Dark Swirl
A poetic fable which explores alternative cosmologies, of the folk and of Western science, in the quest for the mythical massacouraman.
Cyril Dabydeen
ISBN number
Fiction, Novel
Country setting
Publication date
01 Dec 1996

When a European naturalist arrives in a remote South American village, how are the villagers to respond to his promise to remove the monstrous massacouraman from the creek? Is he a saviour freeing them from its danger, or is he threatening to take away something which is uniquely theirs for display in an American or European zoo? Folk belief confronts rationalistic science in this poetic fable which sees events through both European and village eyes.

Set in the remote Canje region, the villagers in Dark Swirl feel that they have only the most vestigial remnants of their original Hindu world view. They have, indeed, absorbed much of the local mix of Amerindian/African folk beliefs - in the existence of the legendary massacouraman, for instance. What they still have, though, is a residual Hindu view of the interconnectedness of all living things, though in their state of rootlessness this sometimes expresses itself in feelings of mutual hostility and unwarranted cruelty.

Dreams are the interconnecting territory between the myth of the massacouraman and the innermost fantasies and intuitions of the villagers that relate to their fears concerning their loss of authenticity and their unbelonging. And it is in a dreamlike state induced by sickness, where he can no longer disentangle what is real from what is in his imagination, that the ‘divided selves’ of the European stranger begin speaking to him as: ‘twin messengers with contrary tales’. In the process his whole structure of thought is profoundly altered.

Wilson Harris writes: 'Massacouraman is a formidable Guyanese folk legend... Dark Swirl seeks to plumb its pertinence to all factions, groups, races, insiders, outsiders. The novel seeks to evoke an inner region lying somewhere between the science of the stranger and the fantasies and visions of the village folk. Before they part company they appear to see through interchangeable eyes into the mysteries of a nature in a long state of eclipse...'

Check out the following journal publication, “Indigeneity and the Indo-Caribbean in Cyril Dabydeen’s DARK SWIRL” (Peepal Tree Press, UK)--by Dr Aliyah Khan (University of Michigan, USA), in *Studies in Canadian Literature*, Vol. 40, #1/2015–Special issue: “South Asian Canadian Literature: A Centennial Journey,” ed. by Dr Mariam Pirbhai (Wilfred Laurier University, Ont., Canada): 205-26.


Cyril Dabydeen

Cyril Dabydeen teaches Creative Writing at the University of Ottawa, and is a former Poet Laureate of Ottawa (1984-87). His work has appeared in over 60 literary magazines and anthologies world-wide. He has done more than 300 readings internationally and has twice adjudicated for the Governor General's Award (Poetry) and the USA Neustadt International Prize for Literature (UOklahoma) in 2000.
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