From the moment Guyana achieved independence from Britain, its government maintained strict control over the nation’s natural resources, particularly its mining sector. In this article, we look at Guyana’s goldmining industry, from its beginnings to the major revenue-generating sector it is today.
Guyana’s goldmining industry was opened to international investors in 2004.
That year, the Land Tenure Act paved the way for foreign investment. Despite an established history of gold production, Guyana’s reserves are still largely underexplored.
Still, the implementation of modern exploration techniques have facilitated huge growth in Guyana’s goldmining industry over the past 20 years. In 2015, Guyana’s total gold declaration increased by more than 58%, with an impressive 712,706 ounces of gold unearthed in Guyana that year.
The Guyana government attributes the strong growth in the mining sector to the many small to medium-sized mining operations that international companies have established in recent years. In addition to attracting a flood of foreign investment, Guyana is also home to a growing number of artisanal goldmining operations.
The Guiana Shield is a geographical formation that is rich in gold deposits.
Stretching more than 415,000 square kilometers across South America, the Guiana Shield has attracted gold prospectors for generations. Near-surface goldmining in the region likely began in the 1500s, and several artisanal goldminers continue to operate today. The techniques they employ range from basic gold panning, to open pits, to more sophisticated underground operations.
Goldmining in the Essequibo region dates back to the mid-1800s.
Reports of gold finds in riverbeds across the area began circulating in the mid-1800s.
B.V. Abraham, the owner of a well-known Georgetown jewelry emporium, was granted permission to prospect for gold in the Cuyuni River by the Guyanese government. He set up machinery on the riverbank, in the village of Waririe.
Abraham managed to collect a small quantity of gold, but since it had cost him somewhere in the region of $75,000 to establish the company, he quickly found himself running short of funds. With the company incapable of maintaining itself on the small amount of gold deposits it had recovered, Abraham was forced to halt operations.
Abraham remained convinced that the Essequibo region was rich in gold, but proving his theory would require further significant investment. In a last-ditch attempt to raise the necessary finances, Abraham travelled to the UK, determined to convince his business contacts to invest. Despite Abraham’s best efforts, his negotiations proved unsuccessful, due in part to a discouraging geological survey. Abraham returned to Guyana, partnering with a Portuguese woodcutter named D’Amil. Mining in secret, the duo amassed significant wealth.
In 1879, news started to circulate that gold deposits had been discovered in other parts of the Essequibo region. Many people left their homes to prospect for gold in the Essequibo River’s many tributaries.
An African goldminer named Jules Caman developed an innovative washing system which he used to recover relatively large quantities of gold from Konawaruk Creek and Akaiwanna Creek, two of the Essequibo River’s smaller tributaries. Around the same time, gold was also discovered at the source of the Demerara River.
In the late 1800s, when Guyana was still under British rule, Venezuela asserted its claim to vast areas of the Essequibo region. This significantly hampered the development of Guyana’s goldmining industry, with the British government locked into protracted negotiations.
In 1889, Governor Viscount Gormanston denounced Venezuela’s claim to all lands east of the Schomburgk Line. Gormanston’s dismissal of Venezuela’s territorial claim sparked a second gold rush, with prospectors from all over Guyana flooding back to the Essequibo region.
The rise of goldmining in Guyana had a significant impact on the sugar industry.
Guyana’s gold rush drew many African-Guyanese workers from the sugar estates. Tired of the low pay and scarce jobs, prospectors rushed to the Essequibo in the hope of earning a better living.
Their departure left the country’s sugar industry with serious labor shortages. In 1880, the Guyanese government imposed a 2% royalty on all would-be goldminers as part of an effort to stem the labor drain. Nevertheless, this did little to halt the flow, especially with sugar commanding low prices in Europe. African-Guyanese workers continued to leave the sugar estates, often travelling in small groups to Guyana’s interior regions in search of gold.
This labor crisis led to the creation of mining regulations that placed various demands on goldminers, including the need to obtain a license. Guyana’s goldmining industry continued to grow regardless, with many prospectors branching out into diamond mining when the precious stone was discovered in Mazaruni.
Guyana is sometimes known as the “Land of El Dorado.”
When Spanish colonizers came to South America, rumors flourished about El Dorado—an indigenous city made of gold, ruled by a resplendent king. Both Spanish conquistadors and other Europeans launched expeditions in what is now Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia in search of this mythical city.
The idea of El Dorado has persisted in art and literature ever since—and the name is sometimes used to describe Guyana, due to the country’s extensive gold resources. Experts estimate that, to date, around 50 million ounces of gold have been extracted from Guyana’s goldmines.
Guyana is not only rich in gold—it is home to considerable reserves of other valuable minerals such as bauxite, diamonds, manganese, and a variety of precious stones.
As the nation’s oldest bank, GBTI supports Guyana’s goldmining industry.
Driven by its commitment to both its customers and the community at large, GBTI provides a comprehensive range of customized financial products and services, supporting the country’s goldmining and other extractive industries.