What Is The Ethnic Composition Of Guyana?

People in Georgetown, Guyana. Editorial credit: tateyama / Shutterstock.com.
People in Georgetown, Guyana. Editorial credit: tateyama / Shutterstock.com.

Guyana is a country found in South America, although it is frequently regarded as part of the Caribbean largely because of its political, historical, and cultural connections to the English speaking countries of the Caribbean. Guyana shares its land borders with Venezuela, Brazil, and it covers an area of approximately 83,000 square miles. The country is the third smallest in mainland South America after Uruguay and Suriname. Guyana is a name derived from the word Guiana which was used to refer to the large region which consisted of Suriname (Dutch Guiana), Guyana (British Guiana), French Guiana, and Some parts of Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia. The following are the largest ethnic groups in Guyana. 


The Wai-Wai ethnic group belongs to the larger Carib-speaking people found mainly in Guyana and northern part of Brazil. They are part of the indigenous Amerindians who occupied most of South America. The Wai-Wai ethnic group is the smallest of all the nine tribes in Guyana, and they are found in the Southern part of the country known as Konashen near the headwaters of river Essequibo. It is estimated that there are about 1,000 Wai-Wai people in Guyana and about 2,000 in Brazil


The Macushi ethnic community is among the indigenous people of Guyana, and they are found in the border between Northern Brazil and Southern Guyana. In Brazil, they are found in the state of Roraima, and similarly, they are also found in the eastern part. Macushi ethnic group speak the Macushi language, which is also part of the Carib language family. The Macushi people in Brazil also speak the Portuguese language, and those in Venezuela speak the Spanish language, while those in Guyana speak the English language. 


The Patanoma people are the Amerindian indigenous community who occupy the region around the Pakaraima Mountains in Guyana. The Patamona people are also known as Kapon, and they are estimated to be about 5,000 people of Patamona ethnicity living in Guyana. From the archaeological evidence, Patamona people lived along the Yawong Valley and the upper parts of Siparuni River. The Kaieteur Falls was one of the most important cultural sites for the community which practice animist religion.


The Lokono ethnic group are also known as Arawak, and they are native along the coastal region of the larger part of South America. They are found in Guyana, Venezuela, Trinidad, Suriname, French Guiana, and Barbados. Currently, there are about 10,000 people of Lokono ethnic group and they speak the Arawak language. When the Spanish colonized the Caribbean region, the Lokono people among other mainland communities resisted the Spanish for a long time, and the Spanish were unable to subdue them throughout the 16th century. However, in the 17th century when the increased encouragement from other European powers, the Lokono people allied with the Spanish against their neighboring Kalina (Caribs), who had collaborated with the Dutch and the English. In the early 19th century, change in the economic situation such as the tragic ending of the plantation economy adversely affected the Lokono people, and their population declined drastically.


The Kalina ethnic group is also known as the Caribs, and they are the indigenous people native to coastal areas in South America, and they are found in Guyana and other countries such as Venezuela, French Guiana, Suriname, and Brazil. The Kalina ethnic group speaks the Cariba language known as Carib. Kalina people could be related to the island Caribs of the Caribbean, although the language is unrelated.


Wapishana is one of the indigenous ethnic groups of Guyana, and they are also found in Brazil. According to the estimates of 1981, there were approximately 5,000 people of Wapishana ethnic group, and they occupied the southern part of Guyana which borders Brazil. In Guyana, they are found mainly in the Rupununi region, particularly along Tacutu and Kwitaro rivers. The Wapishana language is categorized as one of the Arawak language families. Traditionally, the Wapishana practiced polygyny although the practice has almost disappeared, possibly because of the pressure exerted by the missionaries.


The Pemon people are one of the indigenous communities in Guyana, and they are also found in the neighboring countries of Brazil and Venezuela. The Community is also known by other names such as Aricuna, Arecuna, Taurepang, Kamarakoto, Jaricuna, or Pemong. The Pemon ethnic group speaks Pemon Language, which is part of the Cariban language family. Other Cariban languages include Macushi, Mapoyo, Tualipang, Kamarakoto, Ingarikó, and Arekuna.


Akawaio ethnic group is part of the indigenous people of Guyana, and they are also found in the neighboring countries of Brazil and Venezuela. Akawaio is closely related to Ingarikó and Kapon ethnic groups. It is estimated that the Akawaio are about 5,000 to 6,000 people and they speak the Akawaio language in all three countries. Traditionally, the Akawaios were polytheistic, and currently, they are farmers planting crops such as sugarcane, cotton, bananas, yams, and calabash. 


The Warao ethnic group is among the indigenous ethnic community found in different parts of South America. They are found in Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and Venezuela. The word Warao translates to “the boat people,” which indicates their lifelong association with water. They are estimated to be about 20,000 people of Warao ethnic group in Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago, and the majority of them are found in Venezuela. The Warao people speak the Warao language.

Official Languages in Guyana

English is the only official language in Guyana, which is used in government offices, for educational purposes, in media, and other services like trade. However, the majority of people in Guyana speak Guyanese Creole as their native language. The Creole is based on English with some influence from East Indian and African languages. A minority also speaks the Cariban language, while the Indic language is used for religious and cultural purposes only. Guyana is the only nation in South America with English as its official language. Spanish and Portuguese are also taught in schools, and they are gaining popularity as second favorite foreign languages in Guyana.


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