Creole. It is the native tongue of the majority of the population.
3. About 90 percent of its population lives in just 10 percent of its land
The total population of Guyana is below 0.8 million, while its total area is 83,000 square miles. Hence, its population density is quite low – on average, about 10 people reside in each square mile. In reality, however, the country would seem a lot more crowded.
This is because around 90 percent of the Guyanese people live in the coastal plain, which occupies not more than 10 percent of the country’s territory, a fun fact about Guyana. In this narrow strip of land, the population density is around 300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s due to this reason that over 70 percent of the country’s territory is still covered in pristine, untouched rainforest.
4. Guyana is home to the world’s largest single-drop waterfall
In Guyana, you’ll find an immensely powerful and extremely beautiful waterfall located on the Potaro River. This waterfall goes by the name of Kaieteur Falls. With a height of 741 feet and an average flow rate of 23,400 cubic feet per second, it is the largest single-drop waterfall in the entire world. Also, it claims the second spot in the World Waterfall Database’s list of highest-rated waterfalls across the globe.
5. It is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in South America
South America as a whole can be dubbed as an ethnically heterogenous region. And in this continent, it is one of the most ethnically diverse countries, a fun fact about Guyana. The majority in the country are the Afro-Guyanese, the descendants of slaves brought from the coast of West Africa. They make up 39.8 percent of the population. In no other South American country except Peru, you’ll find the ethnic majority constituting a lower percentage of the populace than that of the Afro-Guyanese.
In the country, the largest minority are the Indo-Guyanese, the descendants of indentured laborers brought from the Indian subcontinent. They make up 29.3 percent of the population. Guyanese of mixed heritage amount to 19.9 percent, with the indigenous Amerindians constituting 10.5 percent.
6. The country has the highest suicide rate in the entire world
Suicide is a major public health issue in Guyana. According to the World Health Organization, the country witnesses 30.2 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 population. That’s the highest suicide rate on the face of the planet, nearly three times higher than the global average. In this country, men are 3.2 times more likely to commit suicide than women. Around 40 percent of the suicides are committed by consuming agricultural pesticides.
7. It’s also the country where one of the most infamous mass suicides in the world took place
In 1978, Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones and 900-plus members of the cult took their own lives at Jonestown, a remote settlement in northwestern Guyana. Jones and his nurse Annie Moore died from gunshot, while everyone else killed themselves by drinking a soft drink named Flavor Aid, laced with cyanide and some tranquilizer drugs.
Although the incident took place in Guyana, none of the dead were Guyanese nationals. Jones and the cult members were all citizens of the United States. Prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, no deliberate act had resulted in a larger single loss of American civilian life than the Peoples Temple mass suicide.
8. It is the only country in South America where homosexuality is illegal
Guyana is culturally more similar to a Caribbean nation than it is to a South American nation. This is probably why, unlike any South American country and like many Caribbean countries, it has yet to legalize homosexuality. Any male involved in a homosexual act could end up spending two years in prison. Moreover, heterosexual anal and oral sex are also illegal in the country, and could lead to lifetime imprisonment. Thankfully, however, these laws are barely enforced, an interesting fact about Guyana.
9. The most successful lawyer in the world was a Guyanese national
According to the Guinness World Records, if someone deserves the moniker of the “most successful lawyer,” it’s Sir Lionel Luckhoo from Guyana. No, this Georgetown-based, Indo-Guyanese lawyer wasn’t involved in a “trial of the century.” However, he did succeed in getting as many as 245 murder-charge acquittals in a row. That’s an unprecedented accomplishment for a lawyer. Luckhoo practiced law from 1940 to 1985, before passing away in 1997. That must be a bummer for anyone charged with murder today.
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