French Guiana Culture

Instructor: Jessica Roberts

I have taught at the middle grades level for ten years and earned my MA in reading education in 2009.

French Guiana is a territory of France and a land of mixed ancestries. It is a developing country with a developing economy that's rich in natural resources.Learn more about it in this lesson.

History and Government

If you were to ask where in the world French Guiana is, you would be told it's located on the northeastern coast of the South American continent. To its west, you would find Suriname, to its east and south Brazil, and the Atlantic Ocean is its northeastern neighbor.

Map of French Guiana and other South American countries
Map of French Guiana

Before becoming a French territory, French Guiana went through a number of hands and transitions. As a matter of fact, Spain actually settled the land in 1503, after displacing the native people who had long lived there. In the 1500s and the first part of the 1600s, Dutch people lived in and around Cayenne, which is the country's capital today. Once France gained possession of the country, the Dutch settlers were kicked out. Starting in the mid-1800s and ending in the 1930s, France used French Guiana as a penal colony to which tens of thousands of French prisoners were shipped.

French Guiana officially became a territory or department of France in 1946. As a department, France governs the country. In other words, France has the last word with government decisions. It is the same for such countries as Puerto Rico and Guam, which are territories of the United States. There have been protests by the people of Guiana in the last few decades as they have asserted their desire to self-govern. As of right now, however, France still governs the country, yet a Regional Council is used as a local body of government.

French Guiana flag
French Guiana flag


French Guiana, like many other developing countries, has a developing economy. Several things have been put into place, however, that have helped its growth. For instance, French Guiana's economy is modeled after that of France, and France has given much needed aid and assistance to the country. In addition, the rocket-launching base that was constructed in Kourou and is used by the European Space Agency has helped the economy quite a bit.

Thick forest areas, rich pastures, and a thriving seafood industry have become a part of the economic development as well. Timber is used for local industries in the country, and the rest is exported to other countries. Shrimp is the best catch, and helps support the livelihood of the country's fishermen. Pigs, poultry, and cattle roam the pastures, and while their byproducts help sustain life in the country, it is not always enough. Much of what the country needs must be imported. This includes meat and milk products and metallic minerals and fossil fuels, like oil.

The biggest sectors of French Guiana's economy are construction, services, and manufacturing. In fact, this country's gross national income or GNI is one of the highest in South America. Agriculture includes the growth of rice, bananas, cassava or tree root, and cabbages. There are mostly subsistence farmers who produce food for their own families. A few larger farmers, however, produce cash crops that are sold to markets around the country. Cement, rum and wood products are made by the manufacturing industries. Despite these flourishing industries and help from France, the unemployment rate in French Guiana is high.

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