The History of French Guiana. A brief overview.
The history of French Guiana in terms of European contact began with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1498.
Spanish explorers who followed did not think the densely jungled land was inhabitable, testing with a few feeble colonies, and eventually passing it for other lands.
The earliest inhabitants, are thought to have come to this area approximately in 4000 B.C.
The Carib and Arawak Indians are known to be early natives to the country and have been resident for thousands of years in the history of French Guiana.
The Dutch settled along the Pomeroon River in 1581, and about twenty years later established the Dutch West Indian Company (trading European manufactured items goods such as cotton, tobacco coffee and even hammocks).
Three Dutch colonies were recognized, New Nickerie, Essequibo and Berbice.
The Englishman Sir Walter Raleigh, when in search of the mythical city of riches, El Dorado, explored the heavily forested country of Guyana in 1595.
In the middle 1600s a large number of Dutch settlers moved into the country and began cultivating sugar to export.
They eventually began slave trading, bringing in captured Africans to work the plantations.
The French settled there in 1604, bringing in missionaries and fortune hunters. With them they introduced French culture, French language and French customs, meaning that today the student of French language has this country as another to practise one's French speaking.
The English ambushed the Dutch settlements in 1665. The fight for control between France, England and the Netherlands went on for two years.
In 1689 the French attacked Berbice and Pomeroon, Dutch settlements, and for four years (1708-1712), the French demanded outrageous ransoms from the Dutch.
In 1718 the French adopted the political outline, the Emergence of Council of Policy and Justice for their French territory.
In a few more years, the exporting of sugar, cotton and coffee became brisk and highly profitable.
Slaves rebelled in 1763, leading a major revolt in the city of Berbice.
In 1781 the English conquered all three of the Dutch colonies in Guiana, but in less than two years, the French (with Dutch assistance) gained control of the three.
The Netherlands and France occupied the colony regions for the next thirteen years, but in 1796 the English again seized control.
For approximately twenty years, the three countries skirmished over the area.
The Dutch surrendered their holding interest in the colonies to Great Britain in 1814. This area was named British Guiana.
France acquired the region called French Guiana in 1817, and continued to export sugar, eventually adding timber to their commerce.
Slavery was abolished in 1848 and free labor became obsolete, bringing the plantation industry to a slow crawl.
However, gold was discovered around the same time and this heralded a period of prosperity in the history of French Guiana.
In 1852 France decided to send its prisoners across the ocean to Guiana's prisons, one way to avoid having to keep convicts on French soil and another way for Guiana to have cheap labor.
Over 70,000 prisoners were sent in the following years.
Almost all of them ultimately died of disease.
For many years French Guiana was known as primarily a penal colony to the rest of the world.
Cruel punishments were administered to the prisoners incarcerated on Devil's Island just off Guiana's north coast.
The prison built on the island during Napoleon III's time became famous from Henri Charriere's book and movie, Papillon.
Other prisons on the mainland were also packed.
It remained so until after WWII when French Guiana became a Department of France.
The country, under harsh economic conditions, became increasingly dependent on France for supplies and subsidies.
The country continued into the 1970's in near-poverty level until the people fiercely rebelled.
France slowly began to improve the economic status and living conditions of the Guianans but made it clear that no independence was in the future.
In recent years the French have built an enormous rocket/sattelite launching system in French Guiana.
The European Space Centre at Kourou has contributed to French Guiana's growth and has skyrocketed Guiana's economy.
Ultramodern buildings mushroom throughout the capital city of Cayenne.
Yet, jobs are still hard to find for the average Guianan.
The people of French Guiana are predominately Roman Catholic, and French is the official language. However almost everyone speaks Creole.
A typical dish in Guiana might be the popular bouillon d'aoura, a dish made of smoked fish, crab, chicken, prawns and vegetables. Aoura, fruit from the savanna tree accompanies it.
French cafes offering French cuisine and attractive boutiques dot the streets as gendarmes can be seen on patrol.
French films are shown at the cinema.
The Guianans enjoy Caribbean music and are an easy-going people.
French Guiana is still under French dominion and answers to the Overseas Department of France to this day. (In French parlance it is DOM, Département d'Outre Mer)
contributed by Jan Michele
In addition to the history of French Guiana you can learn loads of facts and stats on the country.
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