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Guiana (Guayana)

Treatment of the country

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Guiana (or GUAYANA) was the name given to all that region of South America which extends along the Atlantic coast from the Orinoco to the Amazon. This name is still locally applied to a district of Venezuela and another in Brazil, but its ordinary geographical application is limited to the three colonies of British, Dutch, and French Guiana. British Guiana is separated from Venezuela, partly by the Orinoco, and partly by a line drawn to the east of that river. The Corentyn River separates British Guiana from Dutch Guiana, on the east, while the latter is separated from the French colony by the Maroni. A decided similarity exists in the climate, physical formation, flora, and fauna of all Guiana; the low, flat coast, lying between 8° and 2° N. lat., is hot, humid, and so scourged with yellow fever and other tropical diseases that the French Government has been obliged to stop the use of Cayenne as a penal settlement for white convicts. This coast country is hemmed in on the south by high table lands, rising in Mount Roraima to a height of about 8000 feet. The lowlands are fertile, and their forests are comparable to those of the Amazon basin, while the elevated country, with a fairly healthy climate, is mostly barren. Guiana is the habitat of several dangerous species of wild beasts, including the jaguar, as well as of the anaconda and of the most deadly reptiles in the New World.

Among the first explorers to visit this coast were Vespucci, Pinzon, Ojeda, and Balboa (1499-1504), but the first real discovery of Guiana is claimed by Diego de Ordaz, a follower of Cortes (1531). During this earliest period Catholic missionaries are said to have gone inland to attempt the conversion of the Arawaks, Warraus, and other races. But exploration was diverted during the sixteenth century from the Guiana coast to the neighboring Orinoco, which Raleigh ascended in 1595, in quest, like other adventurers of his day, of the fabled “Dorado” or “Gilded Man“. In 1580 Dutch adventurers attempted a settlement near the Pomerun River; the earliest French attempts, chiefly on the Sinnamary River, were made in 1604. In 1635 a corporation of merchants of Normandy, having been granted by the French king all the privileges within the whole territory of Guiana, made a settlement where now is the city of Cayenne, but eight years later Poncet de Bretigny, coming with reinforcements, found only a few of his predecessors alive, living as savages among the aborigines. Of all these, and a still later reinforcement, only two remained alive in 1645, to take refuge in the Dutch settlement in Surinam. By the middle of the seventeenth century the long, though intermittent struggle between French, Dutch, and English for the possession of this country had fairly begun. The French being then absent from Guiana, Charles II of England, in defiance of the Treaty of Westphalia, which had given all Guiana to the Dutch West India Company, granted to Francis, Lord Willoughby of Parham, the territorial rights of Paramaribo. By the Treaty of Breda, in 1667, the British gave up all claims to any part of Guiana in exchange for the surrender by the Dutch of all their claim to the territory of New Netherlands (now New York), which had in fact been occupied by an English force, under the orders of the Duke of York, three years previously. In 1664 the Dutch West India Company had begun in earnest the settlement of Guiana. Simultaneously the French West India Company made a new attempt to settle Cayenne, and from that time forward the Cayenne territory has remained French.

During most of the eighteenth century Guiana, with the exception of this French portion, remained Dutch. The difficulties of the Dutch during this period came chiefly from rebellious slaves, or from savages who roamed in the interior. But when the American Revolution deprived the British of New York, aggression recommenced in Guiana, and in 1799 a British administration replaced the Dutch. What is now British Guiana finally became so between the years 1803 and 1815, while in the latter year Surinam was restored to the Dutch. The actually existing status in Guiana may be considered as having begun in 1815.

Leaving aside the vague reports of early Spanish missionaries, the history of Catholicism in Guiana during the first century after the discovery belongs to the story of Portuguese missionary effort. The Treaty of Tordesillas gave this territory to Portugal. No important success appears to have been achieved in the conversion of the aborigines until the seventeenth century. With French West India Company’s colonists some Dominicans arrived at Cayenne, and these friars were followed by Capuchins. In 1666 the proprietary company brought the Jesuits into Cayenne, and that order labored with considerable success among the negro slaves and the savages. Among the most remarkable Jesuits in this missionary field were Fathers de Creuilly, Lombard, d’Ayma, Fauque, Dausillac, and d’Huberland. De Creuilly spent thirty-three years on the mission (1685-1718), during a great part of which he cruised from point to point along the coast, landing here and there to preach; the others are memorable for having established settlements of Indian converts on the plan of the Paraguay “reductions”. While in Protestant Dutch Guiana little could be done for the spread of the Faith, in Cayenne at least the work was in a promising condition when the anti-Jesuit movement in continental Europe brought about the expulsion of the Society from this field (1768). The Revolution checked the efforts of the French secular clergy to continue what the Jesuits had begun.

British Guiana, the largest of the three colonies, has an area of 90,277 square miles. Its western boundary was the subject of a dispute with Venezuela in 1894; the United States intervening and insisting that the matter should be settled by arbitration; Great Britain accepted the award of the arbitrators in October, 1899. The population is about 307,000. Of these, the whites are less than 6 per cent.; negroes, 41 per cent.; coolies, 38 per cent.; aborigines, 3 per cent. The government is carried on by an English governor, assisted by a council.

The Vicariate Apostolic of British Guiana, established by Gregory XVI in 1837, covers a mission which has now for some time been entrusted to the Society of Jesus. The vicar Apostolic resides at Georgetown, and his jurisdiction includes Barbados. There are twenty-six churches and five mission stations, served by seventeen priests. The Catholic population is about 22,000.

Dutch Guiana, or Surinam, with an area of 46,060 square miles, had in 1905 a population of 75,465. The government, is administered by a council under the presidency of a Dutch governor. The Vicariate Apostolic of Dutch Guiana, with its seat at Paramaribo, was erected by Gregory XVI in 1842, and has spiritual jurisdiction over 13,300 Catholics, a number exceeded by no other Christian denomination in the colony except the Moravians (28,-025). The coolie population numbers nearly 12,-000 pagans, besides a large number of Mohammedans. The mission here has been entrusted by the Holy See to the Redemptorists.

French Guiana, also called Cayenne, has an area of 30,500 square miles, and since 1855 has been used as a penal settlement. Its populationin 1901 was 32,908, including 4097 convicts at hard labor, and 2193 on ticket of leave. The number of aborigines is probably less than 3000. The capital city, Cayenne, has a population of over 12,000. The governor appointed from Paris, is assisted by a council of five members, in addition to which there is an elective assembly, and the colony is represented in the Paris Chamber by one deputy. The chief industry is placer gold-mining. The Prefecture Apostolic of Cayenne, separated from Martinique in 1731, includes jurisdiction over the Brazilian district of Guiana. There are about 20,000 Catholics, 27 churches or chapels, 18 mission stations, 22 priests, and 5 schools with 900 pupils. The Sisters of Saint-Paul de Chartres have had charge of the hospital at Cayenne since 1818. This mission was the scene of the heroic labors of Mother Anne-Marie de Javouhey (d. 1851), who was locally known as la Mere des Noirs.


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