Mark Plotkin

Mark J. Plotkin is president of the Amazon Conservation Team.

Recent Articles

The Shielded Guianas

The global economy discovers the most obscure corner of the rainforest.

Ask someone the location of Suriname and you are as likely to hear "Africa" and "Asia" as you are "South America." While Latin America is demographically dominated by Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Catholics, the Guianas -- from west to east the countries of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana on the northeastern shoulder of South America -- comprise a curious mosaic left by British, Dutch, and French colonization with input from indigenous populations, as well as Africans, Hindustanis, Indonesians, Chinese, Jews, Lebanese, and even Laotians and Cambodians. So off the beaten track is this corner of the world that even the origin of the region's name is in dispute. According to most references, the term "Guianas" comes from an Amerindian word meaning "Land of Waters." This is certainly untrue: in the dominant tribal dialects, the suffix "yana" means "people." The name in fact represents an English corruption of a Spanish spelling of the name of a tribe living on the borders of...