Guyana’s culture is an intricate blend of the traditions of ethnic groups as diverse as Hindus, Indians, Africans, Europeans, and Southeast Asians. This remarkable “mix of peoples” has contributed to the emergence of a distinctive Guyanese nation, manifesting itself in original spicy cuisine, religion, unique traditions of folk music and oral art, colorful clothing, and even in the distinctive local accent.
Locals in Guyana
Even neighboring communities in Guyana are very different from one another, and this is often evident both in the appearance of their inhabitants and in the cultural traditions of the locals. Each community prides itself on its differences from its neighbors, highlighting its rich history, architecture, or the countrymen who made the area famous in one way or another. And Guyanese are not at all confused by the fact that most of these stories and significant events belong to “ancient lore” and that some of the local “stars” achieved success away from their homeland – the main thing for them is that the roots of the phenomenon belong to this land. At the same time, each community is often connected with its neighbors by thousands of kinship and cultural ties, which often serves as a reason for completely malicious inquiries into the “authorship” of this or that object of pride. The same connectivity of many communities also explains the rather peaceful inter-ethnic relations in a country where thousands of people of different blood and religion live peacefully side by side, without any subtle historical conflicts or differences between the peoples.
Guyanese are by nature very calm and balanced. Even the traditional “Creole temperament” of the region has a softer tone. Many visitors note their superior sense of humor and a certain lightness to any manifestations of the world, no matter how hard they are for themselves. This optimism is not ostentatious, by the way, is evident in virtually all aspects of their lives – even in some solemn or, conversely, tragic cases Guyanese do not miss the opportunity to “tease” or amuse someone. At the same time, the local humor clearly does not carry any negative elements and is not intended to make fun of anyone – it simply hides more serious emotions from public view or defuses the atmosphere. Guyanese are not in the habit of demonstrating the depth of their grief or their real feelings, but they do not close themselves off either – they simply try not to burden others with it, masking their feelings with laughter or irony.
In everyday communication, the locals are very mobile and artistic. Characteristic of the Guyanese temperament is the habit of illustrating everything said abundant gestures and a stream of proverbs, sayings and various allegories. Moreover, they are also examples of the rich heritage of many different cultures, and therefore are often so allegorical that they confuse many visitors to the country. This also explains some of the peculiarities of the local speech – for example, both for the question and for the statement the same grammatical basis is used, the only difference is in the tone and presentation of the words. For example, the phrase “John’s mother is sick” said in the usual narrative tone means “John’s mother is sick,” while a higher tone will sound questioning – “Is John’s mother really sick?” This often leads to certain misunderstandings when communicating with locals, since the official language of the country is English, in which such phrase construction is very rare.
Dialects in Guyana
Most Guyanese use the Creole dialect known as “Creoleze” in everyday life. The basis of this language is English, but many words and concepts are borrowed from the languages of the many ethnic groups that inhabit the region. And since most words still retain some semblance of English, this is even more confusing to the uninitiated tourist. Many Guyanese living in the interior of the country still speak the languages of local ethnic groups, while those from Asia living in the coastal strip widely use the Cantonese dialect of Chinese as well as Hindi or Urdu, which are often the dominant languages in various religious ceremonies and in everyday communication. However, “literary English” is not a problem for most Guyanese, so they themselves often try to explain to the tourist all the possible difficulties of interpretation of local concepts.
Religion in Guyana
The role of religion in Guyanese society is very great, but the influence of the church on most aspects of local life is somewhat weaker than in other traditionally Christian countries of the region. Approximately half the population is Christian, mostly Anglicans and Catholics (not only Europeans, but also many Africans, Chinese, and Indians). The rest of the population is Hinduism and Islam. It should be borne in mind here that before the declaration of independence in 1966, these religious systems were not officially permitted in the country, but afterwards, many of their most important holidays were elevated to the rank of national holidays along with traditional Christian events. This led to some tensions between denominations, but had no effect on the daily life of Guyanese, who are by nature very tolerant and respectful of the views of others.
However, the country has also preserved many ancient Indian and African beliefs, especially evident in folklore and the highly visible superstitiousness of the locals. A whole pantheon of different spirits and forces of nature is not only respected but also revered by the locals, often mixing them into one or another Christian or Hindu character. Hence a number of seemingly unusual rituals, such as the rubbing of hot pepper juice into the skin of girls (a proper remedy for “ol-hang” or “Old Witch”, the local equivalent of the vampire known in Hindu mythology as “Sukhanti”), or the habit of baptizing a tree or other personification of the forces of nature in the forest.
Traditionally, Hindus do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork, so many communities should pay attention to this aspect of local life. Otherwise, the attitude toward cuisine is quite European.
Everyday life in Guyana
Hospitality also occupies an important place in the local way of life, so it is very common practice to invite even a stranger or a tourist to visit. It is worth bearing in mind that Guyana – a very poor country, although the small size of its population somewhat mitigates this problem (GDP per capita – $ 4700 – it is among the developed countries in the region, however, a huge foreign debt is almost completely “eaten away” this advantage). Like most ordinary residents of neighboring Latin American countries, the average Guyanese, not excluding women, spends a lot of time at work. Rural people, including children, for the most part also spend most of their time getting their daily bread, all year round. The workers on the vast cattle ranches of the south and the employees of mining companies stand out, but their standard of living is also very low by world standards. In addition to farming, trading, mining, and fishing at home, many Guyanese work abroad. The government tries to maintain employment and income levels by hiring large numbers of civil servants, teachers, and financial services, but the country’s distinctive lack of trained personnel often negates all this work. Therefore, when visiting local homes, small gifts to family members, souvenirs, or food would not be out of place at all. The only thing to pay special attention to is the form of presentation of such gifts – under no circumstances should they look like a handout or an acknowledgement of poverty at home. The social status of the family, as in many other countries of the region, has a special meaning here and naturally depends on the level of wealth, so such gifts should be presented as your own contribution to the evening or ceremony, and no more than that.
Dress code of the locals is quite traditional and often quite informal. To observe the local decency it is quite enough to wear the same as the Guyanese themselves (although it is unlikely to succeed, since the clothes here often reflect belonging to an ethnic group). There is a clear disapproval of shorts and short skirts. Bathing suits are not forbidden on the beaches or within the hotels, but they are not recommended for the town. When going to church the locals dress very solemnly, so when you visit places of worship should not wear jeans or a T-shirt, even if it’s a weekday, and services are not held. Sport clothes are very popular, but they are a sign of low social status and it is stupid to wear them in public places. Business etiquette necessarily includes a tie, a light shirt or jacket, and strict pants or a long skirt. Business suits in their traditional sense are not very popular – too hot and humid, but within large office centers, where air conditioning systems are abundant, they are recommended.
A handshake is a common form of greeting between locals. People who know each other well may hug or kiss, but strangers are not allowed.
System of Measures in Guyana
The system of measures and weights is officially metric, but in rural areas elements of the imperial (inch) system are often used.
Do you need tips in Guyana
Tips are 5-10% of the bill. In hotels and first-class restaurants they are often included, but additional payments are not forbidden. In a cab you should round up the amount.
Is it expensive to visit Guyana?
Guyana is slightly cheaper than neighboring Venezuela or French Guiana, but prices here are noticeably higher than in many other countries in the region. If you focus on budget accommodation and meals in street cafes, it is quite possible to get by for about $10 per day. With accommodation in mid-range hotels and meals at more upscale establishments you can count on a quite democratic $20-30 per day, and in more expensive hotels $40 and above a day of stay. There are a large number of resorts, ranches and just private pensions, which offer quite acceptable accommodation for $10-20 per day, and in the numerous forest camps, the cost of living will be even less than food.