Guiana, or Guayana, in its widest signification is the region lying between the Orinoco and the Amazon in South America, with no definitive boundaries on the west. It consists of five divisions, known respectively as Venezuelan, British, Dutch, French, and Brazilian Guiana. But Venezuelan and Brazilian Guiana being incorporated in those states, we have to describe here only British, Dutch, and French Guiana. These three colonies abut upon the Atlantic, in the order named, between Venezuela on the north and Brazil on the south. The physical conformation is practically the same in all three. Next the Atlantic is a fringe of very fertile alluvial soil, lying in many parts below the sea-level, and generally inundated in the rainy seasons, with mangrove swamps and mud-flats skirting the coast. This alluvial zone, from 10 to 40 miles wide, contains virtually the only cultivated territory in the three colonies. Beyond it the contour rises by a series of terraces up to an undulating savannah region 150 feet higher. The third and innermost division consists of the almost unexplored upland country, a plateau region ridged with mountain-chains (which rise in places to 3000 or 3500 feet), and everywhere covered with a dense primeval forest. The rivers are navigable only up to the line of the rapids and falls; communication is nevertheless principally effected by the rivers and canals. The climate.
as beseems a region lying between 1° and 8° N. lat., is hot and moist, but on the whole tolerably uniform, though the thermometer ranges from 95° to 70° F. The rainfall is heavy - 75 to 140 inches in the year. Vegetation is of extraordinary richness and luxuriance - many kinds of timber, gums, balsams, wax, bark, fibre, oil, nuts, juices, drugs, caoutchouc, sarsaparilla, cinchona, tonka beans, arnotto, angelica, cotton, tobacco, food-plants, fruits, and a prodigious quantity of creepers, ferns, tree-ferns, and flowers, including orchids. The most conspicuous branch of the fauna is the birds, including the stink-bird (a vulture), eagles, owls, humming-birds, orioles, toucans, and parrots. Mammals are represented by jaguars, tiger cats, peccaries, tapirs, deer, sloths, armadillos, ant-eaters, agoutis, capybaras, and manatees. The native Indians, who still for the most part lead a 'wild' life in the forests, constitute several different tribes, and seem to belong to two distinct stocks, indigenous tribes and Caribs.
The first Europeans to explore the coast of Guiana seem to have been the Spaniards Alonzo de Ojeda in 1499 and Vicente Pinzon in 1500. Apart from semi-buccaneering expeditions and landings, the first successful colonisation of Guiana seems to have been made by the Dutch, on the Essequibo, shortly before 1613. The English got firm footing at Surinam in 1650, and the French on the Kourou and Oyapock in 1664. Two years later the English seized both French and Dutch Guiana, but restored them in 1667, and at the same time handed over Surinam to the Netherlands in exchange for New Amsterdam - i.e. New York. During slave-holding times sugar-planting brought the colonies some degree of prosperity ; but it was very sensibly crippled by the abolition of slavery, and the cultivation of beet-root for sugar caused a serious crisis in Guiana cane-planting. Gold-mining is a progressive industry.
British Guiana, or Demerara, with a coastline of 320 miles, is separated from Dutch Guiana on the E. by the river Corentyn; on the S. and W., next Brazil and Venezuela respectively, the boundaries are disputed. Estimated area, 109,000 sq. m. The western partof the colony is diversified by chains of the Pacaraima or Parima mountain-system, which rise to some 8000 or 9000 feet in the table-topped Roraima (q.v.). The more important rivers are the Corentyn, Berbice, Demerara, Essequibo, all flowing north into the Atlantic; and the Takutu, which feeds a tributary of the Amazon. The exports embrace sugar, rum, molasses, timber, shingles, charcoal, cocoa-nuts, balata and other gums, and gold. The total value of the exports, which go principally to the United Kingdom, United States, and West Indies, fell from £3,208,000 in 1882 to £1,753,835 in 1903. The imports (mostly from the United Kingdom), which consist chiefly of flour, rice, dried fish, butter, pork, and beef, average from £1,300,000 to £1,650,000. In 1881 the pop. was 252,535, in 1901, 294,000, and included Europeans, Creoles, negroes, coolies from India, Chinese, natives of Madeira and the Azores, and some 8000 aboriginal Indians. Most of the plantation work is done by immigrant coolies from British India and by Chinese. The colony is divided into three counties, Berbice, Demerara, and Essequibo. The ports are Georgetown (q.v.), the capital, and New Amsterdam. The administration is in the hands of the governor, appointed by the crown, and two legislative councils. The colony possesses one line of railway, from Georgetown to Mahaica (21 miles long), telegraphic communication with Europe and the United States, and a good system of postage.
Dutch Guiana, or Surinam, with an area of 46,058 sq. m., and a coast-line of 240 miles, has for its boundary on the west the river Corentyn, and on the east the Maroni or Marowijn, which separates it from French Guiana - some parts on the upper Maroni being claimed both by Dutch and French. Other rivers are the Surinam, Saramacca, Coppename, and Nickerie. The greater part of the surface is covered with unexplored primeval forest, scarcely more than 210 sq. m. of the entire area being cultivated. Sugar, cocoa, gold, rum, molasses, bananas, rice, and corn are the staple productions. The total annual value of the exports is from £350,000 to £450,000, of the imports from £500,000 to £600,000. Trade is carried on principally with Holland, the United States, Britain and her dependencies. The capital is Paramaribo (q.v.). The pop., which is very heterogeneous, in 1905 numbered about 75,000, of whom nearly one-half live at Paramaribo. Included in the total are about 4000 Bush Negroes (negroes who escaped during slavery times - i.e. before 1863), and 6000 Indians.
French Guiana, or Cayenne, is separated from Dutch Guiana on the west by the Maroni, from Brazil by the Tumuc-Humac Mountains and the Oyapock, although the French claim all the coastal districts as far south as the Amazon. Taking the Oyapock as provisional boundary, the area of the colony is about 31,000 sq. m., whilst the length of coast-line is about 240 miles ; the area, as officially given, is 46,850 sq. m. Cayenne (q.v.), the capital of the colony, stands on a rocky promontory. The only considerable exports are cocoa, arnotto (roucou), and gold. The total exports and imports have an annual value of about £400,000, the exports representing but a small part of that sum. The pop. of the entire colony only amounts to about 35,000. From 1853 to 1864 an attempt was made to found penal colonies in French Guiana, all of which proved disastrous, partly owing to the un-healthiness of the climate, and partly to the harsh and ill-devised regulations. The immigrant criminals now come (since 1864) exclusively from Africa (Arabs and negroes) and Asia (Annamites). Slavery was abolished in 1848.
See Raleigh's Discovery of Guiana (1595; ed. Schomburgk, 1848); for British Guiana, various works by Schomburgk (1840-48), Brete (1868), E. im Thurn (1883), and Bronkhurst (1883); for Dutch Guiana, Palgrave (1876); and for French Guiana, French works by Mource (1874), and Ribaut (1882).