Reprinted from: (Thunder, 30 June
Speech by Hon. Brindley H. Benn, Minister of Natural
Resources, to the Legislature)
Committee of the Legislature decided to recommend
two names as being suitable for an independent Guiana
"DEMERARA” and “GUYANA". "GUYANA"
is unquestionably the better choice, but before dealing
with it I shall show why "DEMERARY” was
comes from an Arawak word “Immenary" or
"Dumaruni" and means "River of the
Letter wood". In the 17th century the original
name underwent a change by the Spaniards. They called
the river "Rio de Mirara" which means "Wonderful
River". In the 18th century, the Dutch called
the river "Innewary" or "Demerary".
The English came at the beginning of the 19th century,
and at first used the Dutch form, but changed to "Demerara"
about the middle of the 19th century. The form "Demerara"
has been popular since then. There were, of course,
other variants, but these were the ones generally
It is believed
as stated above, that the Demerara River got its name
from the letter wood which probably grew near to it.
But there is a legend that a tribe called the "Demarena"
lived somewhere in this territory. The following ballad
recorded in W. H. Brett's "Legend and Myths of
British Guiana" tells the story of the Demerara:
of him, of human birth,
Who saw in troops advance
The sons and daughters of the earth,
And joined their mystic dance.
Dance at an elfin maiden's side,
And wooed her for his fairy bride.
Then said heir father, "None would dare
(No man has been so brave),
Deep in the earth our home to share,
Or'neath the shining wave,
Dar'st thou'?" "I dare!" the young
"With this fair Demaredu bride!"
The chief replied, "So let it be!
be fond and brave,
Who dares to join our family
Beneath the earth or wave.
To him and his, but none beside,
Give we a Demaredu bride!"
of course, legend, but the theory that the river obtained
its name from the Demarena family makes romantic reading.
The chief claim of the River to give the country its
name lies in the fact that for nearly a century British
Guiana was known in commercial circles abroad as "Demerara".
Our chief export in the middle of the last century
was sugar. Because of the vacuum pans introduced in
the sugar mills of Demerara at the time, the sugar
produced here won a reputation in the United Kingdom
where it was known as “Demerara Crystals".
The name “Demerara" became widely used
for the country as a whole, and this lasted until
well into this century.
there suggested that "Demerary" as a more
euphonious variant of "Demerara" should
be used for the country when it becomes independent.
the case for adopting the name "Guyana"
for our country on attainment of independence, I think
we must first of all justify the use of the word and
then decide on the particular form and pronunciation
we want -- "Guayana", "Guiana",
justification for the use of the word is historical.
The name "Guyana" in some form was from
a very early date used to describe the region between
the Orinoco, the Amazon and the Rio Negro, which includes
the three "Guyanas”, so called, and also
the eastern part of Venezuela (Spanish "Guyana")
and the northern part of Brazil (Portuguese "Guyana").
And there is also evidence from writings of travellers
and explorers that there was a tribe of Indians known
as Guyanos who lived in the region:
of all, there is on record the story that about 1532,
Don de Ordaz desiring the death of an officer of his,
one Johan Gonzalez de Sosa, sent him on several expeditions
to explore the country. On one of these expeditions
de Sosa and his party discovered "the Province
of Guayana" where the Guayanos received them
travellers in the region between 1532 and 1535 also
mentioned a land called "Guayana" and a
people called Guayanos.
1648 Carvajal speaks of the "city of Guayana"
and of the "yndios guayanos".
says that the "Guayanos" used to live between
Angostura (i.e., the present Ciudad Bolivar), the
Yuruari and the Sierra Imataka.
thus ample evidence that Indians called the "Guayanos"
or "Guayanas" dwelt between the Orinoco
and the Amazon, and that the territory was called
"Guayana" (or some variant of the word.
shown that some form of "Guyana" was used
to describe the country and its people. The next question
is, what is the origin of the word? "Guyana"
belongs to a class of word meaning "water”,
the simplest forms of which (uni, une, ini, weni,
wini) are found in the termination of our river names
e.g. Rupununi, etc. "Waini", the name of
a river in the North West District is a more elaborate
form. It is believed that the original name of the
country was "Waiana" meaning "land
of water" and that this was built up from the
simple form given above. There is some evidence to
support this. Cabeliau, the Dutch trader, wrote in
. . . the Spaniards have commenced to make a road
through the rocks and hills of the mountains of "Weyana",
about six days' journey south of the River Worinoque,
which road is about 1600 'stadien' long, and so broad
that they can march five horses abreast through it,
and they think by these means to conquer the country".
(or "Waiana") is the region we now call
little doubt that it was the Spaniards who transformed
the original Indian name. It is known there is a definite
tendency among the Spaniards (indeed, among all Latin
peoples) to add an initial "G" sound to
any "W" sound unfamiliar to them. (The Germanic
"werra" (war) becomes the Spanish "guerra"
for instance). Thus the Indian word "Waiana"
soon began to be pronounced and spelt "Guayana"
by the Spaniards. And this form is most used by Spanish
writers and cartographers from the 16th century.
change in the word was made by the English. They did
not seem to like the Spanish
form. They preferred to pronounce and spell the word
"Guiana". This was the form used in Sir
Walter Raleigh's book ?The Discoveries of the Large,
Rich and Bewtiful Empyre of Guiana", which was
published in 1596. It is to be noted that the pronunciation
of "Guiana" or "Guyana" is different
from that of "Guayana".
that from the historical point of view alone there
is enough justification for the use of some form of
the word as the name for our country when it attains
independence. The question is, which form? "Waiana",
which is nearest the original Amerindian name, has
disappeared and would have to be resurrected and brought
to life again. The Spanish form "Guayana"
is near the original but is not as easy on the tongue
or a euphonious as "Guyana" (or “Guiana”).
There is probably little to choose between "Guiana"
and "Guyana". But the former is too closely
associated with our history as a dependent territory.
I think that "Guyana” should be the name
of the independent country. I think, too, that the
citizens of Guyana should be described as Guyanese.
word. An objection has been raised to "Guyana"
as suitable name for this country
on the ground that it is the name of the entire region.
But the original geographical region known as "Guyana"
was originally partitioned into five political divisions,
and three of these have abandoned the name. Venezuela
and Brazil include portions of "Guyana",
but they have relinquished all claim to the name.
The Dutch portion calls itself Surinam. Only the French
territory and ourselves have retained the ancient
name (French “Guyana" is known as "La
Guyane"'). We have moved ahead and there is no
reason why the name of our territory should not be
"GUYANA", even though it does not correspond
with the original geographical area denoted by the