Previously known as British Guyana, The Co-operative Republic of Guyana’s name is derived from an Amerindian word meaning ‘land of many waters’. It achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1966 and became a republic in 1970, remaining a member of the Commonwealth. Its rich natural history has caught the attention of many writers, travellers, and explorers, such as Gerald Durrell, Sir Walter Raleigh and more recently David Attenborough. The country is part of the UNESCO-WTO cultural tourism program on the Slave Route in the Caribbean. A third of its population is descended from African slaves, imported by the Dutch to work on sugar plantations. Around half are the descendants of indentured Indian agricultural workers brought in by the British after slavery was abolished. The film Guiana 1838 by the Guyanese-born director Rohit Jagessar, depicts the conflict that started between these two ethnic groups since the arrival of Indian emigrants to the Caribbean in 1834. Tensions between these two groups persist, and are causing economic problems and political instability as the two main political parties are ethnically-based.
One of the most important Guyanese writers is Edgar Mittelholzer, who is considered the first professional novelist to come out of the English-speaking Caribbean. His novels are mostly set in the Caribbean, and take place from the earliest period of European settlement to the twentieth century. His novel Corentyne Thunder has been hailed as the first novel of an indigenous literary tradition in Guyana. Wilson Harris is another renowned Guyanese author. His works were greatly influenced by Amerindian myths and the exotic environment of his home country. His writing style is abstract and densely metaphorical. The country's best-known poet is Martin Carter, whose work was influenced by the political turmoil of the 1940s and early 1950s.
Guyana is also known for the tragic episode that took place in Jonestown in the late 70s, where 918 people (almost entirely American) died in a murder suicide pact conducted by people belonging to the cult Peoples Temple lead by Jim Jones. Leo Ryan, the only congressman ever murdered in the line of duty in US history, was one of those killed. The terrible story is related in Stanley Nelson’s documentary Jonestown.