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French Guiana ( , officially ) is an overseas department (French: département d'outre-mer, or DOM) of Francemarker, located on the northern coast of South America. It has borders with two nations, Brazilmarker and Surinamemarker. Like the other DOMs, French Guiana is also an overseas region of France, one of the 26 regions of France. Its currency is the euro. The prefecture is Cayennemarker.

The addition of the adjective "French" comes from colonial times when three such colonies existed: British Guiana (now Guyanamarker), Dutch Guiana (now Surinamemarker) and French Guiana. The three are still often collectively referred to as the Guianas.

French Guiana was originally inhabited by a number of indigenous American people. It was settled by the French during the 17th century. After the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Louis XV sent 12,000 settlers to French Guiana to colonise the region. One and a half years later only a few hundred survived. Its infamous Île du Diable (Devil's Islandmarker) was the site of penal settlements from 1852 until 1951. More than 70,000 French convicts were deported to French Guiana between 1852 and 1939.

In 1809 a Portuguese-British naval squadron took French Guiana for the Portuguese Empire. With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1814 the region was handed back to the French, though a Portuguese presence remained until 1817.

A border dispute with Brazil arose in the late nineteenth century over a vast area of jungle, leading to the short-lived pro-French independent state of Counani in the disputed territory and some fighting between settlers, before the dispute was resolved largely in favour of Brazil by the arbitration of the Swissmarker government.

In 1946, French Guiana became an overseas department of France. The 1970s saw the settlement of Hmong refugees from Laosmarker. A movement for increased autonomy from France gained some momentum in the 1970s and 1980s.


Though sharing cultural affinities with the French-speaking territories of the Caribbeanmarker, French Guiana cannot be considered to be part of that geographic region, with the Caribbean Sea actually being located several hundred kilometres to the west, beyond the arc of the Lesser Antilles.
Geographic map of French Guiana
French Guiana consists of two main geographical regions: a coastal strip where the majority of the people live, and dense, near-inaccessible rainforest which gradually rises to the modest peaks of the Tumac-Humac mountains along the Brazilian frontier. French Guiana's highest peak is Bellevue de l'Ininimarker (851 m). Other mountains include Mont Machalou (782 m), Pic Coudreau (711 m) and Mont St Marcel (635 m), Mont Favard (200 m) and Montagne du Mahury (156 m). Several small islands are found off the coast, the three Iles du Salutmarker Salvation Islands which includes Devil's Islandmarker and the isolated Iles du Connétablemarker bird sanctuary further along the coast towards Brazil.

The Barrage de Petit-Saut hydroelectric dam in the north of French Guiana forms an artificial lake and provides hydroelectricity. There are many rivers in French Guiana.

Administrative divisions

French Guiana is divided into 2 arrondissements, 19 cantons (not shown here), and 22 communes:
Arrondissement of
Arrondissement of
  1. Awala-Yalimapomarker
  2. Manamarker
  3. Saint-Laurent-du-Maronimarker
  4. Apatoumarker
  5. Grand-Santimarker
  6. Papaïchtonmarker
  7. Saülmarker
  8. Maripasoulamarker
  1. Camopimarker
  2. Saint-Georgesmarker
  3. Ouanarymarker
  4. Réginamarker
  5. Rouramarker
  6. Saint-Éliemarker
  7. Iracoubomarker
  8. Sinnamarymarker
  9. Kourou
  10. Macouriamarker
  11. Montsinéry-Tonnegrandemarker
  12. Matourymarker
  13. Cayennemarker
  14. Remire-Montjolymarker


French Guiana is heavily dependent on Francemarker for subsidies, trade, and goods. The main industries are fishing (accounting for three-quarters of foreign exports), gold mining and timber. In addition, the Guiana Space Centremarker at Kourou accounts for 25% of the GDP and employs about 1700 people.

There is very little manufacturing. Agriculture is largely undeveloped and is mainly confined to the area near the coast — sugar and bananas are two of the main cash crops grown. Tourism, especially eco-tourism, is growing. Unemployment is a major problem, running at about 20% to 30%.

In 2006 the GDP per capita of French Guiana at market exchange rates, not at PPP, was €13,800 (US$17,380), which was 48% of Metropolitan France's average GDP per capita that year.


French Guiana's population of 221,500 (January 2008 est.), most of whom live along the coast, is very ethnically diverse. At the 1999 census, 54.4% of the inhabitants of French Guiana were born in French Guiana, 11.8% were born in Metropolitan France, 5.2% were born in the French Caribbeanmarker départements (Guadeloupemarker and Martiniquemarker), and 28.6% were born in foreign countries (primarily Brazilmarker, Surinamemarker, and Haitimarker).

Estimates of the percentages of French Guiana ethnic composition vary, a situation compounded by the large proportion of immigrants (about 20,000, nearly 10%).

Creoles (people of mixed African and French ancestry) are the largest ethnic group, though estimates vary as to the exact percentage, depending upon whether the large Haitianmarker community is included as well. Generally the Creole population is judged to be about 60% to 70% of the total population if Haitians (comprising roughly one-third of Creoles) are included, and 30% to 50% without.

Roughly 14% of the population is of European ancestry. The vast majority of these are of French heritage, though there are also people of Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese ancestry .

The main Asian communities are the Hmong from Laosmarker (1.5%) and Chinese (3.2%, primarily from Hong Kongmarker and Zhejiang provincemarker). There are also smaller groups from various Caribbeanmarker islands, mainly Saint Luciamarker as well as Dominicamarker. Other Asian groups include East Indians, Lebanese and Vietnamese.

The main groups living in the interior are the Maroons (formerly called "Bush Negroes") are racially black African, and Amerindians.

The Maroons, descendants of escaped African slaves, live primarily along the Maroni Rivermarker. The main Maroon groups are the Saramaca, Aucan (both of whom also live in Surinamemarker) and the Boni (Aluku).

The main Amerindian groups (forming about 3%-4% of the population) are the Arawak, Carib, Emerillon, Galibi (now called the Kaliña), Palikour, Wayampi and Wayana. As of late 1990s there was evidence of an uncontacted group of Wayampi.

The dominant religion of French Guiana is Roman Catholicism; the Maroons and some Amerindian people maintain their own religions. The Hmong people are also mainly Catholic owing to the influence of Catholic missionaries who helped bring them to French Guiana.

Historical population















14,520 20,940 25,561 33,500 25,499 27,863 33,505 44,392 55,125 73,022 114,678 157,213 205,954 213,500 221,500
Official figures from past censuses and INSEE estimates.


The official language of French Guiana is French but a number of other local languages exist. The official regional languages are French Guiana creole, 6 Amerindian languages (Arawak, Palikur, Kali'na, Wayana, Wayampi, Emerillon), 4 Maroon dialects (Saramaka, Paramaccan, Boni, Djuka), as well as Hmong Njua. Other languages spoken by relatively large groups of the population are Portuguese, Hakka, Haitian Creole, Spanish and English.


French Guiana, as part of France, is part of the European Union, the largest landmass for an area outside of Europe, with one of the longest EU external boundaries. Along with the Spanish enclaves in Africa of Ceutamarker and Melillamarker, it is one of only three European Union territories outside Europe that is not an island. As an integral part of France, its head of state is the President of the French Republic, and its head of Government is the Prime Minister of France. The French Government and its agencies have responsibility for a wide range of issues that are reserved to the National Executive, such as defense and external relations.

The President of France appoints a Prefect (resident at the Prefecture building in Cayenne) as his representative to head the local government of French Guiana. There are two legislative bodies: the 19-member General Council and the 34-member Regional Council, both elected.

French Guiana sends two deputies to the French National Assembly, one representing the commune (municipality) of Cayennemarker and the commune of Macouriamarker, and the other representing the rest of French Guiana. This latter constituency is the largest in the French Republic by land area. French Guiana also sends one senator to the French Senatemarker.

French Guiana has traditionally been conservative , though the socialist party has been increasingly successful in recent years.

A chronic issue affecting French Guiana is the influx of illegal immigrants and clandestine gold prospectors from Brazilmarker and Surinamemarker. The border between the department and Suriname is formed by the Maroni Rivermarker, which flows through rain forest and is difficult for the Gendarmerie and the French Foreign Legion to patrol. The border line with Suriname is disputed.


French Guiana's main international airport is Cayenne-Rochambeau Airportmarker, located in the commune of Matourymarker, a southern suburb of Cayennemarker. There are three flights a day to Parismarker (Orly Airportmarker), served by Air France, Air Caraïbes and CorsairFly. The flight time from Cayenne to Paris is 8 hours and 25 minutes, and from Paris to Cayenne it is 9 hours and 10 minutes. There are also flights to Fort-de-Francemarker, Pointe-à-Pitremarker, Port-au-Princemarker, Miamimarker and Belémmarker.

French Guiana's main seaport is the port of Dégrad des Cannes, located on the estuary of the Mahury River, in the commune of Remire-Montjolymarker, a south-eastern suburb of Cayenne. Almost all of French Guiana's imports and exports pass through the port of Dégrad des Cannes. Built in 1969, it replaced the old harbour of Cayenne which was congested and couldn't cope with modern traffic.

An asphalted road from Réginamarker to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapockmarker (a town by the Brazilianmarker border) was opened in 2004, completing the road from Cayenne to the Brazilian border. It is now possible to drive on a fully paved road from Saint-Laurent-du-Maronimarker on the Surinamesemarker border to Saint-Georges de l'Oyapock on the Brazilian border.

Following an international treaty between France and Brazil signed in July 2005, a bridge over the Oyapock River (marking the border with Brazil) is currently being built and is due to open in 2010. This bridge will be the first land crossing ever opened between France and Brazil, and indeed between French Guiana and the rest of the world (there exists no other bridge crossing the Oyapock River, and no bridge crossing the Maroni Rivermarker marking the border with Suriname - there is a ferry crossing to Albina, Surinamemarker.). When the bridge is opened, it will be possible to drive uninterrupted from Cayenne to Macapámarker, the capital of the state of Amapámarker in Brazil.

Notable natives and residents

See also


  1. Ben Lomond's Prisoner of Devil's Island. The Valley Post.
  2. French Guiana. Encyclopædia Britannica.


  • France's Overseas Frontier : Départements et territoires d'outre-mer Robert Aldrich and John Connell. Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-521-03036-6
  • Dry guillotine: Fifteen years among the living dead René Belbenoit, 1938, Reprint: Berkley (1975). ISBN 0-425-02950-6
  • Hell on Trial René Belbenoit, 1940, Translated from the Original French Manuscript by Preston Rambo. E. P Dutton & Co. Reprint by Blue Ribbon Books, New York, 194 p. Reprint: Bantam Books, 1971
  • Papillon Henri Charrière Reprints: Hart-Davis Macgibbon Ltd. 1970. ISBN 0-246-63987-3 (hbk); Perennial, 2001. ISBN 0-06-093479-4 (sbk)
  • Space in the Tropics: From Convicts to Rockets in French Guiana Peter Redfield. ISBN 0-520-21985-6

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