They settled in Guyana upward of 3,000 years ago, producing masterful carvings, ceramics, and reed basketwork. They were known as fierce warriors, aggressively protecting their territory in northern South America, as well as the island region that now bears their name, the Caribbean.
The Caribs are just one of nine Amerindians or Indigenous Nations found across Guyana, as guests on our Wild Guyana itinerary will learn in depth; they’ll even have the rare chance to visit a few communities! Also known as Kalina, the Carib people dominated the area by the time the Spanish arrived (see blog post, Guyana — From Colonial Roots to Caribbean Republic), and their attacks on Europeans led the latter to contend that the indigenous group practiced cannibalism (the word “cannibal” is derived from Carib).
While there is no archaeological evidence to substantiate the claim (one which the Carib community continues to fight to this day), it was justification enough for King Ferdinand to declare war on them in 1511. The Carib warriors put up a formidable front and were the last to fall to the Spanish, but in the end could not contend with European weapons or infectious diseases. The few groups that remain in Guyana can be found along the Pomeroon River in the Essequibo District and Barama River in the northwestern Barima-Waini District.
Among the other Amerindian groups in the South American country are:
Another warlike tribe, the Akawaios also lived in the forests around the Pomeroon and Barama, as well as other river areas. A nomadic people known as traders and carriers of news (as well as whizzes with a blowpipe), they too were nearly annihilated by European forces and diseases. An estimated 6,000 descendants of the Akawaio (also called Kapon) can still be found in Guyana, inhabiting isolated communities on the Waini and upper Demerara rivers.
In 1665, British Major John Scott declared that the Arawaks were “the best humored Indians in America.” Unlike the Caribs and Akawaios, the Arawaks were gentle fisherfolk and expert horticulturists who settled along the Hosororo Creek tributary of the Aruka River. Considered as aristocracy among Guyana’s Amerindian Nations, the majority of Arawak groups were absorbed into the Dutch and British colonies.
The Macushi people of southwestern Guyana were first identified in the 1700s, although rock art in the Rupununi region (which borders the country and Brazil) shows Amerindian presence in the area as far back as 7,000 years ago. The arrival of Europeans dramatically reduced the Macushi (Makushi) population with measles and other epidemics, while upending their traditional lifestyle and culture. Remaining communities in the region are diligently trying to maintain their heritage, and guests traveling on our Wild Guyana journey are treated to a stay at the Surama Eco-Lodge, which is owned and operated by the tribe.