In The Guianas
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
WHERE THE GUTANAS ARE, AND WHAT THEY ARE-THEIR WILD LANDS, AND THEIR SAVAGE INDIANS AND BUSH NEGROES-BRITISH GUIANA, AND ITS MIXED POPULATION—A LAND OF HINDUS, CHINESE, AND NEGROES-ITS RICH SUGAR PLANTATIONS, AND HOW THEY ARE MANAGED-DUTCH GUI-ANA, THE LITTLE HOLLAND OF SOUTH AMERICA-FRENCH GUIANA, AND ITS PENAL COLONY-A LOOK AT GEORGETOWN, PARAMARIBO, AND CAYENNE.
THE GUIANAS are different from the other countries of South America in that they are colonial possessions of European Powers. British Guiana belongs to Great Britain, Dutch Guiana is owned by Holland, and French Guiana is governed by France. These three countries lie in the northeastern part of South America, and are bounded on the north by the Atlantic, on the east by the valley of the Orinoco, and on the south by the valley of the Amazon. Just where their boundaries end and where they begin is not settled. Each country claims more than Brazil or Venezuela grants to it; altogether more than 100,-000 miles are in dispute. Including the disputed territory the total area of the region is about as great as that of Texas, of which British Guiana forms the larger part. None of the countries has been much explored. The only civilized parts are in the valleys of the rivers and along the coast, where the lands are low.
Most of the country is part of a great uplifted section of northeastern South America; so bounded by the Amazon, the Orinoco, the Rio Negro, and the Atlantic ocean it is practically an island. It is not so for practical purposes, however, as in these rivers are falls which impede navigation. Much of the land is high, and not a small part of it is mountainous. Some of it is covered with forests, and other parts are grassy plains or savannas, dotted here and there with clumps of trees. These savannas have rich pastures, the grass being pale green in the rainy season, and yellow and brown in summer. On them cattle can be fed and they may at some time be the centre of a great stock-raising industry.
On most of the highlands are dense woods. There are trees along every stream, so that the prairie fires which frequently occur are never widespread. The forests are especially rich in fine woods. The Guianas have 30 varieties of palms, and in French Guiana alone there are z60 different species of trees. Among others are those which produce the Brazil nuts, wild cacao trees, incense trees, and trees that make excellent dye-woods. One tree is good for ship-building, and there are many woods fitted for fine furniture-making. The land is one of many flowers, and it has 150 different species of medicinal plants.
The wild regions of the Guianas are inhabited by savage Indians and negroes. The Indians are chiefly Caribs, of different tribes, who live by hunting and fishing. Among them are wild negroes who fled to the woods at the abolition of slavery and intermarried with the Indians. Other negroes settled in colonies along the banks of the streams and became agriculturists. These are known as bush negroes. They are semi-civilized, and some of them have independent settlements, little republics of their own. They have farms about their villages where they raise produce which they ship down the rivers and sell to the whites along the coast. One of their chief businesses is wood-cutting. They chop down the large forest trees for cabinet wood and lumber, and float them down the river to the sea. These negroes are as a rule sober and hard-working. Some of them worship the Ceiba or cotton tree, placing food at its foot. In many of the villages the citizens have equal rights, each village having a head-man or governor chosen by the people.
The chief interest in the Guianas, however, lies in their civilized colonies Let us first look at British Guiana. It is the largest, most prosperous, and most civilized of all. It is situated between the rivers Corentyne, which separates it from Dutch Guiana, and the Essequibo, which separates it from Venezuela. It is, as claimed by the British, of about the size of California. This, however, includes the land claimed by Venezuela. The settled region is on the rich lands along the coast and in the river valleys. The soil of these regions is exceedingly rich, being annually added to by the earth-washings of the mountains, which are held in by a system of dykes. The land is especially good for sugar, and it is divided up into great plantations, about seven-eighths of it being devoted to sugar-raising.
Sugar-raising is the chief industry of British Guiana. Sugar comprises five-sixths of its exports, and 90,000 people, about one-third of its population, are employed on the sugar estates. These estates were once cultivated by slaves, but since slavery has been abolished they have been worked by gangs of coolies under contract. One estate not far from Georgetown, for instance, employs 3,700 coolies, and others have on them still larger numbers.
It is the sugar plantations_ that have made the country largely Asiatic. There are less than 3,000 Europeans among its 280,000 population ; the remainder are Asiatics and Africans who were brought here to work on the sugar estates. Over 100,000 of them are East Indians, 4,000 are Chinese, and 99,000 are negroes. The labour is very carefully managed, the plantations being run on strict business principles. Some of them have a capital of more than $1,000,000. They use modern machinery, add to the richness of the land by fertilizers, and so carefully handle the cane that i6 out of the 17 per cent of sugar in it is saved.
The leading city, and in fact the only city of any size in British Guiana, is Georgetown, at the mouth of the Demerara river. The town runs for a mile along the river, with villas scattered over the plains in the rear. It is a flat town of 53,000 people. It is built largely of wooden houses, with a few buildings of brick and stone. Nearly every house has a wide veranda in front of it, and a wooden or iron tank beside it which serves as a cistern. The houses are built a little back from the broad streets that cross one another at right angles. The streets are macadamized; many of them have sidewalks of asphalt or cement; while through some of them run small canals, giving the town a fresh and clean look.
There are many large stores and fine public buildings; in-deed, you are surprised at the enterprise and culture which you see about you. Georgetown has daily, semi-weekly, and weekly newspapers. It has a telephone service with 514 subscribers, a public library, a museum, and a theatre in which amateur performances are held. Just back of the town is a botanical garden containing about 150 acres, and not far from it are lawn tennis courts and golf grounds.
The excellence of the British colonial system is everywhere to be seen. There are efficient police and good courts. The ad-ministration consists of a governor appointed by the Queen, who receives a salary of $25,000 a year and has an allowance of about $12,000 for expenses. Then there is a court of policy, a sort of cabinet of the government, comprising eighteen men, eight of whom are elected by the people. There is also what is called the combined court, made up of the court of policy and six financial representatives elected by the people. The combined court is a sort of ways and means committee which votes supplies and passes upon expenditures.
British Guiana has 39 miles of railroad. It has 450 miles of river navigation and 42 telegraph offices. It has 22 savings banks and does a business of about $14,000,000 a year, the exports being greater than the imports.
Within recent years not only British Guiana, but also Dutch and French Guiana as well, have become prominent as gold producers. In 1885 $16,000 worth of gold was exported from Georgetown, in 1897 the exports of gold amounted to more than $2,500,000. A remarkable increase, though not so striking, has taken place in the other Guianas. The gold so far as discovered is placer gold, the camps being situated along the different rivers, but the miners are now pushing their way back from the mountains and prospecting there for the mother lodes of quartz.
In the sixteenth century this territory was looked upon as the richest part of the New World. It was in the Guianas that the famous city, El Dorado, was supposed to be located, a city which, in the words of Quesada, one of the accomplished liars of that age, was situated in the midst of a great white lake, and ruled by a king who wore garments sprinkled with gold and silver from his sandals to the crown of his head. He had temples far grander than the palaces of the Incas and the Aztecs, his kitchen utensils were of gold and silver studded with diamonds and precious stones, and in his palace were statues of solid gold as big as giants, and birds, fishes, trees, and herbs modelled out of solid gold. According to other accounts, El Dorado was the name of an Indian chief who ruled the city of Manoa, which was some-what similar to that above described. El Dorado owned vast quantities of gold and precious stones; he had so much gold dust that he was sprinkled with it every morning by his slaves, and at a certain time every year he was smeared with balsam and gold dust, after which he bathed in the lake, in which was then thrown gold and precious stones.
Dutch Guiana lies just east of British Guiana. It is about as large as the State of New York, but its population is only 64, 000, not counting the negroes of the forests. The country is ruled by Holland, which has to furnish some money every year to aid in paying the government expenses. It has a governor who is appointed for six years, an assembly elected by the people, and a good system of courts. The laws are those of the Netherlands, the official language is Dutch, although English is in common use in the larger towns.
Its chief city is Paramaribo, situated on the Surinam river, about 20 miles from its mouth. Paramaribo contains about 30,000 people. It is built on a shell reef, and, though it has no sewers, the drainage is good. It extends along the banks of the river for about two miles, running back from the water to the extent perhaps of half a mile. Its houses are wooden, painted gray. They are of two and three stories, having sharply pitched roofs, out of which little dormer windows peep. Nearly every house has a green door and a big brass knocker. Everything is kept clean and the place reminds you of one of the little towns in Holland. The population is largely composed of Javanese and Creoles, the Javanese having been brought to work on the sugar plantations, of which there are nine. Cacao is another industry much engaged in, there being 97 cacao plantations, which produce almost $1,000,000 worth of cacao a year. The transportation of the colony is altogether by water, there being no railroads. The steamers of the Royal Mail leave Paramaribo every three weeks for New York, and return from New York every three weeks for Paramaribo. They come from Amsterdam and return there via the West Indian ports.
French Guiana amounts to even less than Dutch Guiana. It is merely a convict colony, having little trade and almost no industry. The country imports more than it exports, and its climate is so unhealthy that those who visit it are always anxious to leave. The chief city and capital is Cayenne, a town of 12,000, comprising about half the population of the whole country. The town is on an island, 30 miles in circumference, in the Atlantic, at the mouth of the Cayenne river, close to the coast. It has a wide and safe bay, the island being separated from the coast by a narrow channel. Cayenne is made up of little two-story houses, some of which are of brick covered with stucco. All are painted in bright colours, and with their little dormer windows looking out of the roofs appear clean and pretty. The streets of Cayenne cross one another at right angles. They are lighted at night by oil-lamps and are paraded daily by the vultures, the street-cleaning brigade of the city. The stores are chiefly in the hands of Chinese or Annamese, who give an Asiatic air to the town, and who, with the Creole women, in white turbans and gowns, form the most striking class of the inhabit-ants. There are about 50 wholesale and 120 retail merchants. There is a weekly newspaper, issued by the government.
The trade of the United States with the Guianas is not a great factor in our commerce. The total imports of the three countries is only a little over $10,000,000 per annum, of which British Guiana imports $6,000,000, Dutch Guiana $2,000,000, and French Guiana about the same. At present our chief trade is with British Guiana, where we send one-fourth of our imports; we have 17 per cent of the imports of Dutch Guiana, and only 6 per cent of those of French Guiana.