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.
While my Amerindian students taught me a new appreciation and respect for the creatures large and small, I was never able to feel at home and connected with the forest like my characters in The Twisted Circle. During a one-hour walk home from Mabaruma to Santa Cruz—along the deserted red dirt road, flanked by bushes and trees—I had never before felt so alone in the world. Just me, a soul in distress, and my God.
British Policy Towards the Amerindians in British Guiana, 1803-1873 by Mary Noel Menezes, first published in 1977, provided the historical context of the role of Christian missionaries in the civilization and Christianization of the region’s indigenous peoples. It was not an easy enterprise. To endure the harsh living conditions and isolation from the civilized world, the missionary had to be a pious and zealous man. Building schools for the children was considered the best method of passing on Christian teachings and behavior to the natives. Teaching them to communicate in English also became imperative and practical.
Accepting the Christian God and “civilized” Christian behavior did not mean an end to the centuries-old native belief system in which non-humans, including animals, also possessed souls. The Animism and Folklore of the Guiana Indians by Walter E. Roth, first published in 1915, proved an invaluable source in adding a deeper layer of magical realism to the setting of the novel. Arriving in British Guiana in 1907 to take up the post of Protector of Indians in what he described as “the mosquito-cursed district of the Pomeroon” in the northwest region, Walter Roth (1861-1933) devoted his spare time to an ethnographical survey of the native tribes in the region. He recorded legends mainly from Arawak, Carib, and Warrau sources—the very three tribes that populate The Twisted Circle. The Bush or Forest Spirits, described in the native folklore, came alive in my imagination.
For the complete list of books, reports, research papers, and other materials used for creating the setting and characters of the novel, see “Selected Research Resources for The Twisted Circle.”