Saturday, June 09, 2007

Amerindians in Guyanese Literature

The blog of the Voice of Guyana International has a very engaging article by Jeremy Poynting on Guyanese literature, that is worth spending time reading if you are unfamiliar with Guyanese literature and wonder how Amerindians in Guyana have figured in that literature. In one of the passages of particular relevance to literary treatments of the Amerindian presence, Poynting explains:

"In comparison to the despair sometimes aroused by the African-Indian impasse, the Amerindian presence has been altogether more leavening feature in Guyanese writing. Although, until recently, a socially and politically marginalized minority, the most impoverished and oppressed section of the population, the Amerindians have become both a politically significant broker group, and culturally iconic. Although Amerindian culture has made transforming adaptions to both colonial and missionary pressures, and to the attractions of ‘modernisation’, the Amerindian presence offers all Guyanese, symbolically at least, a sense of indigenous geographic connection and cultural continuities that predate colonialism. These connections are to be found most expressly in Guyanese imaginative writing. The work of Wilson Harris is clearly most influential in this respect, in The Sleepers of Roraima: A Carib Trilogy (Faber, 1970), Age of the Rainmakers (Faber, 1971) Companions of the Day and Night (Faber, 1975), and there are also Jan Carew’s short stories (see ‘The Coming of Amilivaca’) and Pauline Melville’s more representational fiction, The Ventriloquist’s Tale (1997). (So far the only published imaginative literature written by an Amerindian that I know of is David Campbell’s Through Arawak Eyes.) In Andrew Jefferson-Miles Harrisian The Timehrian, two Amerindian mythical figures play a key role in the narrative: the God Amalivacar who rescues the narrator from the trauma of being stricken dumb, and the vision of the timehr, the painted child of Amerindian legend, who prompts the narrator to the need to tell his story and recover the world of those by-passed by history. In Denise Harris’s In Remembrance of Her, Amerindian images play a similarly iconic role."

More information on some of the publications listed above can be found on the website of the Guyanese book publisher, Peepal Tree Press.

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