I thought it is very appropriate during Amerindian Heritage Month, to share my findings on the term ‘Guyana.’ There has always been a curious question as to which Amerindian language it derived from but no one ever ventured to explore its source.
However during my recent reading in anthropological studies by various authors on the Indigenous peoples of South America in connection with my dissertation, I was introduced to the recordings made by one Homer Dowdy on the Wai Wais and other tribes who associated themselves with them prior to Guyana’s independence, when that curious box in my mind was reopened.
Matters became very clear after coming across other tribal names such as ‘Tuna Yana’ which mean ‘Water People.’ The key to the box was the suffix ‒ Yana. Therefore it was necessary to search the meaning of the prefix ‒ Gu.
It turns out that there are lots of place names in the Caribbean, Central and South America whose prefixes are ‘Gua,’ including Guadalupe. When its meaning was checked it turned to be the following: Guadalupe, was originally a Spanish toponym that derives from the Arabic word for ‘valley’ or ‘river’ and the Latin word ‘lupus,’ meaning ‘wolf.’ The name referred to the river Guadalupe in Spain.
This finding sums up my thought that the word ‘Gua’ is related to water, which links to my prior finding, Tuna Yana (Water People in a Cariban language) in Homer E Dowdy’s Christ’s Witchdoctor (1963).
This is confirmed by our famous Wai Wai building in Georgetown ‒ the Umana Yana (A Meeting place of the People). ‘Gua’ was also found be a Taino word adopted by the Spanish for water. Therefore Gua yana (the derivation of ‘Guyana’), like ‘Tuna Yana,’ means ‘Water People’ and not ‘Land of Many Waters.’