The Forgotten Country – My Roots

A recent USA Today article, “In a Tourist’s Wildest Dreams”, describes a forgotten country -Guyana(pka British Guiana). It is larger than the UK but last year had only 2,500 tourists. It is the least touristed country in the world according to a National Geographic article last year. It has the largest tract of unspoiled rain forest in South America– 80% of the country.

Guayana has a long history of conquest by varied European powers, who constantly battled for control of its great resources – gold, diamond, bauxite, and sugar cane. Sir Walter Raleigh journeyed there in the 1580s to look for the lost city of gold. Due to the indentured East Indians who came during periods of civil unrest in India, the large slave trade that flourished to provide workers for the sugar plantations and the mines, and the native Amerindians, the population is about 5% white, 5% black, and 90% “colored” (everyone else, in various shades, in the Guyanese description).

My ancestry in the West Indies (Trinidad,Tobago,Barbados and Guyana) goes back to the early 1600’s and before. My mother was born there; so were my younger sister and brother. My ancestors include the Dutch Governor of the territory (Van Battenburg) who established the boundaries between British, French and Dutch Guiana as a civil way to stop the battles for dominance of the territory and the more recent A.R.F. Webber, known as ‘the Ghandi of the West Indies’ (see my earlier blog). They, and other storied ancestors, have had a great impact on my life. Their passions, work and values have influenced me and my career, I am sure, even before I knew and understood their impact.

I feared for this pristine, untamed and unknown country. I pray now that it will not fall prey to the same unprincipled opportunists who have been ravaging other rain forests in South America for the last few decades. According to USA Today, “[Guyana’s] forests and rivers are teeming with wildlife, including species that are extinct or threatened elsewhere.” How do we protect a “newly discovered” country today?

To read the entire USA Today article, click here.

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