Guyana, situated on the central North Coast of South America, is a country with unique importance for indigenous rights, forest protection and climate change mitigation. It has one of the highest percentages of forest cover of any tropical country (around 80%), much of which is populated by Indigenous Peoples.
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The country is part of the Guianas, which include; Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana.
Guyana is unique as the only English-speaking country in South America, although much of the populace speaks Guyanese creole. Additionally, there are indigenous Amerindian languages spoken by the natives, who make up approximately 9.16% of the modern Guyanese population. As a former British colony, Guyana saw significant migration from British India, therefore their descendants, the Indo-Guyanese, also speak Hindi.
Guyana’s peculiar linguistic diversity is due to its unique history and the cultural legacy it has left behind. Guyana has passed through several hands since it was first colonised in 1499, firstly Spain, then the Netherlands, who faced a major revolt by African slaves in 1763, before the British took, lost and then retook control for the final time in 1803.
Slavery was outlawed in principle in Guyana by the British through the 1807 Slave Trade Act, but persisted for almost 30 more years, before finally being ended in practice in 1834.
Once they were freed, Guyanese of African descent left their plantations to set up their own freeholdings. The British also began importing workers from other parts of the British Empire, mainly India, with increased migration leading to an uptick in land disputes and greater pressure on indigenous peoples.
After a century under British control, Guyana finally gained its independence from the British in 1966.
In recent times, because of its status as a high forest-cover, low deforestation-rate (HFLD) country, Guyana has developed a reputation as a leading advocate for forest protection and climate change mitigation, giving a special relevance to rights of Indigenous Peoples. This special feature has made Guyana incredibly attractive to REDD+ schemes.
In spite of making up roughly 10% of the population and being seen increasingly as important guardians of the forests, about half of indigenous communities in Guyana are still seeking recognition of their customary land rights, whilst titling in other areas has proven incomplete, and was often carried out without sufficient community consultation. This has led to disputes, particularly where neighbouring communities have made overlapping claims.
Guyana is a key country for The Tenure Facility due to the presence of some 70,000 indigenous people in 9 distinct ethnic groups who retain strong cultural and practical links with their lands, tenure rights over which have only partially been recognised. These indigenous lands are mostly forested and make up the majority of Guyana’s exceptionally intact national forest cover.
For a timeline of land and forest rights in Guyana, click here.
To learn more about the work of the Tenure Facility’s partners in Guyana, see below.