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Reprinted from: (Thunder, 30 June 1962)


(Text of Speech by Hon. Brindley H. Benn, Minister of Natural Resources, to the Legislature)

The Select 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 also considered,


"Demarary” 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 used.

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:


Some tell 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 man cried,
"With this fair Demaredu bride!"
The chief replied, "So let it be!

He must 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!"

This is, 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.

It was there suggested that "Demerary" as a more euphonious variant of "Demerara" should
be used for the country when it becomes independent.


In stating 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", “Guyana".

The chief 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:

(i) First 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 as friends.

(ii) Other travellers in the region between 1532 and 1535 also mentioned a land called "Guayana" and a people called Guayanos.

(iii) In 1648 Carvajal speaks of the "city of Guayana" and of the "yndios guayanos".

(iv) Codassi says that the "Guayanos" used to live between Angostura (i.e., the present Ciudad Bolivar), the Yuruari and the Sierra Imataka.

There is 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.


I have 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 1598:

". . . . 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".

This "Weyana" (or "Waiana") is the region we now call "Guyana".

There is 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.

The next 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".


I think 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.

One last 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 term.




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