Forest Spirits or Bush Spirits of Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples

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Silk Cotton Tree – Santa Mission Indigenous Settlement – Guyana

On October 8, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a presidential proclamation declaring October 11th as a national holiday in celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Does this mean that we will no longer remember this day as Columbus Day? Growing up in what was then British Guiana, I was taught to regard the Genoan explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) as a hero. During his four voyages to the New World, he explored a vast area of the Caribbean Region that he called the West Indies. The gentle and kindhearted indigenous Arawak peoples who first welcomed Columbus and his crew knew not the misery that this encounter would later unleash upon their world.

Based on what Columbus told Peter Martyr, who recorded his voyages, Martyr wrote: “They seeme to live in that golden worlde of the which olde writers speake so much, wherein menne lived simply and innocently without enforcement of lawes, without quarreling, judges and libelles, content onely to satisfie nature, without further vexation for knowledge of things to come.” [As quoted by Edmund S. Morgan in his article “Columbus’ Confusion About the New World”]

Not until his third voyage (1498-1500) did Columbus sight the coastline of Guiana but made no attempt at landing. The Dutch, the first to settle Guiana, referred to this forbidding region of dense tropical rainforest, stretching between the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers on the South American mainland, as “The Wild Coast.” After two centuries of Dutch rule (1600s to 1803) and another century of British rule, the indigenous peoples of then British Guiana, called Amerindians, had lost sovereignty over their territories. Beginning in 1902, the British forced them into reservations.

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Dog Bone Soup: A Boomer’s Journey by Bette A. Stevens

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Front Cover – Dog Bone Soup: A Boomer’s Journey by Bette A. Stevens (USA, 2014)

In Dog Bone Soup: A Boomer’s Journey, Maine author Bette A. Stevens reminds us that being poor should not define who we are as individuals. With determination as well as the helping hand and guidance of those who care, we can become the person we aspire to be. Herself a boomer, Stevens takes us back to America of the 1950s and 1960s. On leaving home to enter the U.S. Army, eighteen-year-old Shawn Daniels looks back on growing up in Lebanon, Maine, where his family was scorned as “nothing but poor white trash.”

Shawn’s narrative contains no mention of the year or his age. Only his school grade records the passing years. His earliest memory is of watching mice scamper across the rafters as he lay in bed at nights. Having one as a pet appealed to him. Their home was a two-room log cabin with two small windows. About four years old at the time, he was too young to understand how harsh conditions were for his mother to raise three kids without electricity and indoor plumbing.

When his mother moved out, taking only his baby sister with her, Shawn’s life and that of his younger brother took a downward turn. Gone were his days of fishing with his dad. For about a year or so, the brothers lived in a foster home with strict rules. They went hungry and were often confined to their room as punishment for misbehavior or bad table manners.

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The Twisted Circle: Latest News

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I am pleased to announce that The Twisted Circle: A Novel is now also available as an eBook at the booksellers listed below:

Rosaliene’s Shop at Lulu (Both Print & Ebook)

Amazon (Both Print & Ebook)

Barnes and Noble (Both Print & Ebook)

BAM! Books a Million (Print Only)

Book Depository (Print Only)

IndieBound (Print Only)

Rakuten Kobo (Ebook Only)

Sad to say that if you are an Apple iBooks reader, you will have to wait a while longer.

Thought for Today: For how much longer?

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Photo by Anni Roenkae on Pexels.com

We humans have re-created the surface of our planet in our own image. Then, for control of the masses by a few, we have constructed multiple realities of what it means to be a human. To further manipulate and distort facts and reality, we have entered what some regard as “the post-truth age.” With the aid of algorithms, disinformation whips across social media networks like hurricane force winds, rupturing human interactions within the physical spaces we share. For how much longer can our communities withstand this mounting chaos without implosion?

“That Moment an Enormous Tail” by Brazilian Poet Alice Sant’Anna

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Brazilian Poet Alice Sant’Anna

My Poetry Corner September 2021 features the poem “That Moment an Enormous Tail” (Um Enorme Rabo de Baleia) from the poetry collection Tail of the Whale (Rabo de Baleia) by Brazilian poet Alice Sant’Anna. Born in 1988 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Alice grew up in a very artistic home: Her father was a photographer; her mother was a fashion producer. As a child, she learned to play several musical instruments. Then, at fifteen years old, her artistic future veered toward poetry. Such was the impact after she read the poetry of Brazil’s “marginal generation” poet Ana Cristina César (1952-1983).

During the 1970s the “marginal generation” poets published their books independently, earning the title “marginal.” Following the oral tradition, their poetry used a colloquial and informal style.  

Sant’Anna credits her experience of studying abroad in learning “how to be alone, in silence,” critical for her creative process. Her first trip abroad was to New Zealand where she spent a semester as a sixteen-year-old high school student. There, she began writing poetry while adapting to life in a very small town.

As a twenty-year-old undergraduate in journalism at the Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) of Rio de Janeiro, Sant’Anna published her first book of poetry. In 2009, a year before her graduation, she went to Paris for a semester, providing an impetus for working on her second book, Tail of the Whale (Rabo de Baleia).

In 2013, the year she earned her Masters’ Degree in Literature and Culture at PUC, Sant’Anna’s poetry collection was published to great acclaim, winning the APCA Poetry Prize from the São Paulo Art Critics Association. The collection was published in English in 2016 with translation by Tiffany Higgins, an award-winning American poet and translator.

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Breaking Free…

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Photo by @seb on Pexels.com

Breaking free from the Roman Catholic Church did not happen overnight. The fear of Hell, embedded since childhood, is a powerful force. I began questioning the Church’s religious teachings and practices during my seven years in the convent. A beginners’ course in Anthropology, taken as a final year university undergraduate, led me to reconsider the nature of being human and our roles as male and female. I recall having an epiphany about the need to change the rules regarding the Church’s Sacrament of Matrimony that was out of touch with our times.

After leaving the convent, I began exploring other religions and spiritual teachings in search of a more expansive vision of The Divine. Having grown up among Hindus, I was aware that they believe in reincarnation after death. The Buddhists, too, I discovered, also embrace reincarnation. The thought of being born again in what I’ve experienced as a violent and unjust world did not appeal to me.

During the year I worked at the University of Guyana Library, a librarian recommended that I read Reincarnation & Karma by Edgar Cayce (1877-1945). The American psychic struck me as authentic. Instead of condemnation to Hell for eternity, reincarnation gives our soul several chances to make up for mistakes made, wrongs committed. Justice beyond the grave. I began looking at my life and our world with different lenses. Who did I wrong or hurt in past lives?

I was pregnant with our second child when my husband and I joined the Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement started by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in India. Since receiving my mantra from our certified Guyanese TM teacher, I continue to practice the daily mantra meditation. With varying degrees of success over the years, I have used the technique not only as a form of awareness and stress relief, but also to access a higher state of consciousness.

My break with the Catholic Church occurred about a year and a half after we migrated to Brazil. That’s about ten years after leaving the convent. South America’s largest country and economy also held the top-ranking position as the country with the world’s largest Catholic population. The poverty I witnessed every day on the streets of Fortaleza, capital of the Northeastern State of Ceará, shocked me. Though Guyana was numbered among the poorest countries on the continent, I had never seen hordes of children, including toddlers, roaming the streets in search of food. Where was the Catholic Church? What were they doing to address the poverty and destitution in their midst?

I could not identify with such a Church.

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Book Review: The Twisted Circle — Fake Flamenco

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Read Rosaliene Bacchus’ second novel The Twisted Circle when you have a completely free weekend, because you may not be able to put it down. Set in a tropical Guyana, South America, the story based on the country’s history follows a Catholic nun about to take her vows who teaches in a rural school. The […]

Book Review: The Twisted Circle — Fake Flamenco

Rebecca Cuningham is a writer and poet. Supergringa: A Spain Travel Memoir is her debut book-length work. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and child.

The Writer’s Life: Character Development

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Aerial View of Ogle Airstrip before Upgrade to an International Airport in 2009
East Coast Demerara – Guyana

While The Twisted Circle is a work of fiction, it has been inspired by real events that occurred during my final year in a Catholic convent in my native land of Guyana. This presented a challenge when creating unique characters who did not mirror the true-life individuals. To distance myself from the protagonist, Sister Barbara Lovell, I made her a dougla—a person of African and East Indian ancestry, the country’s two major racial and ethnic populations. With a family background much different from mine, her journey led to its own resolution for the character.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1 when readers first meet Sister Barbara:

SISTER BARBARA LOVELL’S life was unraveling like the thread in the hem of her habit. Seated under the mid-morning September sky at the passengers’ waiting area at the Ogle Airstrip, she squeezed her thighs together and adjusted her habit hanging over her knees.

What had she done for Father Andrew Peterson to make his hands fast with her? She was just a plain dougla woman—a mixture of African and East Indian, descendants of slaves and indentured laborers fighting each other for supremacy in Guyana. Their thirteen-year-old independent nation still suffered from the hangover of British colonial rule.

Father Peterson, her parish priest and local-born son of a former British sugar plantation owner, was pale skinned like cow’s milk and tough like cane stalk. Her family had raised her to revere white priests like him.

Her Vow of Chastity was a personal choice. Perhaps, the same was not true for Father Peterson. Catholic Church law dictated that clergymen practice celibacy, yet the law did not stop him from forcing himself on her.

She tucked her sandaled feet beneath the three-seat wooden bench. Beside her on the left, Sister Angela, who had insisted on driving her to Ogle, chatted with a buxom, black woman. From snippets of their conversation, Barbara learned that the woman’s seventeen-year-old daughter had run off with a married man.

In her late forties, the white American nun had been her favorite teacher at St. John’s Catholic High School for girls. Those were the days before the government took over the church-run schools and turned them into co-ed public schools.

As a twelve-year-old in Form One, Barbara had difficulty understanding Sister Angela’s fast-spoken American English, different from British English. In the years that followed, the nun’s firm but kind and generous personality attracted her to joining the Religious Sisters of Christ the Redeemer—an American order with its Provincialate in Cleveland, Ohio.

Though Angela had become her religious mentor and friend, Barbara did not tell Angela what had driven her to move to their isolated sister-convent in Guyana’s North West District. Angela worshipped Father Peterson.

Only Hazel knew.

Seven years ago, in January 1972, she and Hazel, three years older, had entered the convent together. Hazel, too, had grown up in the countryside along the East Coast Demerara where sugarcane and rice lands jostled for sunshine and rain. As a black woman, Hazel understood how intimidating it was for Barbara to confront a white priest—and an older man at that.

Barbara wanted to report the incident to the Bishop; Hazel had disagreed.

“Anybody see him grab you?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Then is his word against yours. And you know, in this country, the white man tongue never lie, much less a priest.”

And so, it had remained their secret.

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Praise for The Twisted Circle: A Novel

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5.0 out of 5 Stars

This book, The Twisted Circle, is an amazing heartfelt journey of a young devout sister, Barbara, in Guyana. She begins her chosen path pure in her faith and devotion. She is immediately sexually harassed by her first priest and in escaping him, she transfers to a remote school that devours her with its own demented jealousies and hidden abusive practices. Her struggle, like all of our struggles, is goodness trying to move forward despite serious roadblocks and the ill will of those who can only express pain and destruction. Her story shows what bravery can look like when faced by insurmountable odds. A misogynistic church run by men and women who have sold their souls to keep the old ways in place offers her no help or protection. This is a place where children are hurt.

Losing becomes swift and heartless. And it does not differentiate between the good and the evil. Barbara must face the reality of what her world has become. You will come away with a marvelous memory of characters that breathe off the page and true heroism that lives on after all is lost.

~ AMAZON REVIEW, AUGUST 29, 2021, BY DAN McNAY, AMERICAN AUTHOR OF FIVE NOVELS. DAN LIVES IN LOS ANGELES, SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, USA.

The Writer’s Life: Creating the Setting of The Twisted Circle

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Aerial View of Mabaruma – Government Administrative Center
Barima-Waini Region – Guyana

When I began working on The Twisted Circle, over forty-seven years had passed since the year I had worked in Guyana’s northwest region. Yet, I could still visualize the convent in Santa Cruz (fictitious name) and the secondary school in Mabaruma, the administrative center of what is now known as the Barima-Waini Region. I recall the lethargy I felt during the first month or so as my body adjusted to the high humidity of the tropical rainforest. I recall awakening to the howls of baboons on my first morning in my new home. Later, I learned to discern the groans of the jaguars.

At the time, there was no electricity in the Santa Cruz Amerindian village. When darkness descended at six o’clock, our two Jesuit parish priests in the presbytery, located on the top of the Santa Cruz hill, turned on their generator that supplied energy to the presbytery, church, and convent. Lights went out at ten o’clock at night. The convent had a refrigerator that ran on kerosene oil. It was so old that it did not preserve food very well. Potable water came from a large wooden cistern in the backyard.

My only existing record of the year I spent at the Santa Cruz convent is an unlined school notebook with crayon drawings of the variety of moths that visited my room at nighttime. The setting would not be complete without them. Below are a few of my drawings of my nightly visitors.

Moths drawn by Rosaliene Bacchus (crayon) – Barima-Waini Region – Guyana
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